Can news media influence election outcome?

By Barry Tucker                    9 August, 2013

The assumption, and the fear of many, is that biased news coverage can influence the outcome of an election. But is this a fact?

In Australia (which has been in election campaign mode since the drawn election and hung parliament of 2010), the Left worries that the obvious bias of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp will end Labor’s reign.

There’s no doubt about Murdoch’s preference:

Murdochtweet

There is no shortage of evidence of biased news reporting elsewhere in this resource centre and in my blog The Sniper. It’s my belief that opinion polls are influenced by bias in the news media; where else would people get the information on which to base their opinions?

Bronwen Clune has been able to devote some time to researching the question of whether Murdoch or any other news empire or medium can influence an election outcome. She wrote about it in an article for the Guardian Au.

Ms Clune’s profile as it appears in the Guardian:

Bronwen Clune is a journalist and writer. She is vice-president of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation and currently works as digital director at Margaret Gee’s Media Guide. You can find her on Twitter @bronwen

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Two days before Ms Clune’s article appeared, the Brisbane Times website (Fairfax Media) ran an opinion piece by Jonathan Holmes, the former presenter of ABC TV’s Media Watch.

The headline was: Knives out for Rudd, but what’s in it for Rupert?

And the sub-head read: Murdoch has the power to influence an Australian election. And it might be for reasons you’re not expecting.

The caption, under a mug shot of Rupert Murdoch, was: Rupert Murdoch: why does he hate Rudd?

Those three items were most likely the work of the website sub-editor, not Mr Holmes. Last time I checked, the story had attracted 321 comments.

Mr Holmes refers to The Daily Telegraph’s page 1 coverage of Labor since the election campaign was officially begun last Sunday, 4 August:

No one who has even been glancing at The Daily Telegraph over the past year or so could have been surprised. Ever since Paul ”Boris” Whittaker took over as editor, the Tele has been going for the Gillard government boots and all.

John Spooner illustration

John Spooner illustration

But to lead off its election coverage with so savage an editorial kick at the Prime Minister’s head is going it a bit, even for Boris. Especially as the PM is not Julia Gillard, whom most of the Tele’s readership long ago decided they couldn’t stomach, but Kevin Rudd, for whom many in Sydney still have a soft spot.

He was referring to cartoonised depictions of Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, colleagues and suspended member Craig Thomson as Nazis one day and clowns the next.

It is obvious to anyone who tracks News Corp’s political reporting in any of its newspapers, websites, radio allies, Sky, Foxtel, Ch10 or 10’s Meet the Press or The Bolt Report that there is an overwhelming bias against Labor — regardless of who is the Labor PM. It was Rudd, then Gillard, then Rudd and the bias is still there.

There has been a slight backlash to the recent election coverage of The Daily Telegraph, especially its page 1 cartoons and blatant bias against Labor. See: Newsagents refuse to sell Murdoch’s Telegraph

Jonathan Holmes

Jonathan Holmes

Former ABC Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes agrees with some others that both versions of the National Broadband Network now under construction (Labor’s expensive all-fibre model and the Coalition’s cheaper fibre to the street corner, or node FTTN) pose a threat to Murdoch’s Foxtel dominance.

However, Mr Holmes discredits the theory that there’s a “quid pro quo” (or deal) in Murdoch’s support for the Coalition and denigration of Labor. He thinks Murdoch fancies himself as a king maker and is simply playing politics by backing Conservatives and ranting against unions. This overlooks the fact that Murdoch backed Labor Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam and Kevin Rudd — before turning on them when he didn’t get what he wanted in commercial rather than political terms.

One thing Murdoch wanted from Mr Whitlam was the position of High Commissioner in London. You could argue that would be a political advantage, but it would certainly enhance his commercial prospects. It would also have enticed some respect from the British, something which until now, and probably for ever in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, they have denied him.

In my opinion there is more to this than anyone has been able to expose or is willing to put into print. I guess we will only know the truth, determined by what happens next, after the election — regardless of who wins.

Meanwhile, you can read Mr Holmes’ story in full.

After you have done that, you might like to read Jonathan Green’s article on the ABC’s The Drum online. Mr Green argues that it is doubtful if recent shrieking front page “cartoons” ridiculing Labor MPs and candidates have any effect on voters.

He says it comes down to a matter of trust, and adds that trust appears to be declining along with sales of Murdoch’s products — a likelihood that I pointed out some time ago.

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One thought on “Can news media influence election outcome?

  1. Claims emerge of opinion poll rigging – TruthInNewsMedia

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