The mainstream media is a broken record, stuck on a never ending whine of alarmism and exaggerated shock and horror over Gillard’s minority government. Clearly disappointed that their dream scenario has not eventuated – Abbott forcing the government to an early election – they continue the tired, boring and inaccurate narrative that the Gillard government is a failure. Never mind Gillard’s hugely successful record of policy progress and economic stability in the face of an ongoing worldwide financial crisis, the mainstream media are stuck in a groove which they will only dig deeper as we head towards the September 14 election.
There’s no doubt that journalists and commentators in the mainstream media are feeling their relevancy quickly slipping away. Rather than assess why it is that people are turning off their news coverage, and instead flooding to social media and independent media, they ramp up their ‘look at us, we’ve got scandal and smear over here’ strategy, which just leaves them looking even more irrelevant, incompetent and desperate. Like a dumped boyfriend who just won’t stop calling.
The following two examples from the past week depict how seriously unbalanced the mainstream media has become. These examples show that any news about the Gillard government is automatically turned into over-hyped sensational scandal, however run-of-the-mill the reality of the situation is.
Gillard calls an election
Sometimes the best way to show how much a situation has changed is to demonstrate how things used to be. Let’s look at the way that Howard’s announcement of the 2007 election was treated by the mainstream press. Here is an article from the SMH by Stephanie Peatling. This is a very straightforward report of Howard’s press conference where he announced the election date, 6 weeks before the election. It is full of quotes from Howard, and explanations of what Howard said, including this classic:
“The Prime Minister said a six-week campaign – one week longer than most campaigns of the past – was a necessary timeframe for voters to consider the issues.”
Note here that Peatling doesn’t comment on Howard’s six-week time frame message. What he says is just taken as given. The article also includes a summary of the current poll environment where Howard’s government is 18 points behind Rudd’s opposition. Howard is quoted as saying:
“I have no intention of spending even a nanosecond commenting on opinion polls”
Again, taken as given, no further comment provided. Four lines of the article are dedicated to the issue of whether Costello will ‘transition’ to Prime Minister after the election, should Howard win, in a balanced, reasonable way, never once mentioning the words ‘leadership tension’. The tone is remarkably sensible, measured and calm. The only mention of Opposition leader Rudd, apart from Howard’s quotes criticising him, is the final line of the article that says:
“Mr Rudd will hold a news conference at 2:15pm this afternoon.”
What a change this sort of article is to what we are served up now, by the likes of ABC, Fairfax, News Ltd, and News Ltd again. First off, it’s completely inappropriate for the Herald Sun to use the Liberal Party’s ‘mini election’ advertisement as the pre-curser to video of the Prime Minister’s press conference.
Although Fairfax and the ABC didn’t have ads for Tony Abbott on their articles about Gillard’s announcement, they did successfully manage to turn the news into ‘bad for Gillard’, ‘good for Abbott’, as is their predilection when anything happens. The first thing you see on this article in the SMH by Judith Ireland and Daniel Hurst is a video, sub-titled ‘What was she thinking?’ She being the Prime Minister. The tone of this line, no doubt, exactly as it was intended when anyone says ‘what was she thinking?’ In the corresponding video, Lenore Taylor says that Gillard’s decision to call an election over seven months before the election date is ‘highly political’ and Michelle Grattan waffles on nonsensically about how what Gillard said isn’t really what Gillard means.
Directly under the video, there is the obligatory link to an article that’s ALL ABOUT ABBOTT. And just as we’ve had to get used to, the first three sentences of the article are about Gillard’s announcement, and the next two are about Abbott. This happens so frequently that I am sure there’s a template floating around mainstream media newsrooms with cut and paste instructions – ‘short summary of Government news goes here, Abbott’s response no more than 200 words into article’.
