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Media to blame for scripted, stage-managed politics

By Malcolm Cole - posted Thursday, 1 March 2012

Here's a quick exercise. Ask a few friends or colleagues whether they remember Treasurer Wayne Swan smashing a water glass during an interview last year.

It happened on May 12, as Mr Swan was in an ABC Radio studio in Canberra, and the incident was also captured for posterity by a television crew.

In my experience, most people with even a passing interest in current affairs remember the incident – it was the lead political story on the television news that evening.


Now ask your friends if they remember what the Treasurer was talking about. No-one will. The Government's message of the day was washed away with the shards of glass, and both were consigned to the dust bin.

What that incident demonstrated – aside from clumsiness – was how the trivial frequently dominates the substantial in media coverage of Australian politics.

Jump forward to this week, and the wash up of the Federal Labor leadership challenge. After the vote, widely-respected ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann reflected on the two stories the Labor party had presented to voters in relation to the Gillard-Rudd imbroglio.

Uhlmann rightly noted that Labor had denied over many months that Rudd was undermining Gillard and that there were elements of the Caucus dissatisfied with her performance. Similarly, any suggestion that Rudd was not 100 per cent behind the leader had also been dismissed by Labor MPs, who said that Kevin was "working hard as part of the team".

All that civility was jettisoned once the challenge was out in the open, and as the race intensified very senior members of the Government were far more than frank in their assessments of one another.

Then, after the fact, they were once again back to mutual praise – all the criticism of previous days apparently forgotten in the blink of an eye.


Uhlmann observed that the faux unity prevailing since August 2010 had been no more than a stunt. He bemoaned the inability of Labor MPs – and politicians generally – to speak plainly on the issues critical to the nation's good government.

And, most importantly, he laid the blame for this general lack of frankness at the feet of the media.

Uhlmann is right.

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About the Author

Malcolm Cole is the Director of CBC Group Media and Public Affairs. He spent 15 years as a journalist working in newspapers, radio and for the national newswire service AAP.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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