28 Feb 2013

The Truth About Media Bias

By Ben Eltham
The mainstream media are constantly criticised for being lazy, corrupt, out of touch - you name it. It's time to take a step back from media bashing before we lose perspective, writes Ben Eltham
On Tuesday, I wrote an article about the difficulties the Gillard Government finds itself in, late in its second term and low on political capital and appeal. Some of our readers were less than appreciative. "These are statements worthy of the MSM/ABC," remarked a commenter named Verum.

Ah, yes, the good old MSM. Otherwise known as the "mainstream media" or sometimes even the "lamestream media", there can be few insults as widespread, or as meaningless, in the current mediascape. What I think Verum was getting at here was that, by buying into the idea that Julia Gillard's government is in deep trouble, I was merely recycling the same old biases and lies of journalists from more established media outlets, such as the daily newspapers and the ABC.

Lest anyone accuse me of hypocrisy, let it be known that I too employ this imprecise and lazy term all too frequently. For instance, last year I wrote an entire article about the mainstream media, and why I seemed to disagree with them so often. That article too enjoyed its fair share of criticism, including from my colleagues in the so-called mainstream.

It's hard to quantify, and I can't cite any analytics about this, but it does seem as though the internet has been besieged by the "MSM" trope. In recent months, the tag has become a common one in Twitter discussions, both among what you might call "ordinary" Twitter users, and also among journalists and commentators. The gist of the gripe is simple: the mainstream media is biased against the Gillard Government. As Peter Brent tweeted on 8 February, "much bagging of 'MSM' by countless self-appointed online critics in essence boils down to: does journo writes nice things about Julia?".

So what is the "mainstream media" and is it really biased? Like all loaded terms, who or what you think the mainstream media consists of very much depends on your point of view. Most would consider the "mainstream" includes the three commercial television networks, the big media conglomerates Fairfax and News Limited, and I'd also throw in wire service AAP.

But what about the ABC? For many on the left, for instance, the mainstream media includes the ABC, which many believe has been seduced by the false idol of editorial balance into unfairly championing the views of the Coalition. A favourite point for denigrators is the prevalence of conservative talking heads from the Institute of Public Affairs on ABC talk shows like The Drum or Q and A.

On the other hand, for the culture warriors on the right, the ABC's supposed left-leaning tendencies retain their capacity to enrage. This week, The Australian even carried a poll on the issue, which found that most people don't believe the national public broadcaster is biased (Coalition voters, on the other hand, were much more likely than Labor voters to think it is). So is the ABC biased? In general, in my opinion, it is not.

Judging media bias across a broader mediascape is just as difficult. One of the more rigorous recent efforts, by Labor backbencher Andrew Leigh and economist Joshua Gans, attempts to quantify press coverage of Australian politics over the period of the Howard government on a left-right basis. After running all sorts of stats, they conclude that "most media outlets are close to the centre position."

That's not the way many see it, however. A recent Essential poll asked respondents how much trust they had in various media outlets "for information on major public issues like immigration, climate change or the economy?". Television, radio and newspaper news and current affairs all scored roughly 55 per cent. For newspapers and online news sites like this one, 32 per cent of those surveyed said they had "not much trust", and 8 per cent said they had "no trust at all".

Showing that the accuracy is indeed in the eye of the beholder, the top response by a country mile was "what I learn from my own research". Essential has run a series of polls on similar topics in recent years, which show falling levels of trust in the media have levelled out somewhat. Few of us completely trust the media, but then again, a majority of us place some trust in it.

The trolling on Twitter is annoying, but that's not to say it isn't sometimes justified. In recent months, we've seen ABC journalists, for instance, repeatedly questioned on Twitter about why they are not asking more questions of Coalition politicians about the James Ashby affair. And that's a pretty fair complaint: compared to the blanket coverage afforded the AWU non-scandal, especially in the News Limited newspapers, coverage of the conspiracy** against Peter Slipper by James Ashby and Mal Brough has been relatively muted.

Indeed, many of the critics of the MSM have a point. Blogger and former journalist Jim Parker, for instance, pens regular attacks on the prevailing practices of professional journalists at his blog The Failed Estate, and his criticisms are often acute and uncomfortable. A recent post attacking the proliferation of anonymous sources used in stories about leadership speculation touches a sore point with many, including myself, who question whether stories based entirely on nameless "senior Labor figures" deserve a run at all.

The counter-argument, however, is also valid: that the leaking from inside Labor to press gallery journalists is real, and representative of real tensions within the party. After all, those of us who discounted the simmering tensions between the Rudd and Gillard factions this time last year were later forced to eat our words when Kevin Rudd's failed tilt at the leadership materialised after all.

The incipient critique of the MSM also suggests that an alternative media, perhaps to be found in online journals and blogs, would somehow be better — or at least better informed, more nuanced, and offering deeper analysis. Indeed, this is the explicit claim of independent websites like New Matilda or Crikey. In truth, it's not an either/or dynamic.

Plenty of fine journalism and deep analysis is still found in the pages of print newspapers, even while their circulations dwindle. And most bloggers and small internet journals would be the first to acknowledge that their lack of resources place inherent constraints on the amount of professional, rigorous news coverage they can deliver.

Blogger Peter Wicks has done fine work covering the HSU scandal over at Independent Australia, for instance. But for every article in the online media that assembles real evidence with investigative rigour, there are plenty more ill-considered opinion pieces or 300-word posts riffing off tried-and-true themes. The mainstream media may be dumbing down, but it will be some time yet before the independent online media can step up to the plate.

There is one aspect of media coverage, however, which I do think is nearly unquestionably biased. This is the tendency for media coverage and political journalism to constrain itself to an imagined perspective of reality. Political scientists call it the "Overton window". It's the narrow range of positions that our political process considers acceptable. As the Mackinac Centre for Public Policy explains, "this 'window' of politically acceptable options is primarily defined not by what politicians prefer, but rather by what they believe they can support and still win re-election".

