Election 2013 media panel

In the eyes of the world: International coverage of the election focused on quirks and gaffes

Finally, Australia is in the news internationally about a serious event - our federal election campaign. Normally, the land down under seems to make the global news only in relation to the quirks of living here - shark attacks spring to mind.

Now, Australian politics is making headline news around the globe. It’s just that, well, it’s still mostly about the quirks and gaffes. Admittedly, there have been quite a few already in the past 10 days of the campaign - comic relief given the perceived lack of substance that has prevailed so far.

Yesterday, the Daily Show in the US even thought the gaffes were worth devoting an entire segment to. The parallels between Jaymes Diaz and Rick Perry, Peter Dowling and Anthony Weiner, as well as Stephanie Banister and Sarah Palin were just too good to refuse.

Much has been made of the segment in today’s media coverage, with News Corp Australia’s main website news.com.au leading with the story, titled “The Laughing Stock of America”. Banister’s ramblings describing Islam as a country, in particular, have contributed to this dubious ‘success’, with her story being covered across the United States and Britain, but also in places like France, Norway, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, India, and even Algeria, to name just a few. Indeed, The Voice of Russia asserted that “the whole campaign risked going unnoticed by the outside world, had it not been for a gaffe by 27 year-old Stephanie Banister”.

While we may think it unfortunate, Australia is always more likely to be portrayed through such gaffes. In the international news system, we still sit on the periphery. The core countries, which are deemed to be the most significant players in terms of political and economic power, dominate most of the international news.

The United States, in particular, rule the roost: A recent study of foreign news on TV found the US were by far the most-reported country. The study looked at coverage in 17 very diverse countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan and the US.

Australia and the rest of Oceania achieved a coverage of only 3 per cent of all foreign news across the 17 countries - the same level as the African continent.

To be fair, a couple of the more serious aspects of our election campaign have made it overseas. The Prime Minister’s promise to institute gay marriage, for example - mostly because this is an issue very much of concern in many countries, so people can relate to it.

But by and large, it will always be the quirks and gaffes - the unusual news - that will make it overseas. Few people there know much - or indeed care - about Australian politics, so it’s difficult to relay the serious news. Much easier to focus on the outrageous.