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A matter of (mis)trust: why this election is posing problems for the media

3 24 0
30.04.2019

Election 2019 may well prove a watershed event in more ways than one. This will likely be the first time in the country’s electoral history that more voters are following the campaign online than via conventional media – television, newspapers and radio.

In other words, the ability of media behemoths like News Corp, Nine, the ABC and Seven to dominate an election narrative is less than it was. This sway over the political agenda is far from extinguished, of course. It is simply that traditional media, including their social media arms, are operating in a more competitive marketplace.

Read more: From irreverence to irrelevance: the rise and fall of the bad-tempered tabloids

Perhaps the most significant number to emerge in the opening stages of this campaign are the up to 1 million additions to the electoral rolls since the 2016 poll. A significant proportion of these new arrivals will be younger, technology-savvy, social-media-using voters.

Accessing these millennials is not least of challenges facing the major parties.

The arrival of a phalanx of younger millennial voters on the rolls may well serve as a counterweight to the battering-ram approach of the tabloids, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Brisbane’s Courier Mail and, to a lesser extent, Melbourne’s Herald Sun and Adelaide’s Advertiser.

These Murdoch mastheads, whose readers tend to be older working-class voters, have stepped up the war against the Labor Party since the election was called. If a front-running Labor under Bill Shorten is run down in the straight and Scott Morrison survives, we may see a reprise of the Sun headline in the 1992 election of the Conservative John Major: “It’s The Sun Wot Won It”.

On the other hand, if Shorten prevails against the weight of the Murdoch tabloids and their echo chambers in talk radio – amplified by Fox News-lite Sky News – then other conclusions may be drawn.

Shorten, incidentally, became the first aspiring prime minister since Gough Whitlam not to court Rupert Murdoch. Whitlam won with Murdoch’s support in 1972, but lost that support thereafter.

What is relevant in all of this is that trust in the media more generally is fragile and is unlikely to be bolstered by a........

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