During the recent South Australian election, take a guess how many Labor policy announcements made the front page of The Advertiser, the State’s only major newspaper? If you guessed zero, you would almost be right. In fact, there were only two – a promise by Labor to invest in TAFE, and even then it was half a tiny corner article, worth 36 words, with the other half given to a Liberal election pledge, and Labor’s loans for solar panels and batteries, again a handful of words, and sitting beside a Liberal promise. You’ll need a magnifying glass to spot the articles on the front pages below:
So, what happened to all Labor’s other policy announcements? Why didn’t any of them make The Advertiser front page? And how many times were they mentioned in the rest of the newspaper?
Between the end of January, up until election day on March 17, Labor launched a whole suite of policies which never made headline news in The Advertiser. Some of these big announcements included a new renewable energy Virtual Power Plant consisting of solar panels for 50,000 low-income households, the removal of seven level crossings, extending the tramline to the eastern suburbs, the success of job creation policies to bring multinational companies to SA to which Labor attributes 9,000 new high skilled jobs, access to a superfast NBN for Adelaide households and businesses, an interest-free loan scheme to help give first home-buyers access to a 25% deposit, labour laws protecting workers’ from unsafe workplaces and exploitation, investment in 600 new housing trust homes, waiving stamp duty and registration for 5 years for electric vehicles, laptops for high school students, and free meningococcal vaccinations for all babies.
Not one of these major Labor election announcements made the front-page of The Advertiser during the election. Sure, I’m a Labor voter and a member of the party, so I would appreciate the steady stream of progressive policy announcements filling my social media feed. But, I’m also a South Australian. Whether I’m a Labor voter or not, these policies benefit the entire community. That is why the public have a right to know about them before they go into a polling booth.
If you would like to review the front pages for yourself before you call me a self-interested hack, here they are:
There are health failures (all Labor’s fault!) Oakden coverage galore (Labor shame!), over-crowded classrooms (Labor mismanagement!), you get the drift.
So, what coverage did Labor policy announcements get in the rest of the paper? A search of Labor policy announcements in The Advertiser during the election campaign from February 1 to March 17 provides some truly alarming results.
- 8 mentions of Labor’s Virtual Power Plant, including letters to the editor
- 4 mentions of Technicolour’s announcement of 500 new jobs
- 3 mentions of Labor’s plan to remove level-crossings
- 2 mentions of Labor’s free meningococcal vaccinations
- 3 mentions of Labor’s superfast broadband plan
South Australian voters who rely on their political news from The Advertiser would have had to scour the paper every single day to find news of Labor policy announcements. The information that was useful to them in the election booth just wasn’t provided.
But, there were plenty of Labor stories – they were all mostly about one thing. The Oakden aged care facility ‘scandal’. The Advertiser had 89 articles specifically about or mentioning Oakden, including 5 front-page articles, making this ‘Labor scandal’ the election-topic-priority for Labor throughout the election campaign. Here it is on the front page – OUR DAY OF SHAME.
The Liberals, who ran a small-target campaign, riding off the 3% redistribution and the ‘Labor’s been in too long’ narrative, didn’t make anywhere near as many election policy announcements as Labor. But, even so, the Liberals still managed to get their laughable ‘the tram will now turn left’ infrastructure announcement on the front page (where Labor’s tram extension to Norwood was absent), and a full front page for their plan to create an Indigenous Art Gallery.
And of course, Xenophon, the shiny-stunt-man, who is apparently very good at tricking journalists into over-egging his election chances, got his Labor-bashing demand for a Royal Commission into SA Health on the front page and had three full front pages positioning him as ‘King Maker’. Let the record show he came third in his own seat and picked up zero lower-house seats. This is the man touted as the possible future Premier?
Then there are the other stories missing from the front page. You can guess which ones. The bumps in the Liberal’s election campaign, which if they were Labor stories, would be wall-to-wall coverage. The ‘mysterious’ Sally Zou tweeting a $1.2 million cheque made out to the SA Liberal Party, where mystery means ‘we have no idea where her money is coming from’. No coverage. The $800,000 already donated by Zou to the SA Liberals, and Steven Marshall hosting Zou numerous times at his home. No coverage. The SA Electoral Commissioner ruling the Liberals had mislead the public in promising a $300 power bill reduction. No coverage. Again, you get the drift. Imagine if Labor had even a whiff of any of this going on during the election campaign? What would the front-page look like then? I don’t have to imagine.
I also want to pay particular attention to the one time Labor’s renewable energy agenda did make the front page, in this report about Labor’s previously announced 75% renewable energy target. Note the framing here. The photo of Jay Weatherill deliberately chosen to appear negative and surly. The mini-headline calling the 75% target controversial – see my post about the media framing Labor policies as ‘unpopular’ or ‘controversial’ or ‘facing backlash’ in order to make Labor policies unpopular, controversial or facing a backlash. No mention of the jobs bonanza from SA’s renewable energy push. No mention of the benefits to the environment. No mention of cheaper power bills. Sigh.
No doubt the ever-defensive Advertiser journos would point to the smattering of Labor renewable energy election policy coverage that was included ‘somewhere’ in their newspaper, or on The Advertiser’s pay-walled website, and claim they had the policy ‘covered’. But, they know as well as I do that the front page is where the news agenda is set, and the policy priorities are editorialised. How many voters read on page 17 that the Labor government’s Tesla battery had already saved households $37 million from their power bills in just 3 months? PAGE 17.
You might think this post is finished, but there’s more. If you can believe it, and by now, I’m sure you can, eventually a Labor election policy did make the front page of The Advertiser. Yep, you guessed it – three days after the election, after the Liberals narrowly defeated Labor, the headline on the front page of The Advertiser is this:
PROTECT OUR KIDS
EXCLUSIVE: Call for Marshall to fund meningococcal B jab program
When I pointed out the rank hypocrisy of The Advertiser urging, on their front page, the new Liberal government to adopt a Labor policy after the election is said and done, a Labor policy which only got scant mention on page 4 and 5, with less than 200 words total, Greg Barila, a journalist at The Advertiser, jumped in to defend his newspaper.
‘Probably because there more pressing issues unfolding during a remarkable election campaign’.
What, like the Oakden scandal? Face = palm.
Whether Labor’s policy announcements were ideologically banned or accidentally left off the front page and given bare minimum coverage inside, the result is the same. And remember, this is just one example, from one election – a case study which speaks volumes about the culture of political journalism in Australia, a culture dominated by the Murdoch Media. It’s not just that there are never positive stories about the outcome of Labor policies. Labor has surely become used to that. It’s that it doesn’t matter what Labor does – what policies they announce, or what the outcomes of these policies are – the Murdoch media don’t give them a fair showing in their publications.
It is impossible to prove whether the political affiliation of the staff at the Murdoch owned newspaper, or the right-wing worldview of Murdoch himself, influences the anti-Labor bias of Murdoch newspapers. It’s possibly a little from column A, and a little from column B. It is also impossible to say whether the lack of awareness of Labor’s major policy announcements amongst The Advertiser reading electorate has any influence on the election outcome. The Advertiser, now pay-walled online, like all Murdoch newspapers, has declining readership and influence, with a broken business model unlikely to outlive Murdoch himself. But that’s not the point. The point is, elections are the community’s chance to decide what they want their state to be. If Labor never get a chance to put their case forward, democracy is the loser.
Oh, and I’ll just leave this here, shall I?