Pressure builds against news media bias

Comment By Barry Tucker                    28 August, 2013

Official action to correct unbalanced and biased political reporting in Australian news media has begun. It may be too little, too late to save the federal Labor government, with an election 10 days away.

The move gained weight when Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd protested against the front pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph that have appeared since the election campaign began.

Tele front page, day 1.

Tele front page, day 1.

The Daily Telegraph and Murdoch’s Brisbane paper, The Courier-Mail, have since ridiculed Labor MPs, once depicting them as Hogan’s Heroes characters, some wearing Nazi uniforms.

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Col Allan, mastermind of tabloid covers. NY Times pic

Col Allan, mastermind of tabloid covers.
NY Times pic

On day 1 of the campaign, PM Rudd claimed Murdoch had told his journalists “to go hard on Rudd and don’t back off“. Here’s an ABC radio follow-up. The original story is hard to find in the mainstream Press, but follow-ups are plentiful — telling in itself. Back in May, Murdoch tweeted that “polls show nothing can save this miserable government. People decided and tuned out months ago”. The Liberal National Party Opposition has stated that the government’s claims of news media bias are false.

Murdochtweet

In an interview in The Australian (Murdoch’s flagship national broadsheet), the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, said Mr Rudd got the media coverage he deserved.

On August 12, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Communications*, Anthony Albanese, said News Corp journalists had told him they were “embarrassed” by the effects of the reporting and front pages since the election campaign began. (*Communications includes broadband, ABC and media generally).

Visiting British MP Tom Watson (@Tom_Watson) told Fairfax’s The Australian Financial Review Murdoch’s tabloids had become propaganda sheets that abuse their monopoly position.

Mr Watson has appeared on numerous radio and tv programs during his visit (he sat on the UK parliamentary committee that investigated allegations of phone hacking by Murdoch and other UK journalists). He is here to observe the conduct of the Murdoch news media during the election campaign, not to conduct an exposé of Murdoch newspapers as it was originally reported.

Early on Tuesday (August 27), PM Rudd said all Australians should view Monday night’s episode of the ABC’s Media Watch, which provided evidence of biased political coverage by News Corp. Graphs used in that program demonstrated the extent of the negative coverage of the government and the favourable coverage of the Opposition. The Daily Telegraph and Ms Gemma Jones, a Telegraph reporter named in the Media Watch program, have stated they will complain to the ABC and the Australian Communications and Media Authority over the episode.

On Tuesday, the Australian Press Council’s chairman Julian Disney wrote to all major newspapers’ editors, pointing out that guidelines require their papers to distinguish between news and opinion. AAP produced a report on the APC chairman’s lettter, reproduced in Fairfax’s The Sydney Morning Herald. Read the Reuters version of the story.

Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer, convenor of the Palmer United Party (PUP), with candidates standing in every federal seat, has been critical of Murdoch, of news media coverage and the political Duopoly — the dominance of two major and opposing political parties. Mr Palmer has said the news media is operating to maintain this dominance at the expense of minor parties. He recently clashed with controversial ABC radio presenter Jon Faine over allegations of sexual misconduct against two PUP candidates.

Mr Palmer hung up on Mr Faine — terminating a brief and shouty interview. Before hanging up, Mr Palmer suggested the presentation of unproven allegations was typical of the unethical practices of some news media.

Mr Faine has been “spoken to” by ABC management over a interview in which he aggressively sought proof of journalists’ allegations of professional misconduct by former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard during her time as a lawyer with the Australian Workers Union (AWU). The allegations have not been presented before a court and remain unproven.

It is increasingly clear that the connection between the news media and opinion polls needs to be broken. ABC management must be free of political allegiances. Journalists have guidelines designed to assure impartiality and they are easy to work with. The Labor government’s attempt to introduce changes to the structure of the APC were amateurish and inadequate and would have done nothing to improve the situation, beyond limiting the amalgamation of news media ownership. Ultimately, the journalists themselves have the power to continue or to end the present unsatisfactory and unfair situation which is clearly not in the best interests of Australia’s democracy.

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