COVER STORY: Survey reveals left-wing slant of ABC journalists
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, June 8, 2013
A survey of over 600 Australian journalists, conducted by a senior academic from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, has cast a revealing light on the political beliefs of Australian journalists.
It shows that over 40 per cent of ABC journalists support the Greens, over 30 per cent support Labor, and just 15 per cent support the Coalition.
While political beliefs do not automatically result in biased reporting, the left-wing dominance suggests that the culture of the ABC is overwhelmingly to the left, so that many journalists are unaware that their views are far to the left of the mainstream, or believe that they are a vanguard who must “educate” the public towards their perceptions of reality.
It also highlights the success of the left’s long march through the institutions, a process formulated by the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, and acknowledged in Australia by journalists such as Marian Sawer, author of the book, Sisters in Suits: Women and Public Policy in Australia (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1990), which documented how feminists had captured key sections in the federal bureaucracy in the 1970s and 1980s.
Folker Hanusch, senior lecturer in journalism at University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, recently headed a study which surveyed 605 journalists around Australia between May 2012 and March 2013. It found that more than half (51.0 per cent) describe themselves as holding left-of-centre political views, compared with only 12.9 per cent who consider themselves right-of-centre.
Says Dr Hanusch: “It is the first study of its kind in more than 20 years to involve such a large number of journalists, and follows on from the work of John Henningham in the early 1990s.” (The Conversation, May 20, 2013).
Professor John Henningham is an Australian journalist, educator and director of the journalism college, Jschool, in Brisbane. More than 20 years ago he conducted the first national survey of Australian journalists. His findings are summarised online in the Electronic Journal of Communications (EJC). He found that, in the early 1990s, journalists had a pronounced left-wing bias.
“While 41 percent of journalists describe their ‘general political leaning’ as middle of the road, most of the remainder are more likely to lean to the left than to the right. Of the total, 3.8 percent said they were ‘pretty far to the left’, 35 percent a ‘little to the left’, 1.8 percent ‘pretty far to the right’ and 14.2 percent a ‘little to the right’. Journalists specialising in politics are much more likely to lean to the left than the right: 48 percent to 11 percent.” (EJC, Vol. 3, Nos 3 & 4, 1993).
The most recent survey confirms the trend, but suggests that it has gone even further.
Dr Hanusch says: “When asked about their voting intentions, less than two-thirds of the journalists we surveyed revealed their voting intention. Of those 372 people, 43.0% said they would give their first preference vote to Labor; 30.2% would vote for the Coalition; and 19.4% said they would choose the Greens — about twice the Australian average.”
Senior journalists, however, who have a stronger influence on final content, had views which were close to those of other Australians, as measured by recent Newspolls.
Most revealing was the political orientation of journalists working for the ABC.
Dr Hanusch has found that “41.2% of the 34 ABC journalists who declared a voting intention said they would vote for the Greens, followed by 32.4% for Labor and 14.7% for the Coalition”.
Not surprisingly, when the ABC was asked to comment on the survey, its spokesman dismissed it, saying that the number of journalists participating in the survey was too small to draw any conclusions.
ABC radio presenter Mark Colvin told the Australian that the result was “absolutely meaningless”. He said, “Only a tiny proportion of ABC journalists were prepared to reveal their voting intentions.... You don’t know anything about the much larger percentage of ABC journalists who were not prepared to reveal their intentions.… It’s absolutely ridiculous to draw conclusions from this survey on that subject.” (The Australian, May 21, 2013).
Other journalists had a different view. Nick Cater, author of the recently published book, The Lucky Culture and the Rise of an Australian Ruling Class (HarperCollins Australia), wrote in The Australian on the same day that there were “no surprises … in the fact that 41 per cent of ABC journalists who declared their intention said they would be voting Green”. Conservative columnist Andrew Bolt, in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, expressed the same view.
Media outlets run by both Fairfax and News Limited also showed that most journalists identified with the left, but fewer than those at the national broadcaster.
Dr Folker Hanusch.
Dr Hanusch reports that “46.5% of 86 News Limited journalists who answered this question said they would vote for Labor, 26.7% for the Coalition, and only 19.8% for the Greens. As well as The Australian, the News Ltd stable includes some of the country’s best-selling tabloids such as the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, Courier-Mail, Northern Territory News and the Adelaide Advertiser, and some suburban newspapers”.
He added: “Among the 86 Fairfax Media journalists who responded, Labor was by far the most popular party at 54.7% support, followed by the Coalition and the Greens, both on 19.8%. The Fairfax journalists came from outlets including the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Canberra Times, a range of regional and suburban newspapers, and metropolitan radio stations.”
Dr Hanusch has also found significant differences between journalists who worked for the metropolitan and provincial media. Journalists at metropolitan news media are significantly more left-wing in their political views.
Setting aside the substantial Green vote, particularly in the cities, Labor would receive 52.6 per cent of the metropolitan journalist vote, while in regional areas, 44.4 per cent would vote for the Coalition.
He has also found that journalists were overwhelmingly from white, Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, with fewer than 5 per cent from Asia or the Middle-East, about half the percentage of the general population.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.