Scott Morrison is like Teflon in the mainstream media: nothing sticks, writes Dr Victoria Fielding.
AMONGST THE MANY reasons why Morrison is virtually untouchable is that the most powerful news outlet in the country – Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp – chooses not to emphasise his political problems.
Instead, Murdoch outlets act as a protection racket, minimising even the most obvious cases of Morrison's incompetence and scandal, while delivering and sometimes even creating as much positive publicity as they can.
It goes without saying that it’s not the news media’s job to protect and promote a specific political party, nor is it their job to campaign against that party’s opposition. Yet, this is what the largest news organisation in the country does and it has dire consequences for Australian democracy.
The public relies on the mainstream media – the fourth estate – to be watchdogs by holding power to account. When the media fail at their most important job, they are abdicating their most important responsibility.
News Corp has become so partisan and obviously biased towards conservative politicians that the country’s democracy has been boiled like a frog. The public does not have the power to hold politicians to account on a day-to-day basis themselves; they only get to cast a vote once every few years.
Daily news media accountability is supposed to help voters make a good decision when they vote — they can judge politicians based on the information they’ve learned in the media, they can weed out incompetence and kick out corruption.
When they don’t have access to this key information, democracy dies in darkness.
Lack of media accountability also has other ramifications for politicians’ behaviour. When the media fails their most important job, incompetence, corruption and scandal is left unchecked and politicians work out they can get away with anything.
The media is meant to set the standard of political accountability by ensuring bad behaviour is punished with negative publicity. When these boundaries don’t exist, it is the public who suffer.
I can’t understate the significance of this problem. The Morrison Government, the biggest failure of a government the Australian people have ever endured, is protected from the usual democratic consequences of their mistakes and dishonesty because the most powerful media company in the country work hard to keep them in office.
To demonstrate this problem, I have graphed online news media coverage of political problems for Scott Morrison.
This graph shows the percentage of total stories mentioning Morrison’s negative news, split amongst the largest three media outlets by share of online news audience: the ABC, News Corp and Nine Fairfax.
The topics include Morrison’s friendship with QAnon conspiracy theorist Tim Stewart, his trip to Hawaii during the bushfire crisis, the Robodebt scandal, stories about rape allegations made against politician Christian Porter, Parliament House rape allegations made by Brittany Higgins and marginal seat spreadsheets in various government grant rorts.
News Corp’s share of stories for each Morrison crisis is much lower than Nine Fairfax and in the case of marginal seat rorting, is far lower than the ABC.
It is noteworthy that News Corp includes The Australian, The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Courier Mail and The Advertiser. It has a much larger stable of national and capital city online mastheads, as compared to the ABC’s single news site.
Nine Fairfax’s sites also includes five websites: The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Canberra Times, The Brisbane Times and WA Today.
This analysis only includes digital news, so it doesn’t include Murdoch print coverage, a market they also dominate.
To get a sense of the size of the online audiences who consume the news from these outlets, the below graph shows the share of their online readership.
The Murdoch media, who have the largest combined share of internet news audience, are clearly underrepresented in their share of stories about Morrison Government incompetence and scandal.
Journalists at these outlets can always, of course, point to the fact that they don’t hide Morrison’s problems entirely. Indeed, at some Murdoch outlets, journalists like News.com.au’s Samantha Maiden broke some of these stories.
Yet even then, Murdoch outlets don’t give them the attention and follow up other outlets do. By underreporting these stories, and by choosing not to demand answers from Morrison, the Murdoch media is acting as a protection racket for the Liberal Party.
Morrison’s problems go away as quickly as dirt is cleaned from a Teflon pan.
Former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull have both accused the Murdoch media of acting more like a political party than a news organisation. This bias has huge consequences for Australian voters and the health of democracy.
To put it bluntly, if people don’t know how badly they are served by their Government, they will make bad choices at the ballot box and we will all continue to suffer the consequences.
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