Journalists play a critical role in defining the Overton window. Note how often we will use words like "realistic", "acceptable", "feasible", "viable" and "pragmatic" to describe politicians' positions. Similarly, politicians advancing positions outside the window are often derided with terms like "unrealistic", "untenable", "courageous", and "extreme".

Because the Overton window masquerades as tactical nous or political expediency, journalists are typically blind to its operation. They fail to consider that what seems extreme now (sexual harassment in the workplace, high tariff barriers) was mainstream a generation ago; similarly, what was extreme then (the radical deregulation of many aspects of the economy) is seen simply as "good policy" today.

The Overton window doesn't have left-right slant: it's a pair of tinted glasses we don't even know we are wearing. That makes it the most insidious media bias of all.

**CORRECTION: The article originally said Justice Rares found evidence of a conspiracy against Peter Slipper. In fact he found that James Ashby worked "in combination" with Mal Brough and others to damage Slipper's reputation.

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Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 14:10

Thanks for the article, Ben. The Overton Window is indeed a worry. Of course, the more conscious we can become of the lens, the more we can free ourselves of its insiduous restrictions on our vision and thought. To which end your article is appreciated.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 14:18

Good article, Ben. Though I have to admit you lost me with the Overton window... I'll have to read up about that :-)

I think the impetus behind many gripes about the media lies in the false balance so many outlets offer in the place of objectivity. When they should be offering objectivity they prefer to air opposing views of an issue in the misguided belief this is what they should do in the interest of "fairness".

If the media are interested in fairness they should be considering their viewers rather than the protagonists. I think they would rediscover their lost relevance if they would examine the likely impact of policy rather than lazily airing the view from a bleating opponent with an axe to grind.

If only we could have analysis from industry specialists rather than invective from political opponents.


Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 15:16

The problem with the MSM is really that they are "piss-poor" (as Private Eye used to say). That is, if you find any article written about a topic you know something about you can almost guarantee you will find it shows a complete misunderstanding of it. Therefore we are entitled to conclude that this applies to everything that the MSM covers.

Case in point, the MSM have been buying the Victorian Government line that the Federal Government has been cutting their funding for health. All the Age, Herald Sun &c had to do was read the National Health Reform Agreement and one other document on Federal financial relations and they would find this was a complete porkie (and they could also have consulted their own back issues from last year where they noted Victorian government health spending cuts).

If the MSM are so incompetent, then it simply reinforces the status quo. I don't want the MSM to say nice things about Gillard, I want them to criticise her bad decisions, without implying that Abbott would make a better PM, ie find reasons her to criticise her that don't involve cutting and pasting Coalition press releases.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 15:36

As to ABC bias, it's obvious. In the early 1990s the ABC was criticising Keating from the left. Now it is criticising the equally right-wng Gillard from the right!

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 15:43

The thing about the ABC news coverage that sticks out to me is the habit of giving the coalition the last word. When Labour was in opposition they would present the views as the opposition says 'blah blah' BUT the government says "Not-Blah Not-Blah". Now that labour is in power they are still reported first with the opposing (right wing) view presented last.

The other annoying trick is to allow Coalition MP's like the whiney Christopher Pain just bang on with a series of thinly veiled insults without interruption.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. RossC
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 15:49

Yep, that was good Ben. But you only just touched on an important issue that that irritates me continuously - the average journalists seeming trembling, panting love of the promise of a good leadership tussle. And the hope of another one....and another one.....soon....

What is particularly galling is that I have concluded that the motivation is often not the result, or expression, of an underlying right-wing or left-wing bias, but is much more banal - the expression of the same sort of slightly sick fascination that causes us to secretly watch trashy TV, or buy celebrity magazines.

Unfortunately, unlike the rest of us, these journalists don't keep it to themselves. Instead, we get to wade though endless volumes of meaningless tripe, much apparently penned in the hope that saying it might just make it so. The distraction from more constructive and important political and social issues that results in the process is tragic, and is particularly tragic in Australia at present.

I feel that Australians deserve, and need, so much better. But then I think that perhaps that is not the case. Perhaps we are collectively getting what we really, deep-down, want? It certainly seems to be the case that it is the hysterical rubbish and celebrity-worship that sells the high-volume news.

The endless rehashing and speculation that preceded, and followed (and is still following!!) the end of Rudd's last failed tilt at the top spoke not so much of the protagonists involved, but of the disappointment/excitement of many journalists involved that 'their' champion did, or did not get up. Who knows, maybe it was the sheer volume of journalistic wind on the lead-up that inspired Rudd to pursue that hopelessly doomed tilt. That is the sort of journalistic influence that I suspect many journalists secretly find wonderful and empowering, while blind to the fact that any such influence is actually completely counter-productive to good governance in this country.

To me the pattern of recent years is clear, and disturbing. Not just with Rudd/Gillard, but with Abbott/Turnbull and a succession of preceding party leaders.

Journalists are human, and it's only human to love the sense of human drama, and perhaps even revel in the personal excitement that can result from feeling that you are in a position of influence - maybe even in a position to precipitate events that may alter, in some way, the future of the country.

But that is not the journalistic role. We all should remember that a journalists role is to dispassionately document what happens, not cause stuff to happen. Overstepping that mark consistantly can destroy your credibility, and the transition from journalist to commentator is hard to reverse.

I've seen a few journalists(who shall remain nameless - not you Ben), who I thought should know better, fall progressively into this trap. I'm sure that if you asked them to compare their style and credibility with the likes of the Andrew Bolt's and Rush Limbaugh's of this world, they'd claim the moral high ground. If they took a step back and a long, hard look into the mirror though, perhaps they would not be so sure.

