The campaign bus

So who’s enjoying the current federal election campaign? 

The television stations certainly are as they are boosting their revenue by the second through showing the election advertising for the various political parties and lobby groups. The newspapers are also getting their share of additional advertising revenue. There are probably some people who are also enjoying rather than enduring the media reporting of the election campaign. At the speed that the election has fallen from top billing on the nightly news, it’s probably fair to suggest that most Australians are, to coin a phrase, gritting their teeth and thinking of the mother country.

We at The Political Sword would probably find root canal surgery preferable to any inclination to get on a media bus following either the prime minister or opposition leader around. As we’re not part of the ‘inner circle’, we can take a potentially more objective look at the media coverage of the process both leaders and their parties are taking to ensure they are the next prime minister.

Those who travel for work will tell you that really it is no fun. On top of having to ‘do your job’, there is the problem of finding services that you expect at home, as well as the lack of ability to choose what to eat, go for a walk without getting lost, different routines and different sleeping arrangements. In the case of those who choose (or are chosen) to follow the political leader around the country, there is also the inability to know where you are going or what you are doing from one day to the next.

Probably wisely, some media managers are questioning the value of assigning reporters to follow the politician around on a set-piece tour where there has to be some expectation of favourable reporting due to the position within the ‘inner circle’. This article in The Australian from 2010 discusses some of the issues.

The Newsroom is a HBO television series that never made it to ‘free to air’ television in Australia. It was the brainchild of Aaron Sorkin who also was behind The West Wing and some other ‘doco-dramas’. Like The West Wing, The Newsroom inserts some fictional characters into real events, such as the 2011 US Republican primaries, the capture of Osama Bin Laden and so on. While the events are fictional, Sorkin’s ‘doco-dramas’ have some input from those with real life experience who are credited at the end of each show. The premise of the show is the ‘back of house’ operations of a fictional cable news television show called Newsnight. At one point in the story, a senior member of the Newsnight staff volunteers to join the Mitt Romney campaign bus in the early stages of the 2012 US election. While a picture says a thousand words, some may find one or two of the words in this clip offensive.

This article written at the time of the 2015 NSW State Election seems to be a justification of the practice of being on the campaign bus. The main talking point seems to be avoiding the bus rented by the other side and the process of attempting to keep the reporters ‘on message’. It could be suggested that there is an element of Stockholm Syndrome — the psychological condition whereby the hostages bond with the captors — becoming apparent, although the reporter does write some nice things about Walter, the driver of the ‘other’ bus.

According to most maps, Queanbeyan, Katoomba and the Nepean Hospital are all pretty close to, if not in major population centres. Why do we need literally a bus load of journalists following the leaders of two political parties around the state (or country in 2016) to report something that in the normal course would be handled by a crew that worked for the media outlet in the local region? Could it be that the story from the reporter on the bus is more insightful? The clip from The Newsroom would suggest not; there is no real insight except getting a copy of each days ‘line up’ a bit earlier than others.

So at the end of the first week into the campaign, the on-line headlines were on one topic — the ‘Debate’ that was held the previous night. The Fairfax contribution was this, The Guardian came up with this, News Corp ran with this while the ABC ran with something completely different, written by Barrie Cassidy (who probably was nowhere near the Windsor RSL on the night). Cassidy’s piece finishes with:
The Shorten bus is a good idea and so was the decision to concentrate on a single region — north Queensland — and a single issue — education — for the best part of the first week. That's the sort of thing that you can do when you have eight weeks to play with.

Turnbull's plus was his demeanour and focus. It delivered few immediate rewards because of the cross winds, but that will come over the long haul if he can keep it up.

And it is a long haul — so long that the first debate of the campaign will come and go with most people unaware it even happened.

A town hall forum at 6pm on a Friday night broadcast on SKY will be lucky to draw 100,000 viewers. Yet both leaders — under the cover of political darkness — signed up. That tells you all you need to know about how edgy the parties and the politicians are about the set pieces they just can't avoid.
Given the stage management and set pieces of election campaigns in general, it’s no real surprise that the stuff-ups and ‘unscheduled’ events surrounding the campaign get a lot of airtime. From the first week of the current campaign there are two examples of molehills turned into mountains. In no particular order, there was Melinda in Adelaide who questioned Turnbull on education and single parent support. On the face of it she has a good point: if she can’t afford the costs of ‘necessary’ school equipment, how can her son have the same career options as his peers who can access the equipment? Don’t forget that up until a year or so ago, the federal government was supplying a laptop for most secondary school students — now it’s user pays. As those who have supported children through secondary school in the past ten years would attest, it is completely different (and much more research focused) than ‘back in the day’. A computer and reasonable internet connection is essential as class resources are on the internet along with the peer reviewed literature that a student needs to achieve a university entrance (or vocational education) score.

