Australian Politics & the Media game

I just noticed a piece by former opposition leader John Hewson that is running on The Drum (ABC’s Opinion Forum). Hewson makes the great point that todays politics is almost a 24 hour game with the media and 2 major parties active players in the creation of 2 second sound bites designed to influence the ‘average aussies’ voting choice. He goes on to criticize the way the media will not ask the hard questions of our political elite and instead amuse themselves with peddling the same bile that dribbles out of the mouths of Abbott or Gillard.

Here is a bit of what he has to say:

The press has been fundamental to the disturbing situation that we now have, with two essentially shameless candidates, devoid of real policy substance, claiming to “lead” us on significant moral issues, such as asylum seekers and climate change.

Fundamental, in the sense that many of our major journalists, both print and multimedia, now rank themselves and each other as “players” in the “game” we now call politics; that 24-hour contest between our political leaders to win the media on the day.

This is a game where “winning” is everything, and where, increasingly, policy substance, values, ideas and ideologies don’t matter. Where personalities, and “colour” and “movement” dominate, and where ability to “sell” or “spin”, rather than merit or substance, are more valued and determinate.

A particular case in point is the role of the Murdoch media in the rise and fall of Rudd.

By way of background, I recall when I became Leader of the Opposition that I visited most of the major newspaper editors to introduce myself and to outline policy intentions.

I most vividly remember an early meeting with Paul Kelly, then Editor of The Australian. Kelly stated quite emphatically that The Oz had a specific policy agenda, and if I said the right things, consistent with that agenda, I would “get a run”. If I erred, I could expect to get a drubbing.

I did, for a time, “get a run”, but even though my policy agenda was far more substantive and far reaching than theirs, I was always competing with their awe of Keating.

Today, The Australian seems to have moved away from any specific policy agenda, but with all its journos writing under by-lines, as with most media these days, there is something of a contest as to who is the “top kingmaker”?

Indeed, I was particularly struck at the last election by the number of individual journos who openly “campaigned” for Rudd, that is, in the sense of not just stating that they expected him to win, but in actually advocating that he should.

You might also focus on the performance of the key journos at recent press conferences, which are now taking on more of the form we might have expected from those of the old Soviet Union, or Eastern Europe.

Scary times indeed when I find myself agreeing with moderate former Liberal Party leaders about the disgusting ‘game’ we voters are forced to endure.


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