Election 2013 media panel

Defeat and critique amidst the boredom

A week of denouement has seen a broad consensus emerge on how the two most powerful parties are faring in their opposed quests. Labor is losing, and it is not likely the Liberals will let them stop that soon.

In a campaign that appears to be boring many, some interesting dynamics of the media coverage have become clearer in the last week, too. They became even clearer once we had some time to look past the bald News Corp attack on Labor.

One feature is that the media generally has taken a couple of steps away from the vapidity of 2010. There has been more media discussion of policy in the last two weeks than in any equivalent period during the 2010 campaign.

The Conversation’s ‘factcheck’ site has been met with similar forms of policy scrutiny from other outlets. And several news reports of opinion polls have even been so circumspect as to note their varying ‘margins of error.’

As a sideline on the poll analysis, note the counterexample of Canada. There poll variability is routinely reported as a question both of reliability and of interval. ‘19 times out of 20, these numbers should be accurate to within plus or minus 3%,’ is a standard script for CBC journalists.

Meanwhile, the pratfall incidents we have seen reported so far in this campaign have been more directly keyed into critiques of the policies and values of candidates and their parties. Reportage of a disastrous Jaymes Diaz interview set the tone. It was swiftly accompanied by David Bradbury’s exasperation with his radio interviewer, by Stephanie Banister’s one-nation-of-Islam impromptu, and by the suppository-misapplying prime minister in waiting.

So there have been ‘gotcha’ moments, to be sure, but they have been framed more like their 1993 than their 2010 equivalents.

In other words, this campaign may still be framed and interpreted through a simplifying focus on personalities, but so far there has been noticeably less made of the personal humiliations than last time. Op-ed criticism in tabloid and, er, not tabloid papers alike has generally been more to-the-point, more proportionate, even more genuinely felt than last time.

Does this mean the growing sense that Australians are worried about the health of our democratic institutions is steadily catching up with professional practice for those who report on them?

Professional journalists set much of the frame for discussions of politics in the so-called social media. So it makes sense that Twitter discussions of #ausvotes issues so far this August have been less characterised by vitriol, outrage, and harassment than the regular run of #auspol sniping over the previous three years.

Indeed, absent the Murdoch power-play, it is remarkable how much more critically reflective the political coverage has been this month than it was during the 2010 campaign, or over most of the period since then. It is as though the outbreak of official electioneering has clarified some of the banal rancours, rather than just exacerbating them as one might have expected. This media attitude is even more noteworthy if we reflect on how immature is much of the policy that the two strongest parties have put forward.

In response to a sustained popular disdain for the stupidity that Australia’s putative leaders have learned to enact in their efforts to lead us, we see signs that many parts of the fourth estate are trying to strike a different path.