29 September 2006

The Australian lurches ever rightward

‘Bias’ is an over-used word in relation to Australian media. It is, as we all know, in the eye of the beholder. However, when a media institution shows evidence of a consistent and long-running habit of slanting news coverage with inflammatory headlines, unflattering juxtapositions of articles on the same page, or printing news articles consisting entirely of opinion, I think the judgement can be justified.

In this light, I claim that The Australian newspaper, the proud possession of Rupert Murdoch, has shown a marked lurch to the right in recent years. This bias is in evidence on a daily basis and gets more outrageous by the day.

For example, today’s target of the sub-editor’s hatchet is the federal Labor Party, and in particular its leader Kim Beazley. The first headline on the front page is “Beazley leaves voters in marginal seats dissatisfied: poll”. At the bottom of the page, we see by contrast “PM into battle to save Kokoda from goldmine”. Turning the page, we find nine articles in total, five of which are anti-Labor, and one supportive of the Prime Minister. One of the five is also highly misleading.

The headlines:

1. “Beazley avoids risk, says Jones.” This is code for “Beazley lacks ‘ticker’”, reinforcing one of the Prime Minister’s oldest lines of attack against the Opposition Leader.

2. “Voters in marginal seats dissatisfied”. So-called marginal seats are what any party has to win in order to achieve government in the Australian system. Are they dissatisfied with their representation by their government in the nation’s parliament? Of course not, the dissatisfaction is entirely with Labor’s leadership.

3. “Labor ‘employer’ not real deal”. (see more below).

4. “ALP fails to attract women

5. “Company offers peace talks to illegal strikers

6. “PM into battle to save Kokoda from miners”. The Kokoda Track is of course, one of the graven images of Australian nationalism, a tropical battlefield in New Guinea which has about as much resonance in the national psyche as Gettysburg has for Americans.

Article 3, by Matthew Franklin, is worth looking at more closely. The first paragraph reads:

“LABOR has cited the views of a Melbourne pharmacist, a Gladstone engineer and a Launceston hire car company manager to back its claim that big business is not wedded to the Howard Government's Work Choices program.”

There is already a problem. Labor is not claiming “big business” has a problem with Work Choices, but small business, as we shall see.

“But the Launceston company manager told The Australian yesterday that while he opposed Work Choices, he was not an employer.”

Hang on, who said he was an employer?

“Federal Labor leader Kim Beazley said on Wednesday that businesspeople had told him they did not press the Government to implement Work Choices, which encourages greater use of workplace contracts.”

Notice it is “businesspeople”, not big business. There is a difference.

“Asked yesterday to put The Australian in touch with businesspeople to back the claims, Mr Beazley's spokesman nominated three small-businessmen who gave evidence to a Labor backbench taskforce earlier this year.”

Notice it’s “small-businessmen” now.

“… and Hertz car rental employee Andrew Lovitt all told the inquiry they had reservations about Work Choices. … But Mr Lovitt also said as Launceston operations and marketing manager he was ‘not technically an employer’".

Again, who said he was an employer? Looking at the headline, one might think it was Labor who is claiming he was an employer. Yet Beazley never said anything of the sort. The rest of the article is taken up with statements by the head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Peter Hendy, who was formerly a Government staff member. He says things like: “I don't know which individuals he's been talking to who haven't been arguing for industrial relations reform”. Yet the article itself already names the very individuals!

The contrast between 1 and 6 is clear, in terms entirely flattering to the government, and uncannily reinforcing two of its most persistent campaign slogans: Howard defends Australian values, while Beazley dithers.

I am waiting for the day when they replace the sub-heading ‘Keeping the Nation Informed’ with ‘Fair and Balanced’. It can’t be too far off.

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