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Word of warning Auntie - your slip is showing

By Graham Young - posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Liberal spinner Graeme Morris is credited with observing that the ABC is "our [the Liberals'] enemies talking to our friends". How right is he?

This election the ABC will be painstakingly measuring broadcast time given to political parties in an effort to prove her balance. It won't be good enough for critics, but balance is a notoriously difficult thing to measure.

There's very little robust evidence of where the ABC sits just anecdotal evidence of the odd journalistic atrocity and the metrics of broadcast seconds.

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Another approach to measuring point of view, and therefore bias, would be to look at a media organisation's audience, its views, and how well the media organisation meets them.

A 2004 study by Professor Clive Bean of QUT found that ABC viewers are more likely to be older, better educated, in a non-manual occupation, rural, politically interested, left-wing, and favour the National Party and Greens leader Bob Brown.

It makes sense. You can envisage an older country constituency weaned from Blue Hills and the Country Hour to Landline, being gradually replaced and overwhelmed by a younger, but not radically younger, better educated Woodstock generation tending to converge on some of the same geographical locations.

The Internet trail of the ABC lets us triangulate this research on television.

The ABC's Drum site runs a regular series of polls, undated, but with a new one appearing on average every two or so days.

This lets us appraise how the ABC audience falls on a number of key issues.

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It has some limitations. The audience doesn't choose the questions, the Drum editor, after consultation with a select group, does.

This can be compensated for, because the polls tell us how many people have voted on each question. If the editor's choice is out of line with the audience's preference, one would expect a low response.

Which leads to another complication. Anyone can vote in these polls, so they will be stacked on occasion and therefore unrepresentative of the ABC audience.

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This article was first published in The Weekend Australian on the 7-8 August, 2010.



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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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