The mainstream media are doing their best to skew the debate and misrepresent in the lead up to the 2013 Federal election, says Matthew N. Donovan.
LIKE MANY people, I am constantly frustrated and let down by the way the mainstream media misrepresents the current Australian political landscape.
It's not a matter of the reporting being against my political allegiance, given that I am a Labor supporter*, it's a matter of bias.
I just want news to be news — not entertainment and manipulation.
When I was trained in journalism at the University of Southern Queensland, I was taught the role of the fourth estate was to present the facts in an even-handed, unemotional way, with little colourful language so as not to lead my audience to be predisposed to a certain side of the story.
The media is failing this test and failing badly. Any objective assessment would show that papers like The Australian are eager to present stories in the worst possible light for the Government, seeking to twist facts and change the discussion when it gets awkward for the Coalition. They seemingly want to present the Coalition as being the shoe-in.
In opinion pieces? Go for it. In articles? No opinion, other than the direct quotes of interviewed talent.
Murdoch doesn't seem to agree, but these are simple journalistic principles that have gone out the window in our media. Rather than seeing news as a public service and being responsible with his power in our society, he sees news as a way to exert influence. You only need to look at the scourge of Fox News and that becomes crystal clear.
Well, the facts are starting to enter the discussion and no amount of screaming from the front pages can change them — Tony Abbott and the Coalition have major issues.
This will be tough contest for the Coalition and there are reinvigorated signs of momentum for Labor in the Newspoll released earlier this week.
I get angry when I see simplistic assessments of how the polls look for Labor. I am all for reality and facing facts but many of the predictions of seat gains and losses are just plain lazy. For example, you can't just take the national average swing as projected in a poll and apply it equally in each and every state. It doesn't work like that.
Each state has their own level of ALP recovery. A 5 per cent swing in SA would mean nothing to Labor (in terms of loss of seats) but the same result in NSW would be a disaster.
The recent quarterly state based federal voting intentions had Labor climbing to 48 per cent to the Coalition's 52 per cent. The next is due any week now.
There was an impressive jump in primary vote in New South Wales of 4 per cent to 48 per cent, up 2 per cent in Victoria to 54 per cent, unchanged in Queensland at 42 per cent, up 2 per cent to 50 per cent in South Australia and up 3 per cent in Western Australia to 45 per cent.
If you assume state-wide uniform swings and apply the headline numbers across the country it would lead to the loss of 7 seats for Labor (Corangamite, Greenway, La Trobe, Robertson, Lindsay, Moreton and Petrie) and 1 gain (Hasluck). A net loss of 6 seats to 65 seats.
Another national Newspoll released on Tuesday indicates numbers in line with the last quarterly state based poll, and a much needed increase of a further 3 per cent for Labor on two party preferred basis to 48 per cent against 52 per cent for the LNP.
If the individual state specific results were applied in the same way, it would lead to the gain of 2 seats (Hasluck and Canning) and the loss of 1 seat (Corangamite). A net gain of 1 seat and an improvement of 6 seats since the last Newspoll. Polls go up and polls go down but if we're going to analyse the landscape, let's do it properly.
A trap many easily fall into is projecting an outcome based on a poll today for an election that is months away. Trends and momentum play a part as well as proximity to an election. The closer the election gets, the more attention electors pay and the more accurate polls are likely to be.
This battle will be won in seats like Brisbane (QLD), Longman (QLD), Dawson (QLD), Forde (QLD), Fisher QLD), Dickson (QLD), Boothby (SA), Hasluck (WA), Canning (WA), Swan (WA) and Macquarie (NSW). Labor needs to gain a majority of these seats without the loss of anything unpredicted.
State based polling is showing a bounce in NSW and that needs to continue with a comfortable buffer zone being created above 2010's 48.84 per cent vote. Western Sydney must be targeted heavily and the recent foray by the Gillard Government into Penrith seems to have yielded a bounce in the most recent poll.
A very strong Queensland result is the key to Labor maintaining government and big moves are being indicated in state polling against Newman's cuts. They need to start to pass through to Federal voting intentions and my prediction is they will.
Targeted seat campaigns in Boothby and Macquarie are also needed to give certainty should the swing be uneven in some states. Western Australia is looking at being on trend to pick up 1, 2 or even 3 seats, given the blow out swing against Labor in 2010 in the state and current trends and momentum.
My prediction is the growing discontent in Victoria, New South Wales and, especially, Queensland with the actions of their governments will play a major part in a continued polling recovery for Labor and the election campaign proper.
This is not a foregone conclusion and with polls confirming a tightening, it will pay for mainstream media to admit this is a contest.
Labor and Julia Gillard is well and truly in this in terms of preferred PM and approval, regaining the lead over Tony Abbott.
It's going to be one hell of an election year.
Note on methodology: Poll numbers have been rounded to nearest 1 per cent, which does not impact the outcome.
(* Editor's note: Matthew Donovan is Independent Australia's part-time sub-editor and a former Labor Party state candidate in Queensland. He is no relation to managing editor David Donovan or his brother Matthew J. Donovan — a former South Australian Liberal Party candidate.)