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The headlines we should have had…

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.


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  1. mark delmege

    How about ‘Warmongers admit Guilt’ with the article explaining how their justifications for invasions, coups and interferences were all a big lie and how they are now responsible for global terrorism, chaos in many countries and the deaths of millions of people and how those wars created tens of millions of refugees.

  2. townsvilleblog

    For we people with PTSD the news does nothing to cheer us up, and for humble former workers like myself the disability pension is far too low and the only thing I have to look forward to is the devaluing of this very modest lifeline.

  3. Bob Lawson Paulson

    Fukushima destroying the Pacific Wildlife with radiation pollution .

  4. hemingway13

    MS Rollison has provided a thought provoking, cogent criticism of the way that our woeful MSM goes about, to borrow the title of a great Noam Chomsky book, manufacturing consent.

    Incessantly the MSM distorts the truth in their headlines, ignores important events/facts/contexts and concocts propaganda images (e. g. this week Murdoch’s Sydney tabloid assassins heaping ridicule upon LOTO Foley by photoshopping him in a koala suit and green face).

    I was so astounded to see this SMH Editorial which MS Rollison mentioned has, at long last, stated the obvious reality about the dysfunctional destructiveness of the Abbott government that I emailed the Editors a brief note begging them, like Oliver Twist “Please Sir, I want some more”!

    Poor fellow, our country, but thank goodness for the AIMN.

  5. Kaye Lee

    The headline I would like to see is

    “Labor condemns offshore detention of asylum seekers”

    followed by a sensible policy designed to help refugees. But they have no credibility on this front so I won’t hold my breath

  6. mars08

    “Labor condemns vilification of Muslims”….?
    “Labor rejects closer ties with US military”….?
    “Labor rethinks support for TPP”….?
    “Labor refuses to give in to big business blackmail”….?
    “Labor attacks corporate tax loopholes”….?
    “Labor pledges to lift minimum wage”….?

  7. philgorman2014

    Labor Adopts Social Democracy as Policy Key

    Domestic Violence Halves in One Year
    National ICAC Established: Sweeping Powers
    State ICACS Part of National Network
    All Political Campaigning Publicly Funded: No Exceptions
    Public Education Nation’s Best Investment Says Treasurer
    Human Rights Commission; No More Government Interference
    National Science Council Ensures Stable Long Term R & D Funding
    New Science Ministry Provides Frank and Fearless Advice to Parliaments

    LNP Adopts liberal Principles

    Public Broadcasters Fully Independent as Adequate Public Funding Assured

    WHO Praises World’s Fairest Health System
    Australia Praised For Human Rights Commitments
    Australia Wins Gold in Education Olympics
    Peace Prize For Foreign Minister’s Achievements

    TPPA Clinches Corporate Takeover of Australia
    Trade in Services Deal Criminalises 87% of Australians
    TISA Provisions Secret Until Last MP Retires

    Global Financial Transactions Tax Rate of 0.01% Applies To All Money Moves
    Corporate Tax Rorts Stymied
    Corporate Lobbyists Take Cold Shower
    White Collar Criminals Jailed
    No More Bank Bailouts
    Capitalism Harnessed To Public Good
    No Income To Exceed 40 Times Basic Wage
    PM Declares Separation of Powers Act to Apply to Corporates
    Income Gap Narrows
    No Child Will Be Forced To Live In Poverty By 2020
    Treasurer Bites the Bullet: Makes Increased Revenue No1. Priority
    We’re All Keynesians Now!
    MPs’ Corporate Retainers Exposed: Lengthy Jail Terms
    MPs No Longer Retire to Boardroom Sinecures
    Commonwealth of Australia Made A Reality 120 Years After Federation

    Stop Wingeing: We Have the Best Politicians Money Can Buy!
    PM Orders Royal Commission Into LNP Funding

    Royal Commission Finds Nuclear Option Unviable: Recommends Multi Renewable Approach

    An Inspiring Achievement Prison Population Exceeds Tertiary Educated
    Ministers Go For Gold Awards at Annual ACM (Australian Corporate Mates)
    Murdoch Declares Global Climate Emergency
    Fox News Proclaims “Only Kidding”


  8. eli nes

    how about:
    The coalition admit they lied about the debt crisis in 2013 and the AAA rating was a labor achievement.
    The PM engages gillard to teach pyne the art of negotiation.(he and hockey are registered observers)
    Shorten compromises and votes with the gov to put up to $96000 debt with compound interest of 6% on those not intelligent enough to go to uni and unlikely to get employment. oh sorry that was in jan 2014 (
    this fits as carr, shorten et al has ignored the pleas for them to challenge this transfer of centrelink responsiblities to the unemployed as debt/
    Shorten forces government to put safeguards for VET/TAFE courses to ensure the students get something for their debt?
    A laborite since curtin and a great admirer of the windsor/oakeschott experiment with gillard who was so desperately unlucky not to have any recognition for her political successes.
    This caucus, by ignoring the plight of the unemployed, poorest wage earner and by trumpeting their doctor, lawyer colleagues have lost me to any competent independent or the greens if they take up the cudgels of the poor student already being ripped by the unis and soon by the abbott endorsed ‘institutes’.

  9. Feral Media

    Kaye good work, of course for a long time the old media churnalists and bosses have been censoring the real news…climate change, environmental destruction and the futility of consumer culture, which is indeed driven by the old media and its profits at any cost business model. Also incarceration without crime, the rise and rise of violent misogynist culture and any ongoing analysis of the Middle East and our devastating wars over there should also rate highly. Of course there IS plenty of important news to be told, good and bad and that is why we are turning more and more to new media. We need a new model for paying real journalists, or maybe we don’t, maybe we all do our bit on new media, posting, sharing, writing, analysing and crowd source to get people to cover events where we need the eyes and pen of a reporter. I am teaching my children how to find news online..we follow the UN agencies and media agencies of repute (none in Aus), there will always be an important place for fearless, smart, irreverent journalists but in Australia they have become so entrenched in the extreme right wing establishment they are simply propaganda machines.

  10. Harquebus

    I have suggested this before. For a good youtube video google: Propaganda and Manipulation How mass media engineers and distorts our perceptions
    I highly recommend it.

  11. Kirsten

    I suggest we can remedy some of the evils described here, subvert this agenda-setting, by sending articles around our own social media networks with our own headlines attached. A kind of deconstruction and translation of what is actually interesting and important, reading (and writing) between the lines.

    The trick is to use Capitals in your comments.

    Entertainment for all the family; a useful–if somewhat cynical–way of reading the news. Recommended for bolshie teenagers.

    Good article, Kay Rolison. Thanks for this.

  12. paul walter

    How about, “Labor joins Tory Collaborationist Vichy government”?

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