How the right-wing media have given a megaphone to reactionary forces in the Liberal Party

Chris Uhlmann accused elements of the media of ‘waging a war against the prime minister of Australia’.

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

The polarisation that is devouring Australia’s politics is reflected in the increasingly stark polarisation of the country’s professional mass media.

In the midst of the leadership crisis engulfing the prime ministership, some journalists have found time to start fighting each other over allegations of partisan political activism. Astonishing.

On Channel Nine’s Today show, the network’s political editor Chris Uhlmann accused elements of the media of ‘waging a war against the prime minister of Australia’.

For this, he singled out the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation newspapers such as The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, the Murdoch-owned pay TV channel Sky News, and the Fairfax-owned Sydney radio station 2GB.

On the same show, the Telegraph’s national political editor, Sharri Markson, hit back, calling Uhlmann’s remarks ‘disgusting and outrageous’.

Later, The Australian’s Chris Kenny weighed in, saying Uhlmann was airing gripes from within Malcolm Turnbull’s camp. The clear implication was that Uhlmann was just as much a player in the political game as any other political journalist.

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Kenny argued that the media and politicians have always been locked into a symbiotic relationship, requoting a line from British politics that a politician complaining about the media is like a sailor complaining about the sea.

That’s true, but in assessing the media’s role in the current crisis, it is helpful to think about it in two phases.

The ‘Foxification’ of Australian politics

Peta Credlin has used her program to promote Abbott’s brand of reactionary politics and attack Turnbull, especially over energy policy.

Phase one, which is what Uhlmann was referring to, is the coverage of national politics over the life of the Turnbull government.

There is overwhelming evidence that the News Corp newspapers, Sky News and the 2GB shock-jocks have given encouragement, legitimacy and a megaphone to the most reactionary elements in the Liberal and National parties.

This coverage has been characterised by climate-change denial, the prominence given to racist sentiments such as Andrew Bolt’s recent assertions that Australia was disintegrating into tribes, and alarmist warnings about immigration, typified by references to African gangs.

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These all play to the audiences of the conservative element of the Liberal Party whose figurehead has been the government’s destabiliser-in-chief, Tony Abbott, and whose frontbench champion has been Peter Dutton.

Sky News, in its night-time panels, is dominated by people promoting extreme views. Earlier this month, it went so far as to invite a neo-Nazi on air, only to apologise when the heat came on the next day.

Also in its evening line-up is Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, who has used her program to promote Abbott’s brand of reactionary politics and attack Turnbull, especially over energy policy.

On 2GB, meanwhile, the likes of Alan Jones and Ray Hadley have given the Abbott camp not just free kicks – Hadley has Abbott on his show regularly – but have created an on-air culture where outrage is encouraged.

Even this week, in covering the political crisis, Jones referred to key Turnbull backer, Mathias Cormann, as a ‘nigger in the woodpile’, a highly offensive, racist term of abuse. He later apologised for the word, but it’s not the first time he’s used it.

All this amounts to a Foxification of Australian politics.

It follows the template devised by Murdoch and his late lieutenant, Roger Ailes, in creating a highly partisan television channel, Fox News, which has prosecuted a similar ideological agenda to what the extreme right stands for in Australia.

Fox used to promote itself as ‘fair and balanced’, as gross an example of perverted meaning as anything Donald Trump has devised.

So much for phase one of the media’s coverage of the Turnbull government.

Responsible, up-to-the-minute coverage

Phase two is the coverage of the crisis that has unfolded this week.

In this, the professional mass media have, for the most part, provided a sustained, informative and reliable coverage of the kind that the public is entitled to expect.

The fast-moving developments have been relayed swiftly – often in real time – thanks to the speed and on-the-spot access to events that digital technology provides.

Read more:
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The stories are piled up in chronological sequence: not just the basic facts but context, explanation and insights into background events, such as the lead-up to Scott Morrison’s decision to stand for party leader if there is a spill.

There is also minute-by-minute Twitter coverage of the uproar and circus in parliament.

So much is happening that for a blessed moment the media are focusing on reporting rather than fighting among themselves.

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

5 responses to “How the right-wing media have given a megaphone to reactionary forces in the Liberal Party”

  1. Paul Leahy says:

    I wonder what Mungo has say about all this. He has always had a reasonable insight into the inner workings of the people who run the country but really shouldn’t have left kindergarten. Furthermore I guess this starts the debate into royal commissions for federal, state and senate politics. Do we need this many people playing games with our country and it prosperity given they waste an awful amount of time and money getting nothing done. Let’s call and end to this and reform the whole political landscape. 1vote from me, any other takers?

  2. George Huwell says:

    The Conversation is a government-funded left-wing propaganda rag.

    You have the ABC, Fairfax, Guardian, New Daily, Crikey, etc. is mostly left-wing too – if you bothered to analyse its content. You are also left-wing.

    Against that you Daily Telegraph, The Australian, most of Herald Sun and Courier Mail, and most of Sky.

    What’s obvious is that left-wing outlets are funded by taxpayers and beg for donations, because they fail to appeal to the concerns of their readers who will then in turn part with their cash. Left-wing viewpoints saturate social media because of taxpayer subsidies and quality news being behind paywalls.

    • Simon Haslam says:

      The Echo is still waiting, after 32 years, for our first dollar of Government funding, George. Luckily for us, a lot of taxpayers have advertised with us over that time, so readers must see some appeal in our content. As Crikey and Fairfax do have paywalls, doesn’t that make your argument even weaker?

  3. George Huwell says:

    Not really. I didn’t say every left-wing rag was government-funded, but the biggest one is.

    Fairfax paywall is very much less restrictive than the papers I listed. Test that claim if you want.
    And we know Fairfax is dying too.

    Crikey – I don’t care to test your argument, but they’re a smaller player anyway.

    I sincerely doubt your advertisers are paying for your left-wing opinions. You do have some excellent, non-political, no opinion content. (There, a compliment!). But if you want to cite page stats, go right ahead.

    My argument is looking even stronger now. Thanks for the question.

    Question for you: of your opinion writers, how many are genuinely Conservative? (voting to MT doesn’t count)

  4. m gardner says:


    The Conversation is an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.

    Our team of professional editors work with university, CSIRO and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public.

    Access to independent, high-quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism underpins a functioning democracy. Our aim is to allow for better understanding of current affairs and complex issues. And hopefully allow for a better quality of public discourse and conversations…

    From their Charter
    We will:

    Inform public debate with knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence.
    Unlock the knowledge of researchers and academics to provide the public with clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.
    Create an open site for people around the world to share best practices and collaborate on developing smart, sustainable solutions.
    Provide a fact-based and editorially independent forum, free of commercial or political bias.
    Support and foster academic freedom to conduct research, teach, write and publish…

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