Lets hope that things can change for the better, and that issues can be discussed, not personalities.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. davidstephens
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 15:53

David Stephens

Good article for the most part though suspect it underrates the quality of non-MSM media, reflecting partly its diversity. Accurately assessing its quality is like herding cats.
Also, I've read the Leigh and Gans piece and would love to see it replicated for 2010-13. Suspect the result would be different today, reflecting
(1) increasing tendency towards what I think used to be called "syndication" (same journo popping up in a number of cities' outlets)reinforcing the much older influence of common ownership though there I recall there used to be differences in bias between outlets nominally from the same stable;
(2) demand for online content change 2 or 3 times daily (thus incentive for harassed journos to succumb to herd mentality and pick up the theme of the hour);
(3) key journos still being of a generation where agenda is set by morning dailies, making it easy for DT/Oz, say, to set a hare running and be fairly sure Fran and Neil and Alan will take it up;
(4) newspaper and TV managers and shareholders feeling the internet wolf at the door, not just on content but on loss of advertising revenue (reinforcing age-old demand for circulation which reinforces demand for sexy stories e.g. leadership rather than policy);
(5) aging population is losing capacity to think about politics and Gen Y have their own agendas, so lazy journos get away with it;
(6) we are a lot more frightened of bogeypersons than we used to be, especially about immigration but now also about the deficit, crime, etc); voices of Anglo-European Western Sydney today sound rather like voices of Anglo-Celtic Australia 100 years ago;
(7) sheer crappiness of the current crop of journos.
All in all, the perfect storm.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 16:16

Perhaps those people who partake in "opinion polls" should first be asked whether or not they are biassed.

Question Authority

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 16:29

When the High Court threw out the Government's proposal to return asylum seekers arriving by boat to Malaysia, the initial response from the MSM was hysterical speculation about its implications for Julia Gillard's leadership and that it was a slap in the face of the Labor Government, even though it was the Howard Government's legislation that was being used. It wasn't until some time later that the media started to think about what the actual implications of this legislation would mean for policy. Perhaps the MSM reaction is partly a result of the 24 hr news cycle. But the default reaction seems to be to interpret any event through the prism of polls and leadership.

Then there was Gillard's announcement of the election date and that two senior Ministers were resigning. The first response from the MSM was outrage and criticism of two announcements that seemed sensible and logical to me. Mark Baker of The Age was scathing and even called for Gillard's resignation.

That is what I don't like about the mainstream coverage of federal politics. It is always about polls and leadership and not about policy. Yet The Age manages to cover state politics in a more in-depth and analytical way and with better reportage. It covers leadership issues and polls but it is not the main or the first focus and not with the same hysteria that seems to accompany most writing about federal politics

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 16:35

Thanks for sharing the knowledge, we punters trying to educate ourselves have no idea of the likes of an "Overton window" and it explains a lot of what we see now :(

This user is a New Matilda supporter. hannahs dad
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 17:25

Clearly the MSM [a convenient shorthand acronym which I will use] in Australia is highly biased.

It can be measured, there are a whole stack of applicable criteria.
But I'll try to short circuit working through them [cos it would take too long] by citing a well known recent case study which illustrates the bias clearly.

The PM's misogyny speech.

The MSM in Oz, ABC included, reported and interpreted that speech and its context in a highly partisan and biased manner.
A manner that was biased against the PM, against the ALP, against the government and most importantly against women [please note that last word].

Almost unanimously and solid in their unity of thought the MSM presented that speech in ways that were negative to the PM/govt/women.
Examples: she played the gender card, she was covering up the the govt failure over Slipper, she was defending Slipper, the context was Slipper, the term 'misogynist' was wrong, Abbott is not a misogynist, the speech was a red herring, a diversionary tactic from a govt in crisis, Gillard was screeching .....and so on, a 'line' repeated for days and ever since.

All, and more, of which missed the point entirely.

But millions [?] of Australians got the point despite, not because of but despite the MSM, because a rare event had occurred. Not just the speech itself but the fact that it was more or less readily accessible without being filtered through the normal partisan 'narrative' of the MSM.
From Youtube etc.

People could see for themselves instead of having to accept the bias of the MS.
I can't think of many parallels, maybe the "Sorry" speech [which,incidentally, also saw an upsurge in the govt's ratings immediately afterwards].

OK a few in the MSM got the point of the speech at least partly. But they were a very tiny minority and were noisily drowned out by the big players, ABC included.
And some of the non-MSM - the fringe players eg blogs, Crikey and so on were on the ball but their impact is unfortunately minimal compared to the MSM.

Now this case study. I think, illustrates the conformist partisan group think of the MSM.
You could also look at the issues of asylum seekers, NBN, climate change, the Brough Ashbygate silence for a similar cross MSM pattern of partisan bias.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 17:26

There is strong bias and/or strong incompetency, by definition. The Abbott 'free pass' is hardly fiction - one would think that any journalist would want to get the headline reaction from a floundering Abbott if put under pressure, or a scoop on what he will actually do on something when in power, but they don't do it. There is silence on policy alternatives and substance too as part of the free pass.

Imagine if Brough/Ashby was the ALP - banging on for days and days as proof of how incompetent and rotten the ALP is, with every Pyne and Abbott line gold plated. Or leadership speculation about Rudd, when Turnbull pops up desperate one feels for the same pot to be stirred, but getting nothing from the commentariat because the story is about Gillard/Labor - for many, their destabilisation.

'Incompetent' by definition because the media should inform and is patently failing to do so. Many surveys show people woefully ignorant of basic facts eg I read that before the government's advertising only about 15% of people knew that the carbon tax included compensation, although it is a central part of the package, which had been talked about

Do people know that the Coalition's budget promises are far more reckless? They promised double the surplus the ALP will probably fail to deliver this year and one EVERY year. But this seems irrelevant. I know a hysterical mob doesn't hear very well, but how did the electorate get hysterical?

"So is the ABC biased? In general, in my opinion, it is not"

Lost me here on anything from Qld ABC, ABC News Online, many stories on AM, PM etc. The incessant and insistent putting up of Coalition claims, dog whistles, talking points or whatever, even when patently stupid or non sequiters, without doing the same for the ALP to anything like the same extent is too common not to be bias.

Headlines are consistently the Liberal spin (eg 'Dog's Breakfast' for a headline on the mining tax) or put the ALP on the defensive ('Gillard defends...', 'Pressure builds...').

Etc etc.

But perhaps this is bandwagon jumping - they just write the received story. It is a shame that a cynical and manipulative opposition has been able to set the story, along with those that area overtly biased eg Murdoch hacks.

