State border restrictions have been an important tool used by state and territory governments to protect their citizens from COVID-19 but unfortunately, the ABC has reported on these restrictions in a politically biased manner.
I’m from Tasmania; that’s where my family lives but I can’t visit them as the border is closed to Victoria. You wouldn’t know it, though, from following the ABC’s coverage on border restrictions. Tasmania’s closed border is scarcely mentioned in comparison to the coverage the ABC has given to the border closures in Queensland and Western Australia.
If you’re in a Labor state and you’re thinking that the ABC has covered your state’s border closures in a more critical fashion and more frequently than the border restrictions in Liberal states, your thoughts would be correct. Excluding articles covering the breaking of border restrictions, border legal challenges and speculation over the Ashes, ABC News has published 73 articles on border restrictions so far this month and the majority have been written about Labor states.
Queensland has received the majority of coverage so far this month with 33 of the 73 articles on ABC News covering Queensland border restrictions — that’s three more articles just on Queensland than all the Liberal states combined. When it comes to articles that are critical of border restrictions, Queensland tops the list again with seven articles followed by Western Australia with five. Despite 16 articles on South Australian border restrictions, none of them criticised the restrictions.
When you directly compare the total coverage of border restrictions in Labor and Liberal states in ABC News articles so far this month, the results paint a clear picture of biased reporting. Given that Tasmania and South Australia continue to have in place strong border restrictions, you would expect the coverage of the restrictions to match that of Western Australia and Queensland, but this is not the case. There have been 55 articles this month reporting border closures in Labor states which is almost double the 30 articles covering border restrictions in Liberal states.
Of course, the above analysis only covers the period of 1–20 October, but this is a continuation of the same biased coverage from the ABC that we have seen throughout the pandemic. If you go to the ABC News website right now and search the phrase “slams border shut” or “hard border” there won’t be any prizes for guessing which states’ border restrictions are regularly reported with such editorialised language.
But ABC News articles are just one aspect of what the ABC offers in terms of news. The coverage of border restrictions on 7.30 has been far more one-sided. Again, excluding coverage of the breaking of border restrictions and border legal challenges, 7.30 has run 21 stories on state border restrictions throughout this pandemic.
Of those 21 stories, as with the ABC News articles, Queensland and Western Australia topped the coverage with 13 and nine stories covering their border restrictions respectively. Unsurprisingly Queensland and Western Australia were also on the receiving end of negative 7.30 stories more frequently than other states.
One of 7.30’s more recent stories, ‘Calls for Queensland and WA to explain what living with COVID-19 will look like’, reports “mounting pressure” on Queensland and Western Australia to explain their plan to open up.
Before providing commentary from locals on how their state has maintained a relatively normal life during COVID-19, the segment opens with:
“From the banks of the Swan River to the waterways of Brisbane, the capitals of Australia's two largest states have mostly escaped COVID. It's as if the pandemic has yet to arrive.”
Yet, Tasmania and South Australia are the two states in Australia with the lowest overall case numbers and they aren’t even mentioned in this story that focuses on “COVID free” states with border restrictions. According to this story, there are “real costs” to isolating your state from New South Wales and Victoria but apparently, those costs only affect Queensland and Western Australia — Tasmania and South Australia are somehow immune to those costs.
So why is there no “mounting pressure” on Tasmania and South Australia to open their borders and ‘explain what living with COVID-19 will look like’? Considering the statistics presented in this article, it would appear that “mounting pressure” is just selective media coverage, a simple case of finding the right business owners, medical experts, “stranded citizens” or opposition leaders to complain about border restrictions. It’s just another one of the mainstream media’s self-fulfilling prophecies.
Make no mistake, if the ABC wanted to portray “mounting pressure” on the Liberal states of Tasmania and South Australia, they could easily do so. There is always someone quite happy to get their face on national television.
The story ‘Hard border with Queensland separates families on Father’s Day’ is another perfect example of biased coverage. Queensland wasn’t the only state with border restrictions that prevented children from visiting their parents on Father’s Day — I couldn’t fly home to Tasmania to see my father, yet there was no story reporting how Tasmania had separated families on Father’s Day.
When viewing 7.30’s coverage of border closures with a Labor vs Liberal lens, the bias is again clear. There has been almost triple the amount of 7.30 coverage on Labor border restrictions and this has been matched in the critical coverage with 13 negative mentions of Labor border restrictions and only four for Liberal states.
It should also be noted that throughout the pandemic, 7.30 has been in direct opposition to the hard and fast lockdown approach taken by Labor states and regularly praised NSW for their “last resort” approach to lockdowns.
Perhaps the ABC isn’t anti-lockdown or anti-border restrictions but is simply anti-Labor.
Hayden O’Connor is an I.T. professional from Tasmania who currently lives in Melbourne. You can follow Hayden on Twitter @HaydenJOConnor.
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