Small 'L' Liberal Is Not Left Wing


John Howard recently complained about journalists being biased to the left. Gerard Henderson, Andrew Bolt, Keith Windschuttle and Piers Akerman also make the same claim — often. All of them have attacked the ABC about left bias. So too have many of the cabal of mad right opinion writers who infest most of Australia’s newspapers.

The problem for most of the people who complain about left bias in the media is that they don’t know what they are talking about. You would think that such an extensive array of highly paid individuals would know a thing or two about what they are claiming. But the truth is they don’t.

Let me explain.

When he was prime minister, John Howard liked to portray himself as representative of "middle Australia", but at the same time claimed to be the most conservative (right wing) prime minister Australia has had. Nobody ever claimed he was not the most conservative PM we’ve ever had, so it is reasonable to say he is justified in the claim. His supporters loved to assert he had moved the country to the right too. That is a debating point, but what is not a point in question is whether he moved the centre of politics to the right. Politics stayed where it always was; the right stayed on the right and the left stayed on the left.

What Howard and his mates should have been saying is that, on the political spectrum, lots of journalists in Australia are more to the left than they are. That would not be hard and might also be correct as the far right in Australia has little electoral support even within the Liberal Party.

Someone should have told them that not liking what they were hearing did not make it biased to the left.

Neither Howard nor the other self-possessed political commentators has
offered any evidence for their claim of left-wing bias in the media —
no research, no proof. In fact when this claim was put to the test at the ABC after complaints were lodged by former communications minister Richard Alston, no systemic bias was found. 

Phillip Adams works for the ABC and is claimed to be a left-winger. That is the same Phillip Adams who spent many successful years working in the advertising industry. The same Phillip Adams who is a very successful businessman. The same Phillip Adams who, many say, has made millions. If he is a left-winger then day is night. Looking at his history and taking into account his writings and political views, far from being a socialist, it would be hard to describe him as anything but a small "l" liberal.

One quick look at the major newspapers in Australia would kill off any claim they are a home for the left. Every one of the News Ltd newspapers leans to the right. Not everybody who works on them is a political right-winger — there are some journalists working there with other views — but the newspapers do support the right in political debates. The only argument about that assertion would be: how far? The Australian leans further to the right than the others and the people running it take pride in doing so.

The News Ltd newspapers often make the claim that the Fairfax newspapers are biased to the left. While they might not be as far to the right as the News Ltd newspapers, readers would find it hard to spot left bias. On some days the Sydney Morning Herald or The Age might run the odd story expressing small "l" liberal views, but that is a long way from being left.

When was the last time any major newspaper in Australia ran an article pushing the wonders of communism? Is there one journalist in the mainstream of Australian political reporting who is a "card carrying" communist?

If there were left-infested political reporters in Australia there would be articles about nationalising the banks, not lots of stories extolling the virtues of privatising Government-owned enterprises. If you are looking for real left comment in the mainstream Australian newspapers there is far more chance of you finding it on the Letters page than on the Opinion pages. But that is not journalist bias, that is reader bias.

It would be hard to find any left political reporting in any of the major Australian newspaper’s business sections. There is not any in the sport pages. Restaurant reviews have little political comment; motoring reporting is hardly filled with left bias. And general reporting in newspapers is not infected with left views either.

So where are all the left leaning journalists working? The truth is they are just not there in anywhere near the numbers that the far right claim there are. Even most of the ones they claim are left are in reality just small "l" liberals.

Howard, Henderson, Bolt, Windschuttle, Akerman and members of the far right get a very good run in Australian newspapers. Lumped all together their views are probably over represented. By contrast, the people pushing hardcore left views are all but excluded.


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.