The Left always complain of media bias. Why so?
I was surprised and a little incredulous, as it seems were many readers when Maurice Newman, retiring Chairman of the ABC writing in The Australian, claimed that “the public broadcaster strives for balance and gets it right most of the time”. This is just so far from the truth that it can only be interpreted as a laughable piece of ‘diplomatic hypocrisy’.
A brilliant book on media bias, Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind by Tim Groseclose, would quickly disabuse anyone of just how biased and distorting is our media. Whilst writing on America, Groseclose analyses with precision just how and why the media distorts. All his arguments apply to our ABC.
Groseclose cleverly, and empirically, demonstrates just how news is transformed from factual content into a point of view. He is at pains to point out that political bias does not mean not being truthful, or reporting facts honestly, or even objectively. If there is one lesson from Groseclose’s careful analysis it is that left journalists select the issues they deal with. In this way, critical things are therefore not reported, and in interviews, certain people are never interviewed. The examples are so endless here in Australia, that one gets sick of pointing them out.
Left Turn demonstrates that mainstream American media outlets have an overwhelming left bias, that conservative outlets are far less extreme than are those of the left, and most importantly, the effect this bias in the media has on the voting public has measurably shifted the public’s “political quotient” significantly more to the left than it would have been with a more representative media. A detailed review of the book can be read in Quadrant Online by Steven Kates.
Reading the book reminded me of an article I wrote in 1998 based on studies in Australia by Professor Henningham at Queensland University. Henningham surveyed Australian journalists themselves to ascertain their impression of the place Australian media outlets lay on a spectrum from left to right. What strikes the outside observer is that the journalists themselves clearly rated the ABC as pro-Labor, indeed as the most pro-Labor of the major media outlets. The results of the survey, from left to right were:
Channel Seven, A Current Affair
— MID POINT ACCORDING TO JOURNALISTS —
Sydney Morning Herald
— MIDPOINT ACCORDING TO PUBLIC —
The West Australian
The mid-point in this spectrum, according to the journalists was between the Telegraph-Mirror and the Sydney Morning Herald. However, a question imposes. Where would be this putative mid point be for the general public.
Henningham conducted a second but unrelated survey, ‘Ideological Differences between Australian Journalists and Their Public’. Of 173 journalists and 262 members of the public in metropolitan Australia, not surprisingly, there was an enormous difference between the views of journalists and those of the general public, with journalists consistently having more ‘progressive’ views than the general public.
Given this difference in views, I attempted to establish notionally just where the centre point of these media might lie on our political spectrum for the general public: that is, the one that delivers a close to 50/50 result on average at a general election. With caveats, I combined the results from the two Henningham studies. [see details here on third page]. I selected ten items that I believe have relative importance to the issues that were current at that time. Whilst only suggestive, when the journalists’ inherent bias is taken into account along with the electorate’s, one can hassard that the Australian people would judge the centre point in our media to be the Herald Sun. This means that the Australian public, on average, would consider every media outlet to the left of the Herald Sun to be biased towards the left. This would of course include The Australian.
I mention this short analysis only to underline the value of the very detailed and thorough analysis done by Professor Groseclose on the America media. Much more needs to be done about the complacency in the distortion of politics that our media creates. It is results like these that give irony to the absurd claimes of Maruice Newman, and above all to all those on the left climbing onto the Gillard government’s media enquiry.