Do you ever look at the way the mainstream media constructs its headlines and shake your head? I think they call it ‘agenda setting’. Here’s some agenda setting we could have had, but didn’t.*
Cyclone Pam: Climate Change in action
It’s scientifically indisputable that climate change is causing ocean warming, and that warmer oceans lead to more intense cyclones. But how many of the stories about the devastation caused to Vanuatu by Cyclone Pam have even mentioned climate change, let alone given it prominence in a headline? Oh, I forgot. It’s bad manners to play politics so soon after a disaster. And anyway, there’ve always been cyclones. Rising sea levels? Poor countries bearing the brunt of global warming caused by rich countries? Nah. Not interested.
And while we’re on climate change – or rather not on it – how about Labor fights to Save RET, instead of ‘Renewable Energy Target: Negotiations between Government and Labor over future of target break down’ (ABC 12/11/14).
Victory over unaffordable university fees
Oh that irresponsible Senate! Now the Vice Chancellors will have to find some other way of funding higher education. How about we reverse that, and acknowledge that the defeat of university fee deregulation – for which the LNP had no conceivable mandate – is a victory for common sense, and that this is a problem caused by the LNP which should be solved by them restoring the 20% funding cut imposed in last year’s budget? No doubt a case could always be made for increasing funding for universities, now that uncapping student places has led to a significant increase in the number of higher education students. We are already not particularly generous to higher ed; in 2011 Australia ranked 30 out of 31 OECD countries for public investment as a percentage of GDP. Australian university students already pay high tuition fees by international standards, so further milking them doesn’t seem a good idea. But defeat of the LNP solution – ‘ideology in search of a program’, as Stephen Parker, the dissenting Vice Chancellor of Canberra University put it – deserves media acknowledgement. What do we actually get? ‘Abbott Vows to Push on with Uni Reforms’ (Advertiser 18 March, paywalled.)
Liberal Policy Fail
This could be an alternative to the above headline. It could equally well apply to the Abbott government’s various back-downs on the Medicare co-payment, or the ditching of the Paid Parental Leave Scheme. For a short period when it seemed that Abbott might be toppled from the leadership, some criticism of policy failings was allowed to creep into the mainstream press, but that has all but disappeared in the wake of single improved opinion poll. I don’t think we ever got ‘Leadership Chaos’ or ‘Liberal Party dysfunction.’
Federal Health Cuts Hurting State Health System
The 2014 budget announced that the Coalition will dramatically shrink the Commonwealth’s share of hospital funding, cutting its annual contribution by $15billion by 2024, with the deepest cuts beginning in 2017. I’m not sure where this measure is in legislative terms, but State governments have no alternative but to plan to cut health costs on the assumption that that they will now have to bear more of them. But any attempt by the SA State Labor government to rationalise hospitals is met with angry headlines from the ABC as well as the Murdoch press and the leader of the opposition. I’m not arguing for or against specific proposals in Labor’s Transforming Health plan, but it’s obvious that whatever cuts a state government has to make will be unpopular with someone. Today’s ABC headline was ‘SA Government response to health plan feedback dismissed Repat concerns, veteran says’. Where is the federal LNP government’s responsibility in all this?
Abbott Fluffs Budget Emergency
We’re hearing that the 2015 budget will be ‘dull and routine’, and without the major expenditure cuts that marked the 2014 budget. This is of course an exercise in expectation management, and not to be taken too seriously. But even so, what has happened to the budget emergency? Are we supposed not to worry about that anymore? Since we know that headlines set the agenda, is it OK to quietly change the conversation we were supposed to be having? That there never was a ‘budget emergency’ is irrelevant. Whatever one’s personal view of the state of the budget and its role in the economy, most commentators have argued that it needs some structural adjustment – like raising more revenue. We’ll see what Hockey produces this time, but whatever it is I’m betting against a headline like ‘Contractions in Government Spending Weaken Economy’. On the other hand, I do have to pay the Australian Financial Review headline of 19 March: ‘Abbott loses the plot on debt’ (pay-walled).
Corporate Crook Rorts System
This one arises from the arrest of a former Commonwealth Bank IT executive. If we can have ‘Union Thugs’ can we please also have corporate crooks? I know the man is pleading not guilty and is therefore not at this point a crook, but when did that ever stop any editor? Remember Craig Thomson? And Peter Slipper?
Shorten’s Labor a unified, happy team
Good news never makes the headlines, but given how enthusiastically the disunity of the party was emphasised before the election – and ever since by Abbott’s ‘blame Labor’ mantra – this one is surely worth a run. But no. Even from The Monthly we get ‘Labor’s love lost. Which hill is Labor’s light on again?’ It’s worth reading, and has a few optimistic things to say, but presumably the editor thought none of the Greens would read it if the headline was even faintly positive.
Negative Gearing Results in Higher Housing Costs
This is a headline we never see because hardly anyone ever talks about negative gearing in the mainstream media. It’s not that we get ‘Negative Gearing the Best Thing since Sliced Bread’; we just don’t hear about this particular distortion of the housing market – and who benefits from it. If you want to find out more, try this. And as if he’s been reading my mind … Greg Jericho in the Guardian, ‘Negative gearing: a legal tax rort for rich investors that reduces housing affordability’. Thanks Greg.
Red Tape Repeal Day: stripping away protection
It was the Abbott Government’s second Red Tape Repeal Day on Wednesday, and it seems to have been so underwhelming that it didn’t generate any headlines at all. We did get the headline on the ABC: ‘Australian National Produce Monitoring System, safety net for monitoring chemicals in Australia’s domestic food, axed by Government’, so I suppose that’s something.
Having said all that, I do have to give credit to the Sydney Morning Herald for this: Tony Abbott’s government by shambles: something has to change.
*Since I rarely read/pay for the Murdoch press, my sample is a bit limited. But they often set the agenda for both Fairfax and the ABC.