In June 2013, the Age newspaper printed an editorial calling for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to stand aside “for the good of the nation“.
The editorial said the leadership debate was preventing Labor’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia getting through to the public. It said Mr Rudd was a flawed leader and it was not convinced he was a changed man, but that opinion polls suggested his return would make the election a genuine contest.
Editor-in-chief Andrew Holden said the newspaper was motivated by concern about the quality of public debate in the lead-up to the election.
“Our concern here really is around the election debate and a proper scrutiny of the policies of the Coalition, and whether we’re going to get that in the coming election campaign if the electorate really has just tuned out and isn’t listening to the Prime Minister,” he said.
Let’s just back up here.
It was the media who engaged in the constant leadership speculation. Had they chosen instead to analyse and report on policies then “the quality of public debate” may have had a chance of progressing to an informed discussion.
Instead they fixated on gossip and polls. That was NOT Julia Gillard’s fault. It was their decision. The Age even conceded that “it has respect for the Prime Minister, and hopes the reforms she has implemented will remain in place,” whilst demanding that she step down in favour of a “flawed leader.”
Media is the sword arm of democracy. They are supposed to act as watchdog to protect public interest against malpractice and create public awareness. By any standard, they failed in their obligation to do so prior to the last election, creating the impression of a dysfunctional government despite the very admirable record of progressive legislation that benefitted society.
Those of us who are more interested in policy than politics watched in incredulity as a complicit media installed Tony Abbott – a man bereft of vision, a man who would “sell his ass” for the job, a man who, by his own admission, is a weathervane whose words cannot be trusted. He didn’t even last two years before his own party decided he was unfit for the job, something that was patently obvious to anyone who had followed his political career. He was the Steven Bradbury of the Liberal Party, as Minchin schemed to get rid of Turnbull who sold Hockey the dump. NO-ONE thought Abbott would be a chance.
If anyone is to blame for the state we now find ourselves in – saddled with a government who has no credible policies, who refuses to listen to experts because their “common sense” knows better, whose thinly disguised mission to make the rich richer is daily being exposed – it is our media and their fixation with the trivial.
Even here at the AIMN, the article with by far the greatest number of views was about Frances Abbott’s dodgy scholarship, so I suppose it is understandable for commercial enterprises to provide the news people want to read which is, all too often, the salacious side of politics rather than the substance of policy.
In our justifiable outrage about the rorts and the perks, the cronyism and corruption, we breed anger and polarisation as accusations can be made against so many of our elected representatives from all sides of politics. But in so doing, we make it so much harder to focus on the far greater challenges facing our country and the world let alone achieve bipartisan support for a course of action.
We now have a government whose sole purpose is to oppose anything Labor says or does, a government in opposition. They have spent the majority of their term undoing the previous government’s achievements and running scare campaigns.
The Opposition have led the way, announcing policies that have modelling to back them up. The government is floundering, referring to discredited reports to counter Labor’s proposals but offering none of their own. “Wait for the budget” we are told.
Surprisingly, we didn’t have to “wait for the budget” to be told that they were reinstating some of the funding they had ripped out of ASIC or that they would “build” the submarines in South Australia.
If the Daily Telegraph is any indication of what may be included in the budget, and it usually is, it looks like the unemployed will be in the firing line again – Tuesday’s story headlined “Booze drugs dole rort … dole grubs shirking work”, an article which made many incorrect claims as pointed out by welfare leaders.
They also reported that Australia’s “welfare bill” will rise to $190bn by 2020, with the implication that the total amount, and the increase, is due to unemployment benefits.
In fact unemployment benefits represent around 7% of that “welfare” figure and are falling as a percentage of gross domestic product, whereas pension payments represent 40% and are rising, and family and childcare payments represent 25%.
The Press Council Standards of Practice states that “a newspaper has a right to take sides on any issue, but it does not have the right to resort to distortion or dishonesty to advocate a cause.” They also must “Ensure that factual material in news reports and elsewhere is accurate and not misleading.”
We know the Murdoch Press does not comply with this. Murdoch revels in his self-proclaimed power to determine the outcome of elections.
Well bring it on Rupert. Online media has thrown out a challenge and most mainstream media recognise they must compete. People are realising how they have been conned. More and more articles are saying hang on, where’s your evidence for that? Increasingly people are turning to online sources for independent appraisal.
Perhaps we needed this government to shake people out of their lethargy.
Could it be that people are starting to question whether Miranda Devine and Ray Hadley and Gerard Henderson may not know quite as much as the experts?
Veritatem dies aperit.