Not long after the election was called, while the mainstream media were, coincidentally, listening to Abbott’s content-free press-club response, Craig Thomson was arrested by seven police officers in front of a ready assembled press pack. The timing of this arrest, and the fact that serial Liberal conspirator, Steve Lewis, was first on the scene, is very suspicious for Tony Abbott. This is not an opinion. It’s an obvious observation. So how do the mainstream media respond to this coincidence? Unsurprisingly – ‘bad for Gillard’, ‘good for Abbott’. Just as Craig Thomson is ALWAYS referred to ‘ex Labor MP’, and Peter Slipper is NEVER referred to as ‘ex Liberal MP’, this news, of course, became Gillard’s problem. This ABC Lateline article, headlined ‘Call for Gillard to explain ‘curious’ election timing’, is all about George Brandis’s thoughts on the matter. This is completely representative of the sort of crap that gets broadcast about the Gillard government. Note to journalists everywhere – the Opposition will ALWAYS criticise the government whenever you give them an opportunity. Dog wags tail. Not newsworthy. Anyone with any rational sense can see that the last thing Gillard would have wanted was to announce an election the very week that Thomson was arrested. Abbott, on the other hand, is relishing the diversion from the news that he has no policy yet, nor a vision for the country in which to base a policy platform on. But when it comes to Abbott, the mainstream media follows the rule ‘nothing to see here, move along’. The Ashby conspiracy has been swept under the carpet by the mainstream press and is now seemingly, dead, buried and cremated.
The Resignation of Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon
If you were a cabinet member, either Senator or Member of the Lower House, when would be an optimal time to resign from the cabinet and announce your plans not to stand at the next election? Throw into the mix that you’re representing a minority government that has a press pack ready to attack it every second of the day. I’m thinking the smart move is to wait until the election is called, and then give up your cabinet position for people with the energy and motivation to fight the election, who will go on to deliver the policies as promised during the election campaign. Of course, you could wait until you find yourself unexpectedly in opposition after the election, and resign ‘to spend more time with your family’ like a certain Peter Costello, but is that really fair to your constituents who voted for you to be their Member?
The news of Chris Evans and Nicola Roxon was interesting, and is worth reporting, but is it worth reporting like a ‘scandal’? Apparently so. This article in the Daily Telegraph uses the standard News Ltd propaganda text – ‘disarray’, ‘rocked’, ‘dramatic’, ‘frantic’, ‘shambolic’, to describe the resignation of Roxon, Evans and McClelland. Abbott, of course, gets brought into the scene in sentence number three. This article on News.com has a quote from Christopher Pyne where he explains why Evans has resigned. That’s right, not a quote from Evans about why he has resigned – a quote from Pyne, who appears to be telling readers what Evans thinks, as if he knows better than Evans:
“And for the Senate leader and a cabinet minister to decide that he’s just had enough speaks volumes for a dysfunctional Labor government.”
I’d love to say this sort of behaviour from the mainstream media is ‘unbelievable’, but sadly, it’s not only very believable, it’s systemic.
So going back to 2007, when Howard was in power, and Amanda Vanstone quit her Senate position in April before the October election, it’s very interesting to see how the very same papers who are hyperventilating about the ‘disastrous’ resignations of Roxon, Evans and McClelland responded to Vanstone’s announcement. The day after Vanstone’s resignation, the SMH published a very short APP supplied article announcing the news. Not exactly front page fodder. The day before, the online edition of Adelaide’s News Ltd newspaper published simply a statement by Vanstone, written by Vanstone, with no other comment other than what Vanstone herself chose to say. A couple of days later, Philip Coorey wrote this article in the SMH, which is the closest I could find to opinion about the news. Coorey’s article is about Vanstone’s plans to take up a diplomatic post in Italy. It’s not completely complimentary of Vanstone and the Howard government, but it’s also very far from the shouty, outrage that we are seeing over the news of Labor MPs resignation announcements. And Coorey’s article includes no comment from the then Labor Opposition.
On January 30 this week, the day the election was called, Crikey’s Bernard Keane tweeted:
“All told, I think the last 20 hours is the Australian media’s worst performance since the 2010 campaign.”
Little did Keane know that the week was still young, and that the media were desperate to prove that they could still get worse. Depressingly, there does seem to be only one direction for this industry to go in. Down, down, down to the lowest depths towards a bottom dwelling place well beyond simple journalist failure.