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Politics Analysis

The Coalition, the Labor Party and the media

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(Cartoon by Mark David | @MDavidCartoons)

Political bias and the lack of diversity in Australia's media have received increased attention since former PM Kevin Rudd began a petition for an inquiry regarding these issues.

Australia's media is the most concentrated of any democracy in the world. The largest stakeholders (and chairpersons) of the three largest media companies in Australia – News Corp, Nine Entertainment Co and Seven West Media – all have known links to the Liberal Party. The ABC is also chaired by Ita Buttrose, another person with links to the Liberal Party.

This overwhelming ownership (and management) of Liberal-aligned persons in Australian media has resulted in obvious bias in Australia's media content, which is hindering democracy.

Money for mates

Between Eastern Australia AgricultureJam Land, Parakeelia, Helloworld, Foxtel, the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Wesfarmers, Southern Strategy, Leppington Pastoral Company, countless gifts to mining companies and others, the Coalition Government has distributed billions of dollars to benefit their friends, their donors and themselves.

Joel Fitzgibbon resigns for being in the same room as his brother

Labor, it seems, does not allow such corruption. When Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon held meetings between his brother, head of the health fund NIB, Mark Fitzgibbon and the Department of Defence. No agreement was made between NIB and the Government — meaning Joel Fitzgibbon’s brother did not benefit from these meetings. Despite no actual corruption occurring, Kevin Rudd still demoted Joel Fitzgibbon for this.

It appears that under Labor governments, potential corruption is punished, while under Coalition governments, actual corruption is rewarded.

What about Craig Thomson?

In 2008, Labor MP Craig Thomson was accused of defrauding the Health Services Union of $28,000. Before he was even tried by a court he was suspended from the Labor Party. The media reported on this issue relentlessly, while all but a few outlets are interested in investigating the misuse by Coalition politicians of amounts tens of thousands of times larger than the $3,500 sum for which Thomson was found to have misused his credit card.

What about Sam Dastyari?

In 2016, it was reported that former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari accepted a $44,000 donation from a Chinese company. Sam Dastyari later resigned. Of course, a Coalition politician bested this when a month later when, Andrew Robb, a Liberal member of Parliament, started a job paying $880,000 a year at a Chinese company. Sam Dastyari’s treatment by the Australian media was several-fold more severe than Andrew Robb’s — even from supposed "left-wing" media outlets such as the ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald.

What the Joel Fitzgibbon, Sam Dastyari and Craig Thomson, cases highlight is that corruption is dealt with by the Labor Party, even for minor offences in the cases of Craig Thomson and Sam Dastyari, or even when no offence even occurs, in the case of Joel Fitzgibbon. These cases also show that the very worst instances of Labor corruption are dwarfed by routine Coalition corruption.

Manufacturing outrage towards Labor, apathy towards the Coalition

The number of articles in the Australian media containing the words “corruption” or “corrupt” and “federal government” or “Canberra” since Kevin Rudd first became prime minister can be searched (via open web-based application programming interface Media Cloud). Sixty-two Australian media outlets were analysed and these include nearly all of Australia’s most-read newspapers and most visited news websites. Despite the Coalition being demonstrably more corrupt and more tolerant of corruption than Labor, the media focused much more on corruption in the federal government when Labor was last in power.

Source: mediacloud.org

Debt and deficit

Labor spent a lot of money in its attempt to stimulate the economy during the GFC. Despite this, former PM Tony Abbott inherited an improving budget which was on track to be in surplus by 2015. The Parliamentary Budget Office confirmed this. However, the budget deteriorated severely after the Coalition formed government. The  Liberal government, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, had also accrued more debt than Labor did under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

The red bars indicate Labor budgets while the blue bars indicate Coalition budgets. (Source: tradingeconomics.com)

Despite the Coalition’s appalling record on managing the national budget, reporting of the national debt and deficit decreased drastically just after Tony Abbott became Prime Minister.

Source: mediacloud.org

The mainstream media does not just shield the Coalition from scrutiny by disproportionately under-reporting Labor’s successes and the Coalition’s failures. They also campaign to shift public sentiment about the Coalition’s shortcomings.

Modern monetary theory is a theory that proposes, among other things, that national debts are not a problem, or at least a much less significant problem than other economic theories suggests. The graph below shows how reporting on modern monetary theory has changed with time since Kevin Rudd first became Prime Minister.

Source: mediacloud.org

The media commenced reporting on modern monetary theory only after evidence began accumulating of Coalition incompetence at managing the federal budget. This is despite modern monetary theory being more than four decades old.

Julia Gillard

Former PM Julia Gillard was punished by Australia’s media for implementing a carbon tax after saying "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”, five days before the 2010 Federal Election.

Prior to the 2013 Election, Tony Abbott said there would be "No cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS". Abbott also promised, “No one’s personal tax will go up”. He reneged on all these commitments except the one relating to the GST. Tony Abbott then rebranded his lies as ‘non-core promises’. This set the standard for Coalition politicians and they have continued to lie ever since with little critique from the mainstream media.

The graph below shows how reporting on political lies and broken promises has changed with time since Kevin Rudd first became Prime Minister.

Source: mediacloud.org

Despite the profligacy of lies told by members of the Coalition Government, the media basically all but stopped reporting on lies told by members of the Federal Government when the Coalition took power.

Through disproportionate reporting on government issues, the media have been instilling in the Australian electorate that lying, corruption and fiscal mismanagement are only notable when Labor are in power.

Peter Slipper

The day after Peter Slipper resigned from the Liberal National Party to become an independent, Andrew Bolt appeared on Channel 10 stating that “A lot of rubbish will now come out about Peter Slipper and it will all be to Julia Gillard’s detriment”.

What followed, among other “rubbish”, were allegations of abuse of travel entitlements from 13 years earlier, during Slipper’s time as a Coalition politician. Peter Slipper’s relevant travel habits were on the public record for more than a decade and he was later cleared of all charges.

This epitomises the allegiances of the mainstream media, who will call into question the integrity of a Coalition politician only when it can be used to damage Labor.

Why?

Australia’s largest media organisations stand to benefit from Coalition governments. The Coalition has an ideological commitment to ensuring that large companies pay less tax, among other favourable policies. Conversely, Labor led an inquiry into tax avoidance, which resulted in the Australian Tax Office collecting billions of dollars worth of taxes owed by large companies. Foxtel is one of Australia’s worst offenders for multinational tax avoidance.

Furthermore, the primary customers of Australian media organisations are also large companies, many of whom are also tax avoiders. Altogether, Australia’s largest media organisations and their customers, are subject to enormous financial incentives to ensure the re-election of Coalition governments regardless of the record levels of corruption now occurring.

Richard Gillies is a scientist. You can follow Richard on Twitter @RichardJGillies.

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