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Political journalists are framing the election

The mainstream media is shaping the narrative of the 2022 election into a battle between two leaders.

Perhaps one of the more remarkable journalistic observations last week came from ABC’s political editor Andrew Probyn, when he declared on Insiders on Sunday that “Only certain political messages get through”.

Probyn appears to be entirely unaware of, or unwilling to admit, the role of his profession in determining which of those messages will “get through”.

For example, on Monday, ABC breakfast presenter Patricia Karvalas amplified an article in The Age written by journalist David Crowe, with the headline: ‘Albanese pays a price for gaffe as voters swing back to government.’



Given the saturation coverage of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s mind freeze when asked about unemployment numbers (almost 6,000 articles referring to the gaffe were published in 24 hours), it seems likely that journalists played a not inconsiderable role in ensuring that this particular message got through.

Journalists amplifying other journalists’ stories on the gaffe takes media determination to embed the narrative in the public consciousness to another level.

Albanese should have had the numbers memorised. However, that he didn’t is hardly worthy of almost 6,000 articles in 24 hours.

What is profoundly alarming is that journalists appear happy to ply their trade without considering their role in influencing public opinion. It’s hard to believe they are unable to make the connection between the messages they allow to get through and public reaction, so perhaps we can conclude they are unwilling to engage in this much self-reflection.

This election is apparently about character and leadership. Prime Minister Scott Morrison comes to the party with an unprecedented record of internationally recognised mendacity, unprecedented levels of alleged rorting, a well-documented disregard for the safety of women in his own workplace, a steadfast refusal to entertain the possibility of a useful federal ICAC, a proven history of cruel incompetence in the handling of bushfires, floods and the COVID pandemic all of which speaks, or rather screams, to both his character and his leadership abilities.

Yet it is as if he has, like Aphrodite, emerged renewed from a dip in the Paphos sea, his political virginity restored. In their efforts to find “balance”, journalists have ditched recent history and veered dangerously in the direction of blatant bias, in their increasingly desperate efforts to portray the Opposition Leader as equally, if not more, unworthy of our trust because he forgot a number.

This is not a contest between two men of similar moral character, which surely is a salient if deliberately ignored point. Albanese has no such history and as Morrison sets a very low bar in the character stakes, we can be reasonably certain of Albanese’s superiority.

You cannot on the one hand claim an election is about character while on the other, scrupulously avoid every reference to the dubious character of one of the contestants.

This brings me to the framing of the election as a contest between two men by a media that, apparently as one, yearns for a more presidential system of government than that offered by our Westminster system.

There are only two electorates that will vote for (or against) Morrison and Albanese.

It remains the choice of parties, not voters, who their leader will be.

Both major parties can change their leaders whenever they decide to do so. Voters have no influence over their decisions.

We do not vote for our prime minister. And yet, here we are.

Media focus on leaders gives Morrison a considerable advantage. It means we aren’t constantly reminded that the majority of his cabinet is tainted by varying levels of scandal and untested allegations of criminal behaviour. We only have Scott and as we’ve seen, the media isn’t going to remind us of his transgressions so that’s a definite win for them.

A focus on the teams behind the leaders would certainly favour the ALP, not least because they seem to be scandal-free and less empathically challenged, which is a good thing in a crisis.

It is only a contest between two leaders because the media have made it a contest between two leaders. This does not serve the interests of voters.

It is terrifying that the majority of the media seems prepared to overlook the behaviour of the Morrison Government for the last three years and the devastating long-term effects this is having on our society, and are apparently more than willing for this state of affairs to continue for another three years.

Apart from any of that, the “battle between leaders” narrative serves only to undermine our democracy, which journalists well know and apparently don’t care about.

As long as journalists continue to deny that they play a significant role in influencing the public view of politics and politicians, we cannot trust them. The contortions of thought that permit them to hold this belief are astounding. Their reluctance to recognise what they are doing inevitably colours their opinions and commentary.

Andrew Probyn is correct. Only certain messages get through. However, this penetration is not controlled or determined by a mysterious and powerful exteriority. Journalists and editors decide which messages get through and to what extent, and journalists and editors decided which messages get spiked.

Journalists need to own their influence and until such time as they do, the public will continue to be manipulated and deceived by those considered reputable, as well as those considered hacks.


This article was originally published on Independent Australia.


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  1. Phil Pryor

    Austtralia’s media scene has long been dogged, Merde Dogged, by the relentless, egotistical, wilful, culturally brainless push of a warty wilful wonder (in his own mind) of an ex-Australian treacherous yankee media maggoty egofart. The whole scene here is Murdoched, buggered, brownshirted, KGB’d, controlled, shaped, all to gather revenue, command a coalition of profiteering corporate contrivers and supremacist bullies. The seven grouip has a little jackbooter in charge, the nine herald lot have that dud ex treasurer, a vial of vanity and pot of pooey primness in charge, while the News and Spews home laager is run from afar by an oppressive but dictatorial phonetapping, politician coercing and leaning old lout. Fairness? Balance? If you believe Murdoch is fair and decent, get a wife from Palmer lane, a cup racehorse from the knackers and a car from John L.

