Winning elections as easy as ABC

2016 election debate

In a perfect world, elections should be free and fair, and based on the relative merits of the policy proposals provided by each political party, presented in a balanced manner by the mainstream media, and then the right candidate wisely chosen by an attentive electorate.

Of course, this perfect world doesn’t exist. The public generally has disdain for politicians and shows little interest in the electoral process, the media complains like attention-seeking toddlers about the election being ‘boring’ (what, no nude dancing or fireworks?), and information is severely distorted, where an unstable chaotic first-term government (two Prime Ministers, two Treasurers, two Speakers of the Parliament, 20 MPs resigning or retiring, and not one of its Budgets passed in Parliament) is reported as ‘stable’, and a Prime Minister with few economic credentials and making a hash of state–federal financial relations, is reported as having “the financial plan for the future”. I realise that quoting George Orwell is a cliché in journalism, but this is classic newspeak.

Welcome to the real world, where well-established conservative interests dictate the way political information is presented to the public, and manipulate the media messaging to support their neo-liberal agendas. Hacks like Rupert Murdoch (who, after the News Of The World phone tapping scandals from 2006 onwards, should be spending time in jail) and Kerry Stokes (owner of The Seven Network) support spreading misinformation about centrist and left-of-centre, worker-based political parties, influencing public opinion through the media wherever possible.

We’re just lucky that mining magnate Gina Rinehart didn’t have the skills or savvy to influence and control the Ten Network or Fairfax boards.

Otherwise, commercial media would be controlled by a maniacal trilogy of ego-centric entrepreneurs—two hacks controlling most of the media in Australia is bad enough, but having three would be insufferable.

However, as much as I dislike this, that’s how the system works—ever since the days of American newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, money-people have lusted for the political power that comes with owning and controlling media interests. In Australia, at least there are some, albeit weak, legislative mechanisms that manage media concentration, although the Liberal–National Party is keen to reduce this legislation even further.

Previously, the ABC was somewhat in place to provide counterbalance and offer more nuanced reporting and critical analysis of the political news of the day—in the public interest. But, that’s gone: ABC analysis has prominently leaned towards Liberal Party interests, ignoring many of their policy inadequacies and shortcomings, and magnifying any Labor issue or event that can be construed to be a negative—real or imagined, even if it just happens to be a flat tyre on the Labor Party’s campaign bus (geddit? Labor bus gets a flat tyre, just like its campaign that’s running out of air! Hilarious!)

Although I will provide some examples of this bias, I’m more intrigued about what has happened within the ABC for this to occur, an organisation which seems to have forgotten that it is a public broadcaster, and not a tool to be used to promote Liberal–National Party propaganda.

Last night’s episode of 7.30 is an excellent sample. Its host, Leigh Sales (who surely must be in line for a future Liberal Party candidacy or media position with the Liberals, like one of her former ABC colleagues, Mark Simpkin, who became Tony Abbott’s Chief of Communications in December 2014), has been pushing Liberal’s talking points that Labor’s allegations of a Liberal Medicare privatisation plan is unfounded, and just a ‘scare campaign’, for an entire week.

Sales sniggered when Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, said “I haven’t given up winning this election and there’s good reasons why I haven’t given up winning it”, and then proceeded to ask Shorten about leadership tensions and whether he’ll face a challenge when he loses the election. All on election eve!

In an earlier exchange during the campaign, ABC reporter Sabra Lane asked Liberal member of Parliament from the seat of Greenaway, Louise Markus, what her greatest achievements for her electorate have been. After an awkward 10-second silence, Markus explains that “all achievements are equally important”, and then Lane helpfully provides a voiceover where she lists all Markus’ porkbarreling projects.

In the absence of evidence, the ABC has developed a habit of broadcasting innuendo and unsourced claims (yes, usually against the Labor Party). On Friday night, ABC News 24 claimed Labor powerbroker, Senator Sam Dastyari, had withdrawn his support for Bill Shorten’s leadership. Again, no names, no instances, just lazy speculation. For all we know, it could have been a story planted by Liberal sources. All put forward as serious journalism.

And, this theme of Shorten’s leadership has been speculated by ABC News for three days, even though I’d suggest that it’s Malcolm Turnbull who is under more leadership pressure, win or lose.

The Liberal Party promotions continued: On 1 July, reporter Anna Henderson, speaking about Malcolm Turnbull’s appearance in the inner-west Sydney seat of Reid: “The reception at a Liberal campaign rally was akin to a hero’s welcome”. This was a three-minute story, entirely positive to the Liberals, littered with victory references: Turnbull was there “to win over some last minute fans”, and “the local candidate [Liberal Craig Laundy] was very confident of victory”.

Funnily enough, there was no mention at all about Labor’s candidate, Angelo Tsirekas. I did check, and he’s definitely a candidate but, the ordinary and average viewer would have no idea. I’ve counted 12 stories on the ABC for electorate of Reid—not one has mentioned Tsirekas, and all stories have been highly favourable to Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party. This is my local seat. Of course, I’ll take more notice when it appears in the news, but ABC News reporting on many other seats has either neglected to inform the viewer about the Labor candidate, or reduced their impact by downplaying expectations.

Angelo Tsirekas
The Labor candidate in the seat of Reid, Angelo Tsirekas, with Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten.

Another segment on ABC News 24 provided a two-minute section of Turnbull spruiking all the benefits of a returned Coalition government, and the disaster of a Greens–Labor minority government. The segment concluded, with no outro or follow-up analysis by anyone. In the segment following, presented by reporter Andrew Greene, it lasted two-minutes and Bill Shorten spoke for around 30 seconds, with Greene adding his commentary: “a lot of questions still over what will happen to the Labor leadership if, as the polls predict, the Coalition wins.

