Politics One

Fourth edition

by Ian Ward and Randal G. Stewart

News media and news management

Further reading suggestions

  • Errington, W. and Miragliotta, N. 2007. Media and Politics. Especially Ch.1 which provides a useful introduction to the media’s role in Australian democracy.
  • Tiffen, R. 2000. ‘The News Media and Australian Politics’ In P. Boreham, G. Stokes and R. Hall (eds) The Politics of Australian Society. (Frenchs Forrest: Longman). Considers media ownership, processes of news production and the place of news media in Australian democracy.
  • Craig, G. 2003. Media, Politics and Public Life ( Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin). pp.42-5 on ‘media relations’, pp 82-5 on parliamentary reporting. and pp. 104-108 on talkback radio.

A further note on the role of political institutions 
The Rudd Government is often accused by its critics of being preoccupied with ‘spin’ –with the presentation of policy rather than its substance. In Politics One we have painted the increasing use of ‘spin’ as a largely undesirable recent development in Australian politics, and implicitly if not explicitly, attributed this development to the desire that politicians have shown to manipulate the news media coverage—especially television news—in search of every electoral advantage. All governments have been driven to use ‘spin’ by changing news values and practices. 

More than before mainstream news is driven by commercial values. Journalists now engage in commentary rather than in reporting. Television news in particular has increasingly focused on personalities and conflict between them rather than on substantive policy debates. ‘Hard news’ has increasingly given way to ‘infotainment’. Since the 1970s there indeed have been significant changes in the ways in which news is gathered and reported. It is at least worth asking whether the increasing reliance upon media advisers—and the increasingly ‘stage managed’ politics which results—might not be a defensive response to a media which no longer interested in serious public policy debate. 

Discussion point Barry Cassidy now hosts the ABC program ‘The Insiders’. Previously he worked as a press secretary for the ALP leader (and prime minister) R.J.L. Hawke. Asked in 1993 (on the Media Report, 11 November) whether ‘it really is the role of the press secretary to manipulate the media?’ he answered frankly: ‘Absolutely. I can’t think of a better word. I mean the fact is that if you are not manipulating the media, you are not doing your job.’ 

How do media advisers or press secretaries employed by political leaders manipulate the media? Can this be done ethically?