Then we had Duncan who didn’t have to see a political leader but took the enormously brave step of discussing his personal circumstances on Q&A on the first Monday of the campaign. Duncan’s question related to the budget where one of the higher tax thresholds was increased, rather than the lowest one. His point, eloquently made, was that the $87,000 per annum taxpayer would spend the extra $7 or thereabouts a week on a coffee — if he was given the same opportunity, he could do something for his entire family. Q&A panellist, and Assistant Treasurer in Turnbull’s government, Kerry O’Dwyer —
. . .talked stiffly of “growing the pie”, of small business tax cuts allowing cafes to buy new $6,000 toasters.

“Duncan, I’ll be harsh in my message,” said another panellist, Innes Wilcox, the head of Australia’s business lobby.

“If you’re on the minimum wage and with a family, you would not pay much tax, if any at all, would you? You would not pay much tax.”
Those running the Coalition campaign, detailed in this link, must have been having conniptions. O’Dwyer came across as an uncaring automaton who had to stick to the party line. It seems there are 100 people working around the clock to avoid incidents like O’Dwyer, and later Turnbull, being accused of being out of touch.

If the sole purpose of the campaign offices is to convince you to vote for the blue or red team, surely there are far greater uses for the time, effort and money that really would make Australia a better place to live. Who knows, maybe we could give those in a similar situation to Duncan a tax break rather than respond with a story about trying to draw the conclusion that businesses buying $6,000 toasters are good for those on minimum wages or income support. The listing of resources in the article above also demonstrates why it is so hard for alternative political parties and ideas to float to the surface in our two-party state.

By the weekend following Duncan appearing on Q&A, News Corp papers had delved into Duncan’s life to the extent that on Friday, the ABC’s Jon Faine told Damon Johnson, the editor of the Herald Sun (as reported in The Guardian):
“I query your paper’s value system,” he said.

“It’s as blunt and profound as that. Twice this week you’ve taken people with obvious mental issues ... people who dare question people in power and positions of authority, and they get ground into dirt. What a way to conduct yourselves.”

Johnson shrugged it off. “If you’re going to be on the national stage in the middle of an election campaign, it’s equally legitimate to have your own past looked at, and that’s what we’ve done.”

Threaded through News Corp stories are similar attempts to justify its coverage. It appears to hang on a tweet from a Q&A producer, Amanda Collinge, who described Storrar on Tuesday as “a new national hero”.

“The ABC presented him as a ‘new national hero’ and a low-paid Aussie battler, but Duncan Storrar’s son, Aztec Major, paints a very different picture of his father,” the Australian’s Thursday story said.

“ABC hero to villain,” ran the Herald Sun’s Friday front page.

Four words – now deleted – but enough to turn Storrar, like Zaky Mallah before him, into an abstraction, fodder for a culture war between a media empire and the public broadcaster.
The media has shown that it can research and investigate should it decide to do so. News Corp chose to investigate the person who asked the question, rather than the issue raised. Regardless of the past sins of a person with the courage to challenge the orthodoxy, they deserve a response to the question, not a character assassination. In fact, you could suggest the real answer to the question is ‘you’re right — it’s unfair’. However, actually helping those less well-off would be slaughtering a number of sacred cows held dear by the Coalition and fellow travellers in this land.

At the end of the day, we are not being served well by most of the media reporting on the 2016 election campaign. Doco-dramas such as The Newsroom can research and develop stinging denunciations of the US Tea Party (which is an influence in the Coalition party room) calling them the ‘American Taliban’, and locally Charlie Pickering’s self-described ‘news comedy’ The Weekly discussed the reasons for the double dissolution election with far more logic than News Corp exercised when they decided to attack Duncan.

If a ‘docu-drama’ and a ‘news comedy’ can research and make salient points on the political landscape as they see it, why can’t the professionals who boast that they will give you the information you need to make a rounded decision? Currently Melinda and Duncan are both showing them up. Isn’t it time the media companies got off the political bus and challenged the orthodoxy as well?

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18/05/20162353NM You have written a most informative piece, starkly revealing how political minders and politically partisan media covertly attempt to influence our thinking and thereby our voting. It is manipulation writ large, reminiscent of George Orwell’s [i]Nineteen Eight-Four’s[/i] [i]Newspeak[/i], a controlled language created to limit freedom of thought and expression. Behind the manipulation are the moneyed whose purpose is to gain advantage. The brilliant YouTube clips you have selected illustrate your argument stylishly. I was taken particularly by the satirical [i]Newsroom[/i] piece, and of course Charlie Pickering’s satire is always penetrating. The clips are worth replaying. It makes one wonder how the public can ever make an informed choice of government when such distortions of the truth are perpetrated, and so deliberately. When we hear commentators debating whether Peter Dutton’s words on [i]Sky News[/i] yesterday were just another example of Dutton’s nastiness, or whether his utterance was deliberately organized dog-whistling to adversely frame the Greens and Labor in one king hit, we know we are close to hitting rock bottom. Heaven help us. The public knows politics is nasty, yet seasoned observers are astonished at just how nasty it is becoming. Where is our society heading with this daily brainwashing? Thank you for exposing so lucidly what we are facing.


18/05/2016Bertr - you're correct. Form your own opinion and act accordingly. Thanks for the comment and welcome to TPS


20/05/2016Article by Dominic Knight, the Drum
How many umbrellas are there if I have two in my hand but the wind then blows them away?