  2. Baby Jewels

    Ronni Salt ran a poll and so far 38,000 respondents say 99.2% want a Federal ICAC. This is how often the media are talking about a Federal ICAC.

  3. Phil Lohrey

    I feared that when the official campaign started mainstream journalists would actually determine the election outcome in favour of the Coalition. However, even my saddest, most cynical observations over recent months I could never have anticipated the level of the screaming bias of the past two weeks. One unprepared moment from the Opposition leader was all it took to unlock, as stated above, thousands of condemnations, and from then on all other slips, lies and important policies would either be ignored or relegated to minor status compared with the Gotcha that the ABC’s Andrew Probyn declared has “defined” the election. The outcome has never in my 60 years of observation been decided so early or so powerfully by mainstream journalists and slavish followers such as Probyn in the formerly independent ABC.

  4. New England Cocky

    The Murdoch media-ocrity scribblers masquerading as newspersons want a presidential style election because it is easier to write about irrelevancies than research and analyse policies (although the Liarbrals seem to have few, if any, policies).

    Who cares about $5.5 BILLION wasted on the French submarines to become Deputy Dawg to the AUKUS triumvirate of self-serving governments controlled by the NE Military-Industrial Complex?

    Naturally the cruel ”on the water” polices ripping refugee lives apart are necessary to obfuscate the Gassie Taylor scams for native pasture removal.

    It is obviously far more important for Beetrooter to hog the headlines with his adulterous affairs, alcoholism and misogyny while perverting the course of Australian democracy.

    Meanwhile Scummo has not yet explained why his good mate Brian Hou$ton of the Hell$inger$ Choru$ received about $43 MILLION….. did that buy Scummo’s Pastor position?

  5. Andrew J. Smith

    What does it say about the integrity, confidence and outlook of political media types in Oz who have become part of the ruling political elites?

    Meanwhile one knows some involved in LNP politics, but seem to have no interest in politics let alone discussing any substantive policies?

    It’s become another ‘greasy pole’ or hurdle put in place for those wanting social mobility; not sure who is certain that is possible in an unethical and immoral ‘swamp’? They can always claim to be ‘following orders’…..

    A US acquaintance, not unlike the late PJ O’Rourke i.e. more libertarian, less conservative, published in the curious Sydney based Quillette (?….) but over a decade ago described the political media pack in a Central European state as ‘political activists masquerading as journalists‘.

  6. pierre wilkinson

    MSM likes to show its’ bias and claim loudly that the once balanced ABC is far more prejudiced than they are,
    Morrison’s gaffes do not rate a mention, despite claiming that he had been involved in 8 budgets, 3 as treasurer and four as PM,
    or claiming that the Unemployment rate was weekly when the figure he quoted was daily, or calling members of the journalist fraternity “Mr Speaker” when in motor mouth mode
    “It is terrifying that the majority of the media seems prepared to overlook the behaviour of the Morrison Government for the last three years and the devastating long-term effects this is having on our society, and are apparently more than willing for this state of affairs to continue for another three years.” indeed, so true
    and lastly, why do you seem to believe that journalists have freedom of expression?
    Not in Murdoch land and not in the ABC these days if you want to continue in your position.

  7. GL

    And just to throw something different that has absolutely nothing to do with the damned election: I was watching some music videos of different Yello tracks and the following popped up.

  8. wam

    drivel, Dr Wilson I have been around in 9 decades and it has always been about leaders. When, except for a cake, labor has a charismatic man they win whereas the libs just need a man, usually a liar. Albo came close tonight but my rabbottians(one at least) used the mute.
    All xstians should vote for Albo as the man closer to xstian ideals.

  9. Terence Mills

    In the Leaders Debate Albanese entered the lion’s den of SKY with Paul Murray and Peta Credlin lurking, snarling in the background.

    Albanese was surprisingly on point and presented well while Morrison wanted to fight old wars about border protection and the boats starting up again and his attempt to label Labor as soft on China had eyes rolling.

    The major criticism overall seems to be why this first debate was broadcast on Murdoch’s pay TV channel and not shared by the major free to air broadcasters.

    Whilst some may have watched on Youtube it is clear that many without pay TV or access to SKY Regional will have missed the confrontation.

    Forty of the 100 undecided voters gave it to Albo, 35 to Morrison and 25 remained undecided.

    One message to Scomo : don’t try to scare us with ‘the boats will start up again under Labor” – we are over it and even the coalition have finally accepted the New Zealand resettlement offer after ten years of stuffing around.

