Like the government, the media has a responsibility to serve the interests of the public. The Canberra Press Gallery has a special responsibility to the public because of its accommodation in Parliament House. This gives accredited members of the Gallery a level of access to ministers and members of Parliament available to very few others. This access also confers prestige, which gives weight to Press Gallery opinions.
These privileges are granted on the basis that the Gallery performs a vital, ongoing public service. Currently, the Gallery is not meeting the obligations on which these privileges and the associated prestige are granted.
I have reviewed four newspaper articles and one television report from the two weeks before the calling of this year's Federal Election. The work of each journalist is critiqued separately below.
Michael Brissenden of the ABC’s 7:30 Report, sees politics as a sport and he seems to be a fan.
His report, entitled, "Political ceasefire as nation mourns Australian soldier" was broadcast on the ABC’s 7:30 Report on 9 October, 2007.
Brissenden's report focused on the fallout from Robert McClelland’s speech the previous evening. McClelland said a Labor government would speak out consistently against the death penalty, including the execution of the Bali bombers.
However, Brissenden is not interested in the capital punishment debate, only in the competition between Labor and the Coalition. His report includes comments from Howard, Costello and Downer attacking Rudd and Labor. But he does not provide contextual background on the Government’s policy or any comparison between it and Labor’s policy.
His view of national politics as a sporting context is highlighted by the following quotes. Bolding has been added.
"It may have been Labor's position, but aware of how this was going to play out as the day progressed, the speech forced Kevin Rudd on to the defensive."
"Kevin Rudd may be relatively new to this game, but he's been around long enough to see a political pot hole when it presents itself, and as you would expect, the Government's heavy hitters came out swinging."
"Time is running out though, will he bring the parliament back next week? Some still think he will. Others are convinced he'll kick the campaign off this weekend."
Steve Lewis of News Limited publications, the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph, barely conceals his venom while using unnamed sources, unsubstantiated allegations and loaded language to discredit Julia Gillard.
His Herald Sun headline is "Fighting fire with burning ambition" and The Daily Telegraph headline is "Left to own devices". The lead for both articles is identical. "On a recent night in Canberra, as the wine and chatter flowed, one of Australia's most powerful business figures offered a frank assessment of Julia Gillard. 'It’s her values', he said, barely concealing the venom."
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