Yes, there is the occasional contrasting news item. And there are dissenters buried in the ABC, but these don't have the clout. Does the impact of the gift story to Turnbull on PM and ABC Online on the NBN of a couple of days ago get negated by the thoughtful and detail rebuttal of the Coalition's NBN hodge-podge by Nick Ross in the Tech section? I don't think so.

peter hindrup
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 17:55

It is a long time ago when reporters or journalists all but never got a by line. That is, a news report was anonymous. The advice to a young reporter being sent out to cover a meeting was: ‘ don’t take any notice of the shouting and uproar, the story will be in something being slipped through quietly or without comment’.
The other advice constantly drummed in was: ‘you are there merely as the eyes and ears of those who cannot be, your questions ought to be the questions those people might ask’.

A long, long way from having your name attached, your opinion, your political views on show. Today I hear it said that nobody can be neutral or unbiased. Presented along with your name and photo, I would agree.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 17:56

When will the penny drop amongst professional journalists? For all the shortcomings of the online herd ("community" is polite but much too kind), the enhancement of our perspectives through wider discussion on a more level playing field has raised the bar, and put participation back into a sclerotic democracy. I think the comments on this article show that.

These are precious gains, however uncomfortable to journalists and editors who have been dragged down from the bully pulpit. If Peter Brent thinks the "self-appointed" (feel the resentment?) online critics are just Julia barrackers, he is very out of touch. Michelle Grattan has been besieged at The Conversation for her pedestrian (she actually calls it "sensible") output but her critics are mostly not abusive, just pleading for quality and relevance.

Jim Parker, who you mentioned favourably, has this week taken a swipe at the illiteracy of many journalists and how this is holding back the quality of public discussion and therefore decisionmaking in important policy areas. http://thefailedestate.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/learning-to-count.html

Has anyone mentioned yet the amount of background noise created online and on talkback by political party stooges who think they can strongarm media behaviour by the sheer volume and stridency of their rants? Who knows how much of the "bias and lies" criticism you puzzle about falls into the "faux" category.

How come you're not on the Drum? Bernard Keane and Jonathan Green are pushing that Overton window, but your absence is our loss.

Alex Njoo
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 18:17

Alex Njoo
It's asinine to be discussing the whys and wherefores etc. of our so-called 'mainstream media' without acknowledging that News Ltd. is the most dominent media outlet in this country. So far, all the chatter is simply self-denial, our reluctance to accept the fact that we do not have freedom of expression for as long as the Murdoch Empire rules the print media as well as the airwaves. It's The News of the World culture that dominates our 'mainstream media'. We don't have (the likes of) The Guardian, New York Times or even Vanity Fair. Everything else has the stamp of NoTW.
So, let's be thankful for small mercies, we still have the ABC and a handful of audience who'd rather listen or watch intelligent, unadulterated and true journalism at work. That is, until Abbott wins a landslide victory at the next election. When that happens we might as well all pack up and leave for Chile or somewhere.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 18:19

A very good, thought provoking article Ben and like some other respondents I'm going to have to investigate the Overton window. I admit to bias in that I grew up in the UK with papers like the Observer, Manchester Guardian, Telegraph etc and of course the BBC. The British landscape has deteriorated since then of course; for example excellent papers have been trashed by the Murdochs. I'm now a proud Australian but sadly I find the Australian media to be parochial, trivial and on the rare occasions when I know something personally of what they report, invariably wrong. I think the ABC 7:30 report has gone to the pack since Kerry O'Brien left and the ABC news isn't a patch on that of SBS. I am also certain that the MSM deliberately rob the ALP of 'oxygen' and suspect that their declining circulation is because people in increasing numbers can't be bothered to read the tripe they publish. It serves them right too.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 18:28


The judgement of Justice Rares in the Slipper case DOES NOT assert there was a "conspiracy".

J Rares' judgement stated that "Mr Ashby acted IN COMBINATION (my caps) with Ms Doane and Mr Brough when commencing the proceedings in order to advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough".

That's very different from a finding of "conspiracy", a word that J Rares never used.

Also worth noting that J Rares has a history of controversial judgements over the last few years, some of which have overturned in part or in whole on appeal. Ashby has sought leave to appeal in the Slipper case.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 18:28


The judgement of Justice Rares in the Slipper case DOES NOT assert there was a "conspiracy".

J Rares' judgement stated that "Mr Ashby acted IN COMBINATION (my caps) with Ms Doane and Mr Brough when commencing the proceedings in order to advance the interests of the LNP and Mr Brough".

That's very different from a finding of "conspiracy", a word that J Rares never used.

Also worth noting that J Rares has a history of controversial judgements over the last few years, some of which have overturned in part or in whole on appeal. Ashby has sought leave to appeal in the Slipper case.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. GarryB
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 18:56

Looking for ABC bias? Just watch ABC News any night of the week! It's not so much direct "bias" as glib commentary and loaded asides. It's very slick and very hard to pin down. But it's certainly there.
And just try registering a formal complaint or telephoning and you can find yourself being treated like dirt.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 19:21

GarryB, it's not going to change! It's funded by the central govt and it will protect its backside by being scrupulous in giving both parties equal time, irrespective of the merits of the arguments. Do you want to see them destroyed by the rabid dogs in the coalition?

Can I suggest that most people who watch the ABC are thinking people who are savvy enough to reject the bias of commercial stations. They also know that Big Brother is looking over the shoulder of ABC news and current affairs, who are under the pump and are not free to make their calls without reference to who the boss might be come September.

So there really is minimal problem here - the audience is informed enough to be able to knowledgeably (contextually) process ABC info and opinion. And us ABC watchers (being more politically aware) get lots of practice every day!

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 19:45

My daughter's friend, very social conscience and involved various organisations, very bright, got high 90's% in matric for everything, could have enrolled in anything, the people at Uni told her 'you sure you want to do journalism?'

Poor thing I thought to myself; have to toe the line/ play the piper's tune for her future bread, even though she might get a very descent salary.

On many occasions I've read the names and faces in the MSM referred to as "presstitutes".

