December 15th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Editorial: The Advent of Christmas

TESTIMONIAL: News Weekly - a variety of ideas and points of view

Canberra Observed: After the election: new look for both sides

BIOETHICS: There is no scientific need to clone embryos

Adult stem cell breakthrough

National Day of Action over banks' job cuts

Straws in the Wind: Insiders, celebrities and Tic-Tac men

Western Australia: Gallop's drug 'compromise'

Media: Parliamentary press gallery poll predictions

Letter: Roots of terror

Letter: History repeats?

Letter: Reinvention

Letter: Patrol boats

Letter: Doing what's right - Mary Whitehouse CBE

United States: Torture, assassination and the Death of God

Comment: Economic policy: how they got it wrong

TRADE: After Qatar: Australia’s limited options

BOOKS: 'Gallipoli', by Les Carlyon

BOOKS: 'Language and the Internet', by David Crystal

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Media: Parliamentary press gallery poll predictions

by John Styles

News Weekly, December 15, 2001

A News Weekly source reports that the results of another pre-election opinion poll are about to be published. The data is very interesting. It records the election predictions of journalists in the federal parliamentary press gallery.

In much post-election analysis, the predominant gallery line has been that the border protection issue delivered the election to Howard - a Coalition victory was a foregone conclusion, never in doubt.

The gallery poll taken before the election tells a different story.

According to News Weekly’s source, it shows that 49 per cent of the journalist-respondents thought Labor would win, 46 per cent sensed a Coalition victory and four per cent predicted a hung parliament.

If, as press gallery journalists have been telling us since the election, the border protection issue meant Labor never had a chance, how is it that 49 per cent of them thought Labor would win?

The most likely explanation is that the gallery poll results indicate that the election was going to be what everybody in the lead-up to the election thought it would be: a close-run thing. That fact is reflected in the four per cent who predicted a hung parliament.

The "Labor never had a chance" post-election rationalisation conveniently ignores the fact that, ostensibly, the ALP was with the Coalition on that issue. Also, it has enabled the gallery’s Howard critics to avoid other inconvenient implications of the result.

For example, on November 24, Tim Colebatch, economics editor of The Age, devoted 1,586 words to an analysis of the outcome. He exhausted 1,539 words on various scenarios before arriving at this conclusion in the very last paragraph of his story:

"Yet one critical fact remains. The party seen as the better economic manager tends to win the marginal seats. At this election, our polling showed the Liberals had an overwhelming lead on economic issues, and that, as much as anything else, explains why John Howard remains Prime Minister."

The post-election period has produced a surprising degree of candour in some circles. Discussing the election result with Fran Kelly, Stephen Mayne and Brian Coster on his ABC radio program The National Interest, presenter Terry Lane observed:

"One of the problems when four of us like us sit around and talk about this thing, we all come from the same world. We come from the world of the ABC, the broadsheet newspapers. We don’t listen to commercial talkback radio, we don’t read the tabloids ...

"To me it’s as though there are two worlds. There’s my precious little world and then there’s the real world. And that makes it very difficult to get a grip on what the public is thinking."

(For the record, Fran Kelly protested that she does read the tabloids.)

Also in post-election candour mode, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Alan Ramsey. On November 28, he noted:

"Meanwhile, despite - or because of - Labor’s comprehensive defeat, the media was still behaving a fortnight after polling day as if Labor had won.

"Across the television chat programs last weekend, in the aftermath of the Government’s announced new ministry and the Opposition’s new frontbench lineup, all three commercial networks offered interviews either with Labor’s revamped leadership, Crean and Jenny Macklin, or the most intriguing Labor player of them all, Mark Latham, now back from the political cold. Not one network had anybody from the Government."

The rule at the ABC seems to be: when Israelis kill Palestinians be explicit; when Arabs kill Israelis try to be as vague as you can.

"Twelve people, including 10 Israelis and two Palestinian suicide bombers, have been killed in a triple bomb attack in the heart of west Jerusalem."

That was the lead paragraph from an ABC Online news item reporting the first of two Arab terrorist attacks in Palestine and Israel on December 1st. Loose and vague, it neatly positioned the suicide bombers, the perpetrators of the attack, with the victims.

Any first year journalism student could have done better. Observing the basic rules of news writing, the lead could have read: "Two Palestinian suicide bombers and a car bomb today killed 10 Israelis in the heart of west Jerusalem." Straight and factual; and six words shorter.

The next day, ABC radio reported, "Israeli soldiers have shot dead four Palestinians in a gun battle near the west bank city of Jenin." However, the news item suggested that the shootings were "Israeli reprisals". Not so, according to the ABC’s own website. ABC Online revealed that "an Israeli military source says the soldiers shot four Palestinians near Jenin, when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on an army patrol and the troops returned fire."

Another ABC radio news spot on the terrorist bomb attacks evasively referred to the number of casualties, and then declared that the Palestinian suicide bombers "blew themselves up". Well, yes, they did; that’s what suicide bombers do. The real point was that they took with them 10 innocent Israeli citizens.

In follow-up stories, ABC reports referred not to acts of terrorism against Israelis, but to "attacks on Jerusalem".


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