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Election lessons the Murdoch media should learn

August 13, 2013

By Peter Chen

PHOTO: Murdoch can dictate the content and thrust of his media arm, but this is different to directly controlling what the public see as important.

PHOTO: Murdoch can dictate the content and thrust of his media arm, but this is different to directly controlling what the public see as important.

In the opening week of the 2013 election, the Murdoch print media elected to engage in one of the most focused partisan propaganda campaigns in recent Australian political history.

Successive covers of the Daily Telegraph have lampooned the incumbent government and called for their electoral defeat, and the Courier-Mail responded to the entry of Peter Beattie into the campaign with a “send in the clowns” cover that pushed my mother, a 40-year subscriber and staunch defender of the quality of that paper, to the point of unsubscribing: a hard thing to do in a one-paper town for a generation that always started the day with the paper over breakfast.

In response to this very assertive political strategy by News Limited, the Prime Minister has accused Murdoch of corporate self-interest: that the media baron sees the National Broadband Network as a threat to his cable infrastructure and Foxtel’s business model and is attempting to knock it off through supporting the Opposition. While the Opposition’s fibre-to-the-node policy will certainly throttle bandwidth speeds to the home, other reasons could be alluded to in Murdoch’s decision to strongly oppose the incumbent, the most obvious being payback for the Finkelstein inquiry into the news media and the greater ideological alignment between the aging patriarch and Tony Abbott.

In retrospect, while Labor certainly rue their decision to support an inquiry into the “hate media” – as Bob Brown described the Murdoch press – this no-holds-barred campaigning by the tabloids basically proves his whole point. Overall, while Labor strategists will be concerned that 70 per cent of the metro daily readership is getting this type of material, they’ll also be using this to build their “underdog” image and paint the Coalition as having a bigger electoral margin than they currently do. This will assist them in pulling back wavering voters, such as those stung from the Gillard departure.

While election campaign politics is commonly a room-by-room rattenkrieg battle, fighting for every reference and quote, the fear that this blatant propaganda will automatically swing the election is considerably overdrawn. Research into the impact of political communication helps us put the effect of this reporting into perspective, because it shows that media audiences are not as susceptible to this type of campaign as they are commonly assumed to be. Read more at ABC.net.

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