If looking at the big issues, where the biggest buck$ and empire's plans are involved, they all seem to walk in lockstep sanctioned by TPTB (the powers that be).

It would be a journalist's wet dream to have THE HIGHEST Ranking 1hr prime time current events TV show with live random phone callers; and yet such a show hosted by Phil Donahue was axed in USA (we lost it to) as the most anti-Iraq war current affairs in 2002.

Who would dare continue to dig deep into 9-11.
Perhaps the odd journalist and editor over intrigued and occasionally something pops up, but it quickly stops.

Compared to the brilliance of Max Gilles', "The Gilles Report", The Chasers are but clowns, and yet his top rank show was axed from ABC the night he portrayed Kerry Packer as a "Goanna". The then codename for an unknown crime figure.

People soon pull their heads in at power like that.

All the MSM toe the line, none offering anything to significantly vary from the other or to leave a reader with anything other than reinforcement of the dominant paradigm.
Iraq, Iran, Libya, Israel, Syria, Afghanistan, immigration, "multiculturalism", Fukushima, Climate, "terrorism".

On all the big issue there is a huge disconnect between what the public can see and what the MSM tell us. as in "climate" and eg "Operation Iraqi Freedom"
I see that same disconnect with New Matilda.

My experience has told me to expect nothing different from New Matilda as an operation formerly influenced by Jesuits, and later offering articles written by parties to "Kissinger and Associates".

The questions may differ sometimes in the MSM and even on NM and there may be the odd "bucking of the system" but the overall answers offered to us on the big issues are much the same as those of The Powers That be in the MSM.

The are too many awe inspiring bloggers to count out there, and the only thing the MSM and other officially sanctioned media out there have to offer is funding and a press card to even be entitled to ask questions to public figures in an environment where there is compulsion to answer.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 19:46

‘Perception is everything’ - the catch-cry today. To me the Australian main stream media are commercial television, newspaper and radio networks owned by the extremely wealthy like Murdoch, Rinehard and Singleton who use their power to push extreme views through misinformation to manipulate the Australian public. – eg Murdochs criminal hacking which included the general public, politicians and celebrities (silly to think only in the UK), Gina screaming ‘Stop the Tax’ backed by an expensive effective advertising campaign and Johns love of the shock jocks to relentlessly demean our PM Julia Gillard and our government. Their simple reason is to undermine a government in power who gets in the way of them making as much money as possible. Julia Gillards current government believes in building infrastructure like the NBN, NER, Gonski and providing services like the NDIS and health which will lead to a stronger more egalitarian society. Tony Abbotts LNP perceives government as a business propped up by big corporations who currently own the main stream media and use divisiveness to inflame and control. Technology and social media have provided Australians with a voice and they are learning to use it well. All journalists are aware of this extraordinary change in communication and will adjust. This year is an important election and it will be particularly vicious because its the new ideas against the old. Ben, emotions are heightened and furious as the main stream media are playing with them. Maybe everyone is getting a bit smarter. Excellent.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 19:50

"The uniformity and obedience of the media, which any dictator would admire, thus succeeds in concealing what is plainly the real reason for the US attack, sometimes conceded openly by Administration spokesmen."
Noam Chomsky (Turning the Tide postscript, Sec. 2.3)

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 20:00

I expect the tax payer funded national broadcaster to provide an hourly NEWS service on Radio National where:
NEWS = researched FACTS presented by ABC staff (newsreader, reporters, correspondents). Nobody else.
What we are presently getting is mainly he/said she said OPINION, gossip and spin. Often MSM headlines and tabloid talking points are copied apparently without a veracity check. Complaints to the ABC are either ignored or misinterpreted. In the run up to the election and in the name of so called ABC "balance" I am afraid every Tom, Dick and Harriet will be given a chance to spout their propaganda during the NEWS program. Apparently the flawed ABC charter insures that any garbage voiced is acceptable as long as an alternative view somewhere along the line is previded.
That's fine during ABC opinion sessions, which I have been giving a miss for some time for obvious reasons.
I expect the ABC to provide a professional NEWS service. I can get better Infomercials or Infotainment somewhere else. Thanks.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 21:56

Ben, I generally find your articles insightful and informative. But here I think you miss the point. The Leigh/Gans research to which you refer, in concluding that most media outlets are "close to the centre", calls into question how a notion like "centre" is constructed. We have an LNP right in Australia that consistently characterises respected peer-reviewed climate science as extreme. However, most of the Australian MSM including the ABC interact with the LNP on this issue as though it represents a credible (i.e., "close to the centre") conservative voice. This swings the notion of "centre" so far out of whack that not even the ALP wants to identify too closely with respected peer-reviewed climate science, lest they too be constructed as extreme. This has made it possible for a sustained silence on climate change throughout MSM reporting on extreme weather events.
The Australian's reporting on climate change is so consistently, so frequently, so wildly inaccurate, in ways that directly feed the climate deniers' campaign, that excuses relating to shrinking resources for investigative journalism, or understandable misreadings of complex science, cannot stand. Leveson's critique of "some sections of the British press", could apply here without reservation: Much MSM journalism about climate change is deliberately, recklessly, and negligently inaccurate.

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 22:25

Well Ben, IMHO a rather superficial look at the media and the way they distort and misrepresent events - particularly party politics.

It seems to me there are two big problems in Australian media at the moment. The first is a dreadful tendency to relativism that pervades journalism, probably due to teaching journalists post-modern philosophies. A good example is climate change. The scientists say one thing; the coal mining right wing think tanks say another. Both views are reported in depth, to avoid any accusations of bias. From a relativist point of view there is no such thing as truth.

The second problem is the fact that Australian MSM is largely owned by Murdoch and other disgustingly rich capitalists who do not have a post-modern cell in their bodies. All they care about is getting their mates into power and running down the Labor government to get it - they know they will be better off under a conservative government. I mean have you seen the front page of the Telegraph, or the Australian recently - or watched channel 10?

As for the ABC - what a joke! Q&A is 99% crap with it's aggressive inclusion of 'both points of view' and it's stacked audience. The Drum (which had such potential a year ago) has really become a forum for right wing think tank jerks, Chikka, Reith, News Limited columnists and tired and irrelevant ABC journalists like Bensen and Kelly.

