Bias exhibited by the Murdoch press is having too much political influence and slowly degrading our democracy, writes Dr Victoria Fielding.
HAVE YOU EVER HEARD the fable of the boiling frog? The tale goes like this. If a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump straight out. But if it is placed in tepid water and the heat slowly rises, the frog will stay cooking in the water until it is boiled to death. The frog fails to pick the exact moment the water became dangerously hot.
This analogy is a great way of understanding how Australian democracy is being boiled in the water of Murdoch media bias.
For many years, we have known the once tepidly biased Murdoch media was “dialling up” its bias. News reporting, commentary and opinion at Murdoch outlets were increasingly biased towards conservative ideas and right-wing political campaigning.
When former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s petition for a Murdoch royal commission reached a record 500,000 signatures, I wondered if this would give pause to the Murdoch machine and its journalists might reduce the simmer on their bias to stop it bubbling over.
But alas, it would appear they have instead amped it up. Perhaps since their bias has been exposed and they are called out on it either way, they may as well let their true colours shine.
The heat seems to have been turned up a notch this Federal Election to the point where democracy is boiling. As just one example, the front page of the Daily Telegraph closely resembles a Liberal Party campaign banner.
Mainstream media is not meant to be biased in this way. The whole point of news media during an election is to educate voters about their choices so they can vote in an informed way at the polling booth.
To do this effectively, journalists are meant to spend time interrogating all candidates in a fair, diverse and equitable way, discussing and comparing the details of policy announcements, and holding politicians to account for their conduct while in office and on the campaign trail.
Murdoch media is plainly failing to deliver journalism for a healthy democracy. Instead, it’s distorting reality for voters by campaigning on behalf of the Liberal-National Coalition. Its election coverage is so one-sided that it is closer to propaganda than journalism.
I always include a caveat at this point. Not all journalism produced at Murdoch outlets is one-sided. However, when it comes to political coverage, the vast majority of both journalism and commentary has become so obviously biased and so openly sides with the Liberal Party campaign that it’s astonishing our society has let it get this bad.
Part of the reason Australian democracy hasn’t jumped out of the boiling Murdoch bias is that no institution is powerful or brave enough to make an enemy of Murdoch outlets. Just like when we were told major banks were “too big to fail” during the Global Financial Crisis, Murdoch outlets are too big to critique. With 59 per cent ownership concentration, Murdoch criticism is automatically a David and Goliath battle.
Academic research regularly highlights the biased nature of Murdoch media and discusses the way Murdoch “stifles dissent” from critics. I have recently published a paper arguing Murdoch media uses news reporting to campaign for conservative cultural, social, industrial and political causes, and that this form of “conservative advocacy” degrades democracy.
Every media academic and university student I have met assumes and accepts that Murdoch media is biased. Yet, even with all this scholarly knowledge, the water continues to boil and Australian democracy continues to weaken.
The news media itself is also seemingly incapable of holding the Murdoch media to account for its corrosive impact on democracy. Indeed, when the victims of this bias – voters who have a personal stake in the health of democracy – complain about it, more often than not they are the ones criticised by non-Murdoch journalists as trolls and accused of abuse.
Journalists in Australia collectively appear more interested in taking the side of their Murdoch colleagues than defending the public’s access to fair, balanced and unbiased news media.
When people ask me what the solution to this problem is, the only answer is that Australians need to use their collective democratic power to call for more media regulation to address the problem of concentrated, politicised media power. The people of Australia are suffering from democratic injustice when the largest media organisation in the country is blatantly campaigning for conservative political causes. The only way to solve this injustice is through government reform.
But here is the dilemma. Is democracy so cooked in the media bias broth that political parties Murdoch opposes are unable to win elections? Does the frog still have time to jump out, or is it too late? Has the democracy-frog already been boiled to death?
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