Friends, Australians, countrymen, lend me your ears. Or should that be: “give me a fair share of voice”?

In all the talk of new paradigms in the reporting of politics, one thing is surely true: much more attention should be paid to the Greens. That means more vigorous and critical scrutiny, and more preparedness to devote newsprint and broadcast time to testing and questioning the leaders.

Last week Greens leader Bob Brown was griping about the ABC’s key television news programs, which, he said had failed to cover his party during the election campaign.

Brown has written to the ABC’s director of news, Kate Torney, complaining that the Greens were not interviewed at all on the key broadcast forums The 7.30 Report and Insiders, and got less than their fair share elsewhere.

“We got 14 per cent of the vote, but zero per cent of the coverage every night out of Canberra,” he says.

I asked the ABC to respond, and was given the following tables from the monitoring the ABC commissions from Media Monitors during election campaigns. They show the Greens received just under 10%  “share of voice”  across platforms.

First, the “share” received by each of the three political leaders.

Radio Television Internet Total
Hrs:Min:Sec % Hrs:Min:Sec % Words % %
Julia Gillard ALP 12:59:45 8.9 11:08:06 20.3 13,382 15.9 12.4
Tony Abbott Coalition 10:06:07 6.9 9:22:18 17.1 15,226 18.1 10.6
Bob Brown Greens 4:22:46 3.0 2:10:59 4.0 2,564 3.0 3.2

Then the share given to each political party:

Radio Television Internet Total
Hrs:Min:Sec % Hrs:Min:Sec % Words % %
ALP 57:32:08 39.4 26:11:15 47.8 35,458 42.1 41.8
Coalition 57:40:51 39.5 24:00:59 43.9 37,917 45.0 41.2
Greens 16:18:34 11.2 3:17:24 6.0 7,217 8.6 9.6

The ABC confidently asserts: “Overall, the ABC is satisfied that the share received by the Greens was appropriate.”

I think it is clear that the claim is hollow. We can’t judge whether the ABC was fair to the Greens without more information. Share of voice doesn’t cut it as a measure.

What counts during an election campaign is share of ears and seriousness of attention.

There is a world of difference between a sound grab on Tasmanian regional radio and on AM or PM, and between a quick mention on ABC24 and a testing interview as the main set piece of The 7.30 Report. Yet the figures provided by the ABC do not allow us to distinguish.

I — and Bob Brown — have asked for a further breakdown and more information, but after waiting for the best part of the week, nothing more has been forthcoming. Either the information doesn’t exist, or Auntie is unwilling — or very slow — to release it.

The ABC also says that the director of editorial policies, Paul Chadwick who chairs Auntie’s election coverage review committee,  will make a public report after reporting to the ABC board in October. Should make interesting reading.

The ABC acknowledges that the coverage varied from place to place — for example, there was more coverage [of the Greens]  in Tasmania and Victoria, where there were strong local issues (including the battle for the seat of Melbourne).

“It also varied from program to program — for example, there are relatively few major standalone interview slots on programs such as Insiders and The 7.30 Report, but many more opportunities for regular comment on radio programs and in daily news.”

The new paradigm will require seriousness of journalistic purpose devoted to the Greens. And may well expose old paradigm notions of balance.

Of course, if journos really do start piling in to the Greens, Bob Brown might have cause to regret calling for them to do so.

If more information is forthcoming from the ABC, I will certainly publish it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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