The most important problem facing us is that a coalition victory would be a disaster for this country. The Liberal party's used by date has expired. Their philosophy of trickle down wealth is discredited. Their views on immigration, religion, education and welfare are obsolete. They were already obsolete when Howard's government stuffed our education system, stuffed our IR laws and let the big mining companies take countless billions overseas. Do we really want that again?

Posted Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 23:27

It's a little known fact that almost 50% of all media publications are written from a perspective that is biased to the left of the median. As if this weren't bad enough, some one in two publications are more conservative than average. It is indeed a sorry situation when almost all published "news" articles exhibit some degree of bias. Overall however, fortunately, the AVERAGE bias of the media is, within the limits of statistical calculation error, close to zero.

Sadly, although all citizens have to contend with the fact that almost all published articles are biased away from the median, most are unable to enjoy an absence of bias even on "average". Very few people, after they take a good detailed look at the situation, are able to agree with the statement "the number of media articles that are published which are biased to the left of my own political views is equal to the number of media articles that are published which are biased to the right of my personal politics". I have yet to find the person who is able to credit any one publication house with "consistently publishing articles that accurately reflect my political beliefs".

Is it any wonder that voters feel alienated from the political process and disenfranchised from the politics of public media?

For shame, for shame!

Posted Friday, March 1, 2013 - 01:20

Big business (through the MSM) are pushing that window to wherever it suits them best ($20m advertising campaign by mining companies). The complicity of the MSM enables the movement of the window towards whichever extreme it wants.

Posted Friday, March 1, 2013 - 09:53

It’s not just the journalists, it’s the story selection too. Why has Julia Gillard’s week in the West been given so much prominence. Part of the problem is that in comfortable Australia, not enough happens. As the Economist says, we should be glad.

Posted Friday, March 1, 2013 - 11:45

Thanks, Ben. I think any discussion of media bias has to look at both the content and the presentation of the content. In strict content terms, I would agree that the MSM is probably not as biased as most of us think. But in the presentation of that content, there is a very clear bias. It is things like the use of the words such as 'shambles' or 'crisis' or 'dysfunctional' in headlines and subheads when introducing any story about the Labor govt. It is the prominence of certain stories over others in a newspaper or on the news bulletin. It is the uncritical 'reporting' of the Opposition's statements. It is the hiding behind 'Opinion' pieces vs news. It is the sorts of photographs or footage selected to go with a story. All of these things arguably shape people's perceptions about 'the news' and politicians far more than the content, because it is often just the headlines, the 10-second grab and the image that people see and hear. Take the Peter Slipper story - a huge illustration of him as a rat on the front page of the Tele before Justice Rares' ruling (with content that was probably mostly factual) vs small story on the bottom of page 17 under a uninformative headline after Justice Rares' ruling (with content that was probably mostly factual). Yet somehow or other, complaining about media bias is dismissed as bleating, whinging or desperation.

Posted Friday, March 1, 2013 - 13:45

Not sure what to make of your 'The Truth About Media Bias', Ben. However, I would start first and deny your heading. IMHO your heading is incorrect, as Media Bias is quite a lot in the eye/ear of the beholder.
For instance, the ABC has been biased to the Left, according to the Tories, since Adam was a boy, and as far as they are concerned, it continues to to this day. Never mind that Howard and Alston totally stacked the Board and Management with their friends, and slowly but surely got rid of all Journalists etc. who were not willing to do their bidding, with the possible exception of Phillip Adams, who nevertheless was under constant pressure to conform to their ideas. Indeed, then they started up 'Counter Point', on Monday afternoons, repeated constantly at all hours during the week, as a counter to Phillip Adams, compered by a couple of Right Wing nutters.
Just last night I tuned in on 'The Drum', and it had as it's mandatory Right Winger one Ross Cameron, ex Liberal Minister under Howard, and he is a real find. Joke! The two other people on the panel spent their time laughing and shaking their heads at the absolutely ridiculous comments coming from the mouth of this Abbott follower.
The Drum had a guest from Bloomberg financial advisory, and he spent some 10 minutes explaining that it would be difficult for Abbott to 'kill' the so-called Carbon Tax, the reasons why, and why this would cost Business a lot of money, the longer it took to do the dirty deed due to political (Senate etc) considerations etc. Cameron, waved his hands daintily in the air, and proclaimed loudly that Abbott would kill the Bill first thing, thus saving billions of dollars, and it would cost nothing.
The faces of the other panellists, said it all, let alone the bloke from Bloomberg, who was about to explode, having been called a LIAR to his face by Cameron.
Instead, compere Baird just stopped the show. It was plainly obvious that instructions had been issued that anything Cameron said was not to be questioned. not matter how odious, objectionable, obnoxious, insufferable, or out of this World.
This is true of other ABC TV and Radio shows. There seems to a scale of fear, from Greens, who can be treated abominably, to Labor, not much better, to Liberals, who must be treated with kid gloves, and allowed to rant on to their heart's content. I guess the writing is on he wall, and the interviewers are looking to their future employment, so questions to Abbott followers/mates are just never followed up with quite the same vigour. On Greens and Labor, heavy sarcasm, loud talking over them, bullying, desperately trying to make them say or acknowledge something terrible that can be used against them in the News next day. Sometimes, I wonder that fists do not fly, but our progressive pollies are very well behaved, far too well behaved, to indulge. Favourite targets of Leigh Sales? are Bob Brown and Christine Milne. This is plain, in your face, harassment. Whatever happened to showing some respect for other human beings, other than perhaps convicted criminals.
OK, I do not watch Commercial TV, other than SBS, nor do I listen to Commercial Radio, so I can only go on what I hear from others who do. SBS TV is not so bad, in fact, they are much preferred by me to the ABC these days.
Perhaps, Ben, by your article, you are also looking to your future, perhaps back in MSM. Grease the wheel a bit, so to speak.
But surely even you can not deny that indeed the Commercial Media have no interest in TRUTH, just what can be used to make the loudest splash. Corrupt, well not sure of that one, I doubt that the ordinary commercial journalist is being actually corrupt, other than aiming for a very well paid job as a Media Adviser to some Tory polie. Out of touch…well, when where they ever IN touch. Except for a couple of still -working investigative journalists, who nevertheless need to kept under sharp observation, they are a pretty mindless mob. After all, they do what they are being paid to do. And these days, investigative journalism is just too damned expensive for the money changers who now control our MSM. They would much rather just copy out the pollies PR releases. Especially the ones who may just give them a cushy job, mind-manipulating the voters.
And, in my opinion, Ben, the ABC is indeed biased towards an over-balanced balance. To keep the Liberals Media Unit from their relentless letter writing about the supposed ABC Left-Wing Bias, the ABC keeps trying to find a stronger BALANCE, but in effect this makes for a Right Wing Bias. Just simply weight of pressure. The Libs know what they are doing, and seemingly even distrust their own people on Board and Management to get rid off all those 'Left-wingers'. I would imagine, if they were to be asked just who are the Left-Wingers, they would be left gasping. It is just something they have done for 20 years or so, and do not know how to stop.
Please, Ben, 'The Australian' close to a centre position???? Rupert would be positively disgusted at that idea. His papers are uniformly pro-tory and anti-Labor, and will just about anything to destroy the Greens and any progressive independents. Not short of telling lies on a daily basis.
And sure, I would never think to deny that the kRudd forces are doing their darnedest to dig Gillard out, and put their man back in. After all, quite a few of them are starting to see that under Gillard, they have about a snow-balls chance in Hell of surviving the coming onslaught of the Darkness. They read the polls,and they say that kRudd would perhaps save THEIR necks, if they live in Queensland, or South West Sydney. That they may well, by their leaking, kill off any chance of Labor surviving at all, does not seem to worry them unduly.
Sorry, Ben, your article does not convince me. I will retain my own bias.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. hannahs dad
Posted Friday, March 1, 2013 - 14:06

