Whose views shape the news?

COMMENT by Barry Tucker*                 20 May, 2013

Given the political news media bias debate that has been raging in Australia during the present term of the federal Labor government you would hope someone would survey journalists on their bias. And you would hope they would do a thorough job.

Well, the survey’s been done (the first in some 20 years), but I’m not sure it was a thorough job.

Folker Hanusch, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at University of the Sunshine Coast, reports on the survey in The Conversation. It was conducted between May 2012 and March this year.

The university’s “representative survey” involved 605 of the country’s estimated 8000 to 10,000 journalists “around Australia”. I’m prepared to concede that a university’s academic staff knows more about conducting a survey than I do, but to my mind that’s a tiny representative sample. I wouldn’t be happy with a survey of less than half of them. In any case, there are not 8-10,000 political journalists in Australia. The survey response rate was 89.5%.

The survey “found that more than half (51.0%) describe themselves as having Left-of-centre political views, compared with only 12.9% who consider themselves Right-of-centre”. There’s that “only” word again (my underlining). When you are writing confidently, you don’t need it.

This is also a worry, part of the second sentence: “But while the media’s political leanings will no doubt be debated in the lead-up to September’s federal election, …” Will no doubt be debated in the lead-up … where has this guy been during the past three years?

The introduction to The Conversation article is: “Most Australian journalists describe themselves as left-wing, yet amongst those who wield the real power in the country’s newsrooms, the Coalition holds a winning lead.” It’s referring to the editors.

Later, in the section Media bosses more in sync with voters, there’s this:

“Among the 83 senior editors who took part in the survey, the Coalition was the party of choice on 43.2%, followed by Labor (34.1%) and the Greens (11.4%).

“This suggests that Australia’s media bosses are more in line with the broader electorate, at least according to recent Newspoll results.”

Excuse me? Am I living in a parallel universe? Unless I’ve completely lost touch with reality, I think it is the editors (and the owners and managers) who are leading public opinion and the broader electorate is being led by the nose. The opinion polls (one of which, Newspoll, is half-owned by News Limited) are reflecting what the editors think, not what the “broader electorate” really thinks. Either Mr Hanusch, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, missed the recent docco on Rupert Murdoch followed by the SBS screening of Shadows of Liberty or he dismisses what was outlined in them. The journalists surveyed included some from AAP, also half-owned by News Limited, along with some from radio, TV and many of the scores of newspapers that Rupert Murdoch controls.

When I was a working journalist I read three newspapers every morning, listened to every hourly radio news bulletin and watched TV news and current affairs from 5pm to 8pm at least, in addition to discussing current affairs with colleagues and people I socialised with. There was never any doubt in my mind what the “broader electorate” thought on any subject at any given moment and I’m sure it’s still true for mainstream political journos today. Whether or not they are allowed to report accurately, fairly and without bias is another matter.

I also take issue with one aspect of the story in relation to the political leaning of journalists in regional areas. The survey found 44.4% would vote for the Coalition. I don’t dispute the figure, but I think it may be a reflection of the ALP federal government’s relative lack of representation in regional areas. Labor doesn’t see “the bush” as part of its natural stomping ground and I think that’s a mistake. If that changed, the leaning of some of those regional journalists would change.

The survey will be published in the June edition of the Australian Journalism Review.

The earlier survey, which also involved such “… a large number of journalists”, was the work of John Henningham in the early 1990s.

After I wrote this yesterday, my attention was brought to the Tweet below:


Mr Murdoch does not acknowledge the role his Australian news media outlets have played in forming an opinion of the federal Labor government in the minds of the Australian voters. One of the polls he refers to, Newspoll, is 45% owned by his Australian company, News Limited.

* I am a Labor party supporter, but not a party member.


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  1. Whose views shape the news? | lmrh5

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