The media’s job?

By April 9, 2022Australian Politics, Media

In the last day or three, while farnarcling around on Twitter, I came across an extraordinary exchange. One of the Twitterati, Antfarmer, stated

“Disappointingly [Katharine Murphy, political editor of the Guardian] just recited the misnomer [sic] that the Liberal party’s traditional strength is economic management. Really? On what basis is this furphy rolled out election after election? Which economic stats?”1

Astonishingly, Murphy replied with:

“It’s a reflection on public opinion, measured over a long period of time. Lots of field evidence. The interesting thing (as I’ve referenced in many different outings over the past few months) is those perceptions are shifting (at least in Guardian Essential).”2

The inimitable Ronni Salt replied to Murphy with:

“And part of the reason the public myth continues is because the media keep telling the public about the public myth and the public read the media who then . . . The idea that the media have not participated in the promotion of this myth is naive. chicken-egg-chicken-egg”3

It beggars belief that someone of Murphy’s reputation could be so bereft, as to think that repeating the public’s perceptions back to them is anything like the job of a journalist. Many members of the general public think Scott Morrison doesn’t lie. Should that be repeated as if it is fact, or should the many instances of his lies be used to disabuse people of that misapprehension? I’d be inclined to think that reporting the facts of his lies is more the journalist’s job, than reporting the beliefs of a part of the population.

This lackadaisical attitude to the truth and reality is symptomatic of the malaise affecting the media in Australia. It happened with Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) which was referred to by so many in the media (not just the Murdoch media) as a ‘Carbon Tax’, which is what the Liberal Party erroneously called it. It was in fact an Emission Trading Scheme with a fixed Carbon price for the first three years4

Parroting the Liberal Party’s talking points does not constitute journalism. A similar thing happened with the Labor Party’s plans for dividend imputation refunds. The Liberal Party called it a ‘retiree tax’, and the media lapped it up, with people like Samantha Maiden and Fran Kelly parroting the term5.

Many of my colleagues are scientists and if they were as slack with their terminology or their data as many journalists seem to be, they’d be hard pressed to get published and they’d eventually be out of a job, as not being up to the task. In journalism, such laxity doesn’t seem to be a problem.




  • Arthur Baker says:

    I found the segment of ABC RN Breakfast to which the Twitterato Antfarmer referred:–election-brutal/13830896. It runs about 9 minutes. I think the context of the actual discussion helps to explain Murphy’s point in a way that a necessarily brief tweet cannot.

    Patricia Karvelas asks: “Is the PM getting any fresh air at all to mount his bid for re-election? I mean these are very big issues that are a huge distraction.”

    Murphy begins her reply: “What the Prime Minister wanted to do was deliver a budget last week then turn the conversation to an area of traditional strength for the Coalition, which is economic management, but basically, y’know, we’ve had a rolling discussion over the last couple of weeks about whether the Prime Minister is or isn’t a bully.” The discussion continues for about four minutes, detailing distractions and controversies which must have frustrated Morrison, and Murphy rounds it off with “Morrison can’t get the conversation on his preferred territory. And whilever that happens, you’re not making your case for re-election. And that’s very difficult for them.”

    For me, the context indicates quite clearly that Murphy’s point was Morrison’s strong but unfulfilled wish to get the conversation onto a topic HE regards as a strength, and NOT that she believed that Liberals actually ARE better economic managers. Her introductory statement admittedly could have been better phrased, but hey, it’s verbal off-the-cuff stuff, not a finely-crafted professionally edited written article. I really don’t believe she was spouting the myth or parrotting Liberal talking points.

    • admin says:

      It was not just Murphy’s tweet; that was just a vehicle for the rant. The media have been regurgitating this stuff for decades. They have also been regurgitating the drivel about ‘big-spending and big taxing’ Labor for decades, whereas the data, and the debt, show that the reverse is true.

      • Arthur Baker says:

        Found these figures on how much the last six governments (since 1972) have taxed us on average. The numbers are tax as a percentage of GDP.

        • 23.5% – Howard, Liberal
        • 22.4% – Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison, Liberal
        • 21.8% – Hawke/Keating, Labor
        • 20.9% – Rudd/Gillard, Labor
        • 20.8% – Fraser, Liberal
        • 19.4% – Whitlam, Labor

        Liberals 1st 2nd and 5th out of 6. Labor 3rd 4th and 6th. (The period corresponds almost exactly with my 49.5 year residence in Australia – arrived about a fortnight before Whitlam’s “It’s Time” campaign started.)

        • admin says:

          Yep; numerous people have been putting up assorted graphs debunking this drivel. Yet, it persists, mostly because of the parlous state of our media.

  • Jon says:

    While it’s easy to critique statements after the conversation Arthur, Murphy could easily have said the “better economic managers myth” or “the belief held by many – invariably uninformed – punters that the LNP are better economic managers”. Ronni Salt’s comment is spot on.

    Murphy would do better to repeat the numerous facts available on Turnbull/Morrison’s economic management – their debt (pre covid) , their constant misuse of public funds, their lack of transparency and accountability for money handed out, their slush fund money buckets in budgets, their consistent failure to go to public tender and to have deliverables attached to the dollars, $5B French submarine debacle, Robodebt….

    The Howard economic myth has also been well exposed. Howard/Costello structural deficits (left for future govts to resolve) are VERY well understood in economic circles, and his tax subsidies to gas producers ($100B cost to taxpayers) is probably the most egregious transfer of public funds to private hands during my adult life.

    “Political editors” are regular disappointers but if Murphy wants credibility the least she can do is get someone to brief her on the economic realities and behaviours right under her nose.

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