3 points, well maybe 4, before this thread dissappears into ether-land library.

1. Good post dazza, and quite a few others here are worthy.

2. Returning to my case study theme of how the MSM missed the boat with respect to the PM's misogyny speech I submit for your consideration that which was probably the best analysis at the time. It came from a non-MSM journalist.

3.In case you are wondering how the ABC handled the fallout from the speech check out Leigh Sales' abyssmal interview of Penny Wong the same evening [I think].
Sales repeated much of the crap emanating from the commercial media, see links within the previous link for details of that.

4 And, finally, I wonder if Ben has learned anything about media bias from the people who have commented here?

Posted Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 08:28

"Has Ben taken on any of the thoughts voiced here?"
Good question dad.

Come on Ben tell us. Do you believe that it would be a travesty if a stumbling confused kid like Abbott and is underwhelming cohorts get into power? Do you fear that any gains recently achieved will be wiped out?. Do you think it is necessary to relive the miserable destructive Howard years?
By all means keep this government (supported by Greens and Independents) on the straight and narrow. When publishing it is worth remembering that there are potentially undermining consequences for an overall responsible progressive administration.
I strongly believe it is obligatory for the few remaining journalists in the "free media" to make it plain to the electorate that there simply is no viable political alternative to choose from at present.
The LNP in its current state is dysfunctional and therefore unelectable. If anybody thinks that Turnbull using a magic wand will save the day is sadly mistaken.
Note: The "Tea party" philosophy is dangerous and undermines democratic principles. Beware!

Posted Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 12:32

The reason many conservative followers believe the ABC is biased to the left, is not because of evidence. It's because they are told that by conservative MSM and they believe it. At last count there were 24 Coalition affiliated members that either went to the ABC from the Coalition, or went from the Coalition to the ABC, to Labor's 11. And that is not counting the board, who also favour the Coalition.

Posted Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 16:05

Must say I liked this article, for two reasons firstly,
1: I felt for some time the media were trying to sanitise


2:Whilst I was aware of the technique I didn't know it had a formal heading, so I've just visited wikapedia to check it out.

I do think you have hit it right on the head this time Ben.

Negative Definition is useful for deconstruction only and I've felt for some time that "The Pillar and Gatepost"aka major parties, [who continually do that to each other] forced unacceptable policy on the electorate over a period of time.

Your treatment of this "Overton Window"has convinced me that this is so, as there is no way their [two party preferred party party] spin doctors, who normally have tertiary qualifications in Political Science or Philosophy wouldn't know this [Overton Window] inside out.

With that in mind this year for me is a double edged sword.

How do we avoid the "Worst Choices" of Abott whilst,

sending a loud and clear message to the incumbent government that we not only think they are off track, we want them back on track?

Whilst I have ideas on that, I'm keeping my cards close to my chest for the time being.

Posted Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 18:34

I had to come back in on this discussion because the relentless attacks on our fine Prime Minister Julia Gillard by the main stream media because of her decision to spend some time in Western Sydney to address community concerns; is shameful. Since Julia Gillard became the leader of Labor she has travelled extensively throughout Australia holding community forums accompanied by Labor MPs. I have watched a few live on ABCNews24 and our PM does not hide from the tough questions and there are plenty thrown her way. Her warmth, grace under pressure and intellect shines through. I suggest to others to watch these live forums if possible because they reveal the diversity of our country and peoples concerns and demonstrates the strength of Julia Gillards character. This weeks Rooty Hills headlines have been merciless, inflammatory, humourless and uninformed in every way. Our media are failing us miserably with their inaccurate and mendacious reporting. Which brings us to why? I've decided she is attacked and condemned because our first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard is bright, feminine, decent, has a deep love of Australia and wants Australians to have the same opportunity she grabbed with both hands and never took for granted. So why would our media be guided to destroy and demean someone who is determined to improve Australia for the many not the few? We look no further than media ownership and their puppet Tony Abbott who promote divisiveness within our communities to maintain their power.

Posted Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 15:35

The Neocon American- and Zionist Imperialist-perverted and subverted Western mainstream media , including those in Australia, have an appalling record of lying by commission (massive outright lying) and lying by omission (remorseless ignoring of a veritable herd of Elephants in the Room).