  10. J Deacon

    Might be a surprise to many but Sky is now allowed to broadcast “in the regions”. The Gold Coast is apparently
    “a region” as it gets full Sky offering on Channel 53.
    This means Murdoch poison is being spread all over the country.
    Coalition government giving favours to Murdoch are dangerous and longlasting.

  11. GL

    I just received some more election bullshit from Bridget Archer.

    Lowest unemployment rate (supposedly 3.9%) in the country and much betterer than Labor’s 8% when they were in power here. The rubbery figures wand at work.
    Biggest rebuild of the Defence Force since WW2. Rebuild? I haven’t seen any sign of the subs, tanks, frigates, hypersonic missiles, etc, or even thousands and thousands of new recruits. Have you? Just words, words, ad nauseam and billions of dollars going to the Yanks (and Britain) for goodies that are years, if not decades in the future.

    They’ve been using the electoral rolls to get names and addresses so they can send out their garbage. Last week we all received postal vote forms with “With compliments of Bridget Archer” taking up almost a 1/4 of the front panel. Needless to say that and the other assorted bs that came with it were torn up and put in the rubbish bin.

  12. Florence nee Fedup

    Could it be from the questions asked last night at the debate be that much is getting through? None were what the media was pushing. The moderator found the need to ask those ones,

  13. Pingback: Sec-Net: Interim Results of “A-theism” Survey + other - Plain Reason

  14. Harry Lime

    Political ‘journalists’ may be framing the election according to proprietal dictums,notably the Muckrake mob,but also Costellot,Stokes etc.Yes. and even ‘their’ ABC continues to go to water after years of defunding and other threats.However,as daily howlers by the idiot Morrison and his cabal of seriously challenged Cabinet ‘colleagues’attest,blatantly biased reporting may not be nearly enough to stop the building tidal wave of past crimes kicking the facade down.A stern correction is staring the execrable Liar in the face.The coming election will be the biggest annihilation in our history.

  15. Harry Lime

    As for the serial foot in mouther..his’blessed’ to not have autistic kids is framed entirely around HIMSELF.In this he is consistent,his record speaks volumes.Who knew?

  16. GL

    Albo has tested positive for Covid. Be prepared for a week of non-stop election bullshit from Scummo and Crony Co. Inc. as they cash in.

  17. Peter Casey

    Dr Jennifer is absolutely correct, it’s no good a journalist commenting in feigned ignorance about messages not getting through when journalists themselves are the gatekeepers. But I suppose it goes to the appalling lack of true journalism and the pretenders preference for sensationalist “grabs” over balance and in-depth analysis of issues.

  18. Terence Mills


    This gives the Labor Party the opportunity to bring out their team rather than leaving all the running to the leader.

    I’m looking forward to hearing a lot more from the likes of Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, Tony Burke, Chris Bowen , Kristina Keneally etc.

    This set back could be turned into a plus if correctly played by the ALP.

  19. Michael Taylor

    Trouble is, Terry, they’re too scared to debate anyone in Albo’s team.

  20. margcal

    I’m with Terence Mills on Albo’s illness ….

    This could well be the cloud with silver lining, re-setting the agenda, letting those in the team get out there and showing their talent so people can (a) get the message and (b) do a compare and contrast re the team behind each leader. Barnaby would be liability enough but the rest of them, compared to Albos’ team … no brainer.

    Except, I know, there are too many voters with no brains 🙁

  21. Phil Lohrey

    Well, I agree with Terrence and Margcal – giving exposure and voice to the intelligent team behind Albo would be a big boost – but the real problem is that there are so few reporters with insight, ethics and guts (and this problem includes all those hamstrung and intimidated at the ABC). – Oh, and their editors, producers and managers, of course.

  22. Michael Taylor

    Someone on the ABC couldn’t control their excitement that Labor’s campaign was now in tatters (or something like that) over Albo’s diagnosis.

    It’s no longer our ABC.

  23. ajogrady

    While this election is about integrity and character perhaps it is not just the integrity and character of the two leaders that are in question. It is also the integrity and character of main stream media journalists reporting on the election that is also in question. Biased and suspect journalism is undermining our democracy.

  24. Peter Casey

    Agree with what you’ve said. I think one of the problems is that we now have an entire generation of journalists’ that have grown up thinking that gotcha moments and sensationalism is what journalism is all about, and the reading public is the loser.

  25. Harry Lime

    Recently saw Jason Clare interview..he’s pretty impressive..infinitely better than any government stooges.If he is any indication of Albo’s enforced week off then it’s a big plus for the Opposition,and the louder and more in your face Morrison gets,the more people are likely to be turned off.Long campaign?Another bad idea from the failed marketing git.
    I fret about Richard Marles,though.

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