Does The Media Swing, Or Get Swung?

What power does the audience really have? Is the agenda set by the media, or is it actually set by the audience? A musing on News Corporation’s influence in Australia’s 2013 Federal Election. This was written in response to the following question: “What are the media being blamed for today, and is this justified?” — First published at doyouevenbcm.wordpress.com on March 18, 2014. 

Today, the Media is being blamed for directly influencing the outcome of elections by allegedly favouring certain ideologies and parties across various publications. In particular, one specific Australian media outlet came under particular scrutiny during the 2013 Election. Questions remain as to whether its actions were too direct, and influenced the election result via its unabashed support of one Australian political party, coupled with its relentless smearing of their opposition.

“But whether the Tele swung votes or not, there’s
no question it was trying.
The final tally of the paper’s coverage in the
election campaign stacks up like this:
Out of a total of 293 political stories we scored only
six as pro Labor. While 43 were pro coalition. On
the negative side there were just five articles which
we judged to be anti Coalition. While a remarkable
134 were anti Labor. The rest we scored as
neutral”

(Media Watch 2014)

News Corp Australia, is almost unparalleled in its broadcasting ability within the Australian media landscape, and this awesome power was demonstrated during the Australian Federal election in 2013. Front page news was replaced with opinion pieces and these dominated News Corp’s capital city tabloids The Courier Mail and The Daily Telegraph leading into the election, saturating society with Liberal-National Coalition support every day, while conversely ,they actively opposed the Labor Party, who were in direct competition with the Coalition in Australia’s two party preferred government system.

Overall, the election was a landslide. The LNP took a massive 90 seats, an entire 17 more than the previous election, while the ALP slumped from 72 to 55. It can be suggested that this result can be at least partially attributed to News Corp Australia’s publications during and before the election period. Some say such a relentless campaign can not be ignored.

The question about whether the media should be blamed for this still remains. Were the actions taken by News Corp a deliberate ploy to sway the votes of the everyday Australians through an unrelenting barrage of bias — Or, was this an innocent and completely understandable business decision? Were News Corp just providing their audience with the sort of opinion and news they actually desired, so as to sell as many copies of their publications as possible? Or was there another motive behind their editorial decisions?

The only certain answer as to the media’s culpability depends on your individual perspective. Some will see News Corp’s editorials as purely a calculated commercial decision, designed to aid the bottom line and take advantage of a common swing against Labor amongst the electorate, as the election went on.

Others, will view their actions as the catalyst for the change in government and a key factor in the landslide LNP victory. Not all the blame can be attributed to News and other media outlets until their controlling stake holders admit to any sort of purposeful bias and designs to alter the outcome of an election; I used to hold the belief that News Corp Australia were purposefully trying to influence the election result.

But the further I look into this situation, considering News Corp Australia’s past, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this was a calculated commercial decision. Maybe News would have preferred a Coalition victory simply because it would sell more papers — If they were to publish the type of editorials and “News” the electorate was favouring, they’d inevitably experience an increase in the sales of their publications during the election period.

They openly supported Labor in the 2007 Election, as some may recall — The Daily Telegraph even referenced this in it’s infamous editorial-cover-piece “Finally, you now have the chance to… KICK THIS MOB OUT”:

“In 2007, The Daily Telegraph supported the
election of a Labor government led by Kevin
Rudd.” (Daily Telegraph 2013)

Based on that, was 2013 just 2007 with blue neck ties instead of red?

The same arguments can be applied to 2007 — A swing for change, and the media of the nation simply responding by creating a product it’s customers desired — a pro Labor product.

Perspective. Where you stand will decide what you feel about this. The more I think about it, the more I can believe that this was just a business making a smart business decision.

Certainly, it is just as plausible that News Corp Australia “went with the flow” as it is to suggest that the landslide victory was influenced heavily by their publications — They aren’t the only media publishers in Australia.

Based on that, I cannot blame the media for influencing election results directly — It’s not justified.

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