Taxpayers have every right to be angered when taxpayer-funded media such as the ABC and the universities-backed web magazine The Conversation lie by omission and CENSOR attmepts by responsible citizens to get through the MSM Wall of Silence. I am writing a book entitled "Censorship by the ABC" /"ABC Censorship" (see: https://sites.google.com/site/abccensorship/ ) but media censorship being what it is I have yet to find a publisher in in Neocon American- and Zionist Imperialist -perverted and subverted Murdochracy, Lobbyocracy and Corporatocracy Australia .

For details of this horrendous sidelining and censoring of credentialled, scientist comment by pro-Zionist, pro-war, pro-US Murdoch media , Fairfax media, the ABC and the universities-backed web magazine The Conversation in Neocon American- and Zionist Imperialist -perverted and subverted Murdochracy, Lobbyocracy and Corporatocracy Australia and elsewhere see "Boycott Murdoch media": https://sites.google.com/site/boycottmurdochmedia/ ; "Censorship by the BBC": https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbythebbc/ ; "Censorship by The Conversation": https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by ; "Mainstream media censorship": https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/home ; "Mainstream media lying": https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammedialying/ ; "Censorship by The Age": https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by-th... ; "Censorship by ABC Late Night Live": https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbyabclatenightlive/ .

They are all lying to you - ergo, get your news from Alternative media e.g. New Matilda, Countercurrents, Bellaciao, MWC News, Democracy Now, Counterpunch etc.

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 20:00

The problem again is Over Breeding.

Murdoch sacked all those Journo's to create this problem, high unemployment and an over supply of Journ's makes for obidient Puppy Dogs when Morgages are high, income small and too many Lap Dogs.

Thats why us Funding N.M is essential, they are more likely to remain loyal if they don't have to worry about unemployment, getting sacked et. etc.

Supply and demand, too many people trained to be and not enough positions.

Repressive I.R laws haven't helped.

Posted Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 20:15

Noem Gomski has a video out there where he explain how one of the Popes tried to restore social Justice and Equality for all only to be defeated by a huge media Campaign by the rich. So if the Pope couldn't do it what chance a few Journo's, it would be like comiting suicide.

Go to, http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html
watch video and

Go to:

Those are the basic problems to society, them maybe listen to a few of George Galloway's video's on You Tube and you'll have a reasonable idea of what the real problems are and its the Baby Boomers.

Posted Sunday, March 3, 2013 - 20:25

Sorry Noam Chomsky, its been a while

Posted Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 00:07

Thanks for all your comments, everyone. As you know I do take the time to read them, although I don't always have the time to respond to individual comments -- if only because I have new deadlines to meet.

I'll respond to a few of the themes raised on this thread with the following points, which I hope addresses some of what you guys have said:

* while I think the Gans and Leigh paper is very interesting, and I obviously think it's a valuable piece of researching, I wasn't citing it here simply as the final word in the debate. I happen to think there is plenty of skew in many newspapers, but it's not on the classical left-right spectrum in the way often suggested by many on Twitter and in comments here. Thus my remarks on the Overton window.

* relatively little thought has been given in the current debate about whether media bias necessarily equates to voter behaviour. There is a very deep sociological literature on what drives public opinion, going back to the pioneering work of thinkers like Lippman, Lazarsfeld and Habermas, that probes the formation of public thought and democratic opinions. This tradition includes an important school of thought which posits that the modern electorate understands opinion polls reasonably intuitively, and therefore that polls and news media are a form of feedback loop or emergent system that influences democratic politics in complex and unpredictable ways.

* One of the things I wanted to do in this article was to raise a few issues with the simplistic "MSM has it in for Gillard" argument. I've written extensively in previous articles about some of the ways I do think the media has treated the Labor government rather poorly, but I also wanted to turn the issue over and inspect a few of these nuances of the debate. I'm hoping some of the responses here indicate that you enjoyed a more complex reading of the scenario

* One thing I hope I can say forthrightly and unambiguously is that I value the remarks of our readers here at New Matilda, and that this article is part of an ongoing debate with the people that read and subscribe to this site. I have not, and hope I won't in the future, take you for granted or dismiss your points of views (except if I get grumpy and we're arguing about climate change). It's been suggested for instance that this article "belittled" our readers; I trust that you know better.

thanks again for your energy and your ideas --


Posted Tuesday, March 5, 2013 - 03:35

The topic of left-right bias is less important than discussing the role of ideology itself.

Opinion stories are neatly divided into hyped ideological positions, designed to simultaneously inflame and enamour, and thus tantalise a readership, but also convey "balance". The rightful place of ideology as something to help encourage intellectual coherence is a secondary.

The rest of the news is totally devoid of ideology, and thus focused on that which can possibly be expressed with enough excitement to justify a moment of John and Jane Punter's day.

It is the later that has the greatest impact on Australian politics, because of the nature of our electorate and our system. Politician's court the former (in the case of the ALP: really badly!) and eschew the latter because negative trumps positive almost any day of the week.

What's missing is hard-news analysis. Neither devoid of ideology -- because in my opinion you can't understand a policy without understanding how its fits into the broader context, and for that you need to understand and discuss ideology -- nor saturated with it to the extent that it can be easily pigeon holed and dismissed a partisan.

Ben, you are my favourite political journalist in Australia because you spend so much time on policy analysis, and your ideology, whilst clear, doesn't saturate your work. But, I would like more time and attention given to the topics I discussed today :-). Like mi pal Ross Gittins:


Posted Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 10:23

My personal bias research was reading The Australian (national), The Herald Sun (Melbourne), and The Age (Melbourne) newspapers most days from 2004 to 2009. That showed me that The Australian and The Herald Sun were very pro: LP; corporations; mining; big defence, and anti: ALP; Greens; Unions; environmentalists; and The Age was initially more neutral, tending increasingly the opposite to the above Murdoch papers. I like hearing about ecology and union perspectives, but I expect informative rather than faithful perspective.
I enjoy NewMatilda and GeorgeMonbiot for this reason.