“Overnight, we’ve also seen former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke weigh into the election at a private corporate event in Sydney …it looks increasingly likely that the Coalition will win the election”.

So, an opinion from an 86-year former Prime Minister at a private event—again, we never hear from the actual source, or what the context was—is more prominent than any other perspective. And, the polls are actually saying something different, and have been for some time, currently sitting at either 50:50, or 51:49 to Labor, based on current predictive preference flows.

This has been the narrative provided by ABC News for some time during the campaign: journalists Chris Ulhmann, Greg Jennett, Tom Iggulden, Sabra Lane, Leigh Sales, Fran Kelly, David Lipson, Michael Brissenden… (I could go on, but you get the picture) all have been singing from the same score sheet—the polls are predicting a Coalition victory (even though they are not), Bill Shorten’s leadership is under pressure, questions are being asked! (even though his leadership is not under threat nor, aside from these fanatics, are questions being asked).

I’ve never before seen leadership speculation on a leader in the final week of a campaign—perhaps the journalists don’t understand a political party is not going to change its leader in the week just before the election—but in the current environment at the ABC, any sort of gossip or hearsay develops a feedback loop in an echo chamber, and leads the news bulletins.

If questions are being asked of Bill Shorten’s leadership, why not of Malcolm Turnbull’s?

He leads a very divided party—where are the questions about how long he will last if he loses a swathe of seats, or loses the election?

Where are the questions about the Parakeelia scandal, where parliamentary expenses from Liberal members of Parliament were syphoned through this company back into Liberal Party coffers—$1.4 million since 2008/09, including $1.1 million over the past three years? Where are the tips and rumours of Senator Arthur Sinodinos’ corruption and dealings with Sydney Water? Or the interrogation of Malcolm Turnbull’s history at Goldman Sachs and his involvement with the downfall of HIH Insurance? Or the Panama Papers, where Turnbull’s involvement in offshore investment schemes was too lightly brushed off?

As I queried before, why is there a collection of journalists—online, on radio, and on television—that are so keen to contravene the ABC Editorial Policies and Code of Practice, and install themselves as partisan hacks and political players?

Malcolm Turnbull, Craig Laundy
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with Liberal candidate, Craig Laundy, in the seat of Reid.

During his time as Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, if he saw anything that enraged him, or anything that he saw was against the interests of the Liberal Party or the Coalition government, would pick up the phone and abuse the ABC Managing Director of the time, Mark Scott, pressure him to act, or suffer the consequences. This is classic rich tyrant man’s bullying behaviour.

We saw this with the gagging of ABC Technology Reporter, Nick Ross, who wrote many analytical articles critical of the Coalition’s NBN fibre-to-the-node and mixed-method-technology, especially in ‘The vast differences between the NBN and the Coalition’s alternative’ article, published in 2013.

At the time he was forced to move from the ABC, Nick Ross and his wife had just become new parents, but Ross was thrown onto the scrap heap for revealing the truth about the Coalition’s vastly inferior and costly NBN plan. Turnbull was also behind the sacking of SBS journalist Scott McIntyre, for his tweets about Anzac Day in 2015. Behind Turnbull’s smiling façade is an inner tyrant. He wasn’t known as ‘The Ayatollah’ for nothing.

The neutering of the ABC commenced with the appointment of Jonathan Shier as Managing Director in 2001, and the stacking of the ABC Board by far-right supporters of the Liberal Party, such as Janet Albrechtsen and Maurice Newman, who have been very public in their disdain for the ABC.

A 20-year campaign to change the culture of ABC political reporting has now reaped dividends for the Liberal–National Party.

Journalists are fearful of losing either their jobs or their positions of influence so, they toe the party line of their paymasters. Either that, or the entire journalism team at the ABC has had the collective lobotomy and, suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, has relented under the stream of constant abuse and started loving their captors.

Whatever the reasons, the ABC reporting of the 2016 election has been shambolic, and biased to the extreme. Their journalists have given their own ABC code of conduct short shrift, and consistently lobbied on behalf of the Liberal–National Party. If the Labor Party happens to win the election, they should hold a night of the long knives, and clean out the partisan garbage from the ABC. In the public interest.

Prediction

  • Liberal–National Party – 77 seats
  • Labor Party – 67 seats
  • Australian Greens – 1 seats
  • Other independents – 5 seats

Of the last 46 published polls, the Liberal–National Coalition has led in 10 polls, Labor has led in 19 polls, and 17 have been even. Importantly, the Coalition has led three of the last five most recent polls.

The Coalition, as the media keeps telling us, has already won the election. The respective parties usually know on the Thursday night before the election how well they are likely to go. The last two state elections have gone against expectations (Queensland in 2015, Victoria in 2014). Federal elections tend to be more predictable, based on statistical volume that is available over a longer period time.

With the introduction of the Nick Xenophon Team, predictions could be wildly inaccurate. The Coalition will lose seats, but it’s not sure if these will be claimed by Labor.

The Coalition should win, based on the numerical advantage they currently hold, but their campaign has been so woeful, and their term in office has been lacklustre, to say the least. Bill Shorten has easily won the three election debates, but who remembers those?

Labor has run a strong campaign, but there are too many conservative interests that lobby hard against them, including the ABC, who we can now safely say is conservative team player. Mission complete.

Read our 2016 election postscript.

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Eddy Jokovich

Eddy Jokovich is a Sydney-based journalist and producer of many books, magazines and handbooks and has worked as a war correspondent, journalist, lecturer in media studies and production.