Politics Analysis

Mainstream media roll out pro-Coalition narrative for the election year

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Cartoon by Mark David/@mdavidcartoons

With a federal election due this year or early next, the misinformation from Australia’s mainstream media is ramping up. Alan Austin reports.

COALITION PARTIES and the pro-Coalition media already spreading the falsehoods they hope will dupe enough voters. The upcoming election is already being influenced by these elements. 

It is widely accepted that federal elections are decided primarily on the state of the economy. Or perceptions thereof. Several key deceptions regarding the economy were advanced in the ABC’s first Insiders program for the year, aired on 31 January.

Blatant falsehoods

The first and most obvious ploy is simply to falsify the Coalition’s record.

Insiders guest Shalailah Medhora from Triple J’s Hack claimed:

“Youth unemployment and underemployment have fallen massively in the last labour force figures. Youth underemployment was huge. It was in the twenties-something percentage. It has now fallen to a 23-year low. And that is obviously the result of JobKeeper ...”

This is not true. The latest figures released on 28 January show the unemployment rate for workers 15-19 years in December was 19%. That’s up from 16.4% when this regime took office and up from 17.9% a year ago.

The youth underemployment rate in December was 19.7%. That’s up from 17.6% when this Government took office and nowhere near the 23-year low, which was 11.3% in 2002.

So where did Medhora get her “information”? Search engines reveal nothing. It wasn’t from the Bureau of Statistics. From circulated Liberal Party talking points, perhaps?

False comparisons

A second deception is to compare Australia’s economy with selected countries which are not comparable. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Insiders:

“Australia starts this year from a very strong economic position, a position we wouldn't trade with any other country in the world.”

This is quite false. Australia has weathered the pandemic remarkably well, mostly thanks to the fortitude of state premiers. But federal economic management has been appalling over the last year, as it was before the pandemic hit.

The Treasurer did not nominate on Insiders the countries he believes Australia is beating, and presenter David Speers – a 20-year veteran of Murdoch’s mendacious News Corp – didn’t press him. In a doorstop on the same day, however, Frydenberg compared Australia with the United States and Britain, as he does often.

In fact, nine advanced nations have succeeded in keeping COVID-19 deaths below 18 per million over the last two months. These are the countries Australia’s economy should be compared with. In contrast, the USA recorded 536 deaths per million and Britain 701.

The nine nations to have controlled the pandemic are Australia, Hong Kong, Iceland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Of these, Australia has had by far the worst recent economic outcomes. Australia’s jobless rate is 6.6%, the highest of all those economies. The average of the other eight is 4.2%.

Australia’s annual GDP growth is still negative 3.82%. That is better than Qatar and Iceland, but not as strong as the other six. Australia is lagging most of these countries – and most of the developed world – on budget deficits, expanding debt, productivity, wages growth and other measures.

Distortion by omission

The third ruse is to make grandiose assertions but leave out the essential context.

Frydenberg asserted that:

“... the labour market has outperformed expectations. We've seen 320,000 jobs being created in the last three months.”

Whose expectations were outperformed? Australia’s jobless rate ten years ago during the last global crisis ranked third in the OECD. It is a fair expectation, therefore, with exports far stronger now, that Australia ranks at least third today.

It doesn’t. It ranks 20th, the lowest ever. If it was third, another 401,000 Australians would have jobs.

Nor is it true that 320,000 jobs have been “created”. In February 2020, before Australia experienced its first COVID-19 death, 13,003,885 people were employed. By May, 877,600 jobs had been lost.

The latest count shows only 12,910,777 people employed. So zero new jobs have been “created in the last three months". Just a fraction of the jobs lost have been clawed back. That’s all.

Frydenberg offered another example, telling Insiders:

“We've seen quarterly growth have its biggest increase since 1976.”

Well, yes. But that is the consequence of the worst quarterly collapse since the Great Depression of the 1920s – caused by the Coalition’s gross incompetence.

None of the panellists challenged any of the Treasurer’s false claims. Peter Hartcher from Nine Entertainment said of the economy, “We are doing great”. The opposite is true.

Labor’s leadership

Two non-economic themes were emphasised on Insiders to the Coalition’s great delight: that Labor is obsessed with leadership and the current leader is failing.

These have been mainstream media staples in every federal election campaign since Bill Hayden became Labor leader in 1977.

Insiders started with several video clips promoting Tanya Plibersek and undermining Anthony Albanese.

It returned to this later for several more minutes, allowing Peter Hartcher to opine:

“The mere fact that this is the big story dominating politics this week in Australia, the pressures and shenanigans of the Opposition even while there is a pandemic still being managed and a vaccine being rolled out tells you the essential problem here: that Labor can’t stop talking about itself ... They’re such a terrible bunch of hand-wringers and bed-wetters. That’s the essence of it.”

Yet while these “journalists” ridiculed Labor at length, they offered no evidence of concern about the leadership from an actual Labor member.

So why the constant regurgitation of this fake story? Two reasons. The narrative damages Labor. And it takes up countless news hours which might otherwise be applied to examining Australia’s current disastrous mismanagement.

Hartcher came close to revealing – perhaps unintentionally – Australia’s real problem:

“Of course the Labor leader hasn’t been getting any cut-through. The country has been in a crisis. The Prime Minister commands the airwaves and the attention.”

Not at all. The media giants control the airwaves – and the print acreages – and it is in their interests to manipulate voters’ perceptions by shaping the record on a daily basis.

Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read the latest update here and help out by contributing to the crowd-funding campaign HEREAlan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @AlanAustin001.

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