Murdoch’s voice still reaches voters
By Gay Alcorn
The decision by the Murdoch press to replace news with propaganda during this election campaign has elicited some odd responses. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but even those startled at the aggression of what’s been called the most partisan coverage of an election since 1975 seem determined to believe it doesn’t matter much.
Rupert Murdoch declared via Twitter that the public have had enough of Labor, and some of his key newspapers have obliged by campaigning against the government from day one.
But much of the commentary seems to patronise, suggesting nobody should care too much because Murdoch’s papers are struggling for relevance and voters aren’t so dumb as to be influenced by the Daily Telegraph’s ”kick this mob out” fury.
Media commentator Tim Dunlop scoffed at News Corp Australia’s ”massive exercise in irrelevance” and veteran Canberra Times journalist Jack Waterford argued that while some Murdoch papers were now ”megaphones for the Liberal Party”, their ”power to change minds is very limited”. Since the election was called, there has been a slight dip in support for Labor in opinion polls.
Maybe it was because of the shock of the bad figures in the economic statement. Maybe it’s the disingenuousness of a ”new way” campaign from a government in power for six years. Maybe it’s Tony Abbott’s consistent message and united team.
But it’s equally valid to consider that it may have something to do with Murdoch’s war on the government. It’s as though we don’t want to acknowledge the power of the most dominant newspaper group in the country, because to do so would be to confirm it, or it would be too uncomfortable to consider that our democracy could be hijacked by an octogenarian American intent on ”regime change”.
We’d rather adhere to the fantasy that when it comes to elections, the most powerful newspaper group in the country doesn’t have much power at all.
So could Murdoch (right) decide the September 7 result, even in a digital age when citizens undoubtedly have more choices for news than ever before? There is evidence to suggest he could. An Australian National University election study found 37 per cent of voters in 2010 decided who to vote for during the campaign itself.
Melbourne University academic Sally Young, in her book How Australia Decides, says swinging voters decide elections: they are not particularly interested in politics and have limited knowledge about political issues. They mostly watch commercial television, listen to commercial radio and read the popular press. They are not arguing about politics on Twitter or newspaper websites.
The truth is those most interested in and knowledgeable about politics are partisans unlikely to be swayed during a campaign. The media is changing fast but right now it’s still the mass media that identifies which issues are important and frames how issues such as the economy will be debated.
Television remains most important but it’s the newspapers that still set the agenda most other media follow. ”If media content is ‘biased’,” writes Young, ”it is conservative bias in the popular commercial media outlets that would affect far more people and probably with much greater impact.” Read more in the Sydney Morning Herald.