Sep 19, 2011

Is there any benefit in partisan media?

The re-emergence of partisan media outlets in Australia raises the question of what sort of impact they have on democracy, and whether it's all bad.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

What if the whole rationale for the government’s media inquiry is flawed? What if “quality journalism” isn’t all we all think it’s cracked up to be?

The US, mainly courtesy of Fox News and, latterly, MSNBC, is significantly further advanced in debating partisan media outlets than Australia. It’s almost a staple of that debate that the growing level of partisanship in the US media is similar to the intensely partisan press of the 19th century.

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24 thoughts on “Is there any benefit in partisan media?

  1. GocomSys

    Bernard, you posed the question:
    Is there any benefit in partisan media?
    My answer is NO. Do we desperately need intelligent quality journalism, YES!
    I’ve made my choice and I am clear about it.

  2. Suzanne Blake


    I think the commercial newspapers and radio stations need to retain their sales / ratings in order to survive, unlike Government owned corporations like ABC / SBS TV and radio.

    Therefore, if the commercial readers or listeners did not like what they were reading or listening to, their ratings would change and they would need to rectify it, or face decline and financial stress.

    In any case, I think I read somewhere a few weeks back that one of the radio stations you mentioned (2GB) was the highest rating station across Australia, let alone where they broadcast to.

  3. Edward James

    Main stream partisan and allegedly non partisan media outlets which can be identified as bought and paid for, and so called quality journalism must be mutually exclusive. If we are to understand quality journalism is reporting “the news” without bias to suit the outlet. While there are any number of exceptions which no doubt can be identified to disprove my assertion. The idea that any journalist including the growing number of internet spawned public trust journalist, will be blocked from promulgating his or her work product by medeia owners who aee pissed off with it. Is no myth! Edward James

  4. Scott

    Two Gold Walkley’s for “The Australian” in 2007 and 2009 would seem to indicate you can be both partisan and quality.

  5. John Bennetts

    1. Suzanne, where ever did you get the notion that ABC/SBS do not need ratings in order to survive? Program by program, ratings either make or break their futures and determine the amount of political currency they earn.

    The difference is only that the food chain takes a bit longer in the public sphere than in the more direct cash-is-king world. Starvation still results in death, regardless of the species.

    2. This isn’t one of your best, Bernard. I found my self having to resist the tendency to skim and then move to the next item. Not been drinking from Margaret Symonds’s cup, have you? Endless navel-gazing about the real or imagined value of other media is not, I suspect, very important stuff to many readers, especially when repetitious and predictable. You know the message: Australian = right wing warriors; Fairfax = Great traditions, slowly slipping off the stage; ABC = good in principal but very little to be positive about… and so on it goes.

    Someone’s Grandma used to say “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything.” I recommend that Crikey adopt this approach to the Murdoch rags for a spell.

  6. GocomSys

    One question: Can anybody name a Newspaper, Radio or TV station that these days broadcasts “straight” news? That means FACTS only (no opinion, no hypothesis, no he said/she said, no political or commercial propaganda, no bias) just plain simple researched facts! I can’t think of any. Can you?

  7. John Reidy

    I recently read 1861 The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart which covers some of this territory – from the pov of the civil war.
    One consequence of the Partisan press was the technique used by readers who disagreed with the line taken by the paper – it literally involved the readers, the editor, tar and feathers.

    There is another interesting analogy from that period – Western Union – which had an effective monopoly on telegraph communications, was the equivilant at the time of Google+Microsoft and the telcos.

  8. SimsonMc

    I honestly believe that the world needs to step back and review what capitalism and current economic theory means in a modern context. What I think is now starting to happen is that the massive expectation gap between society’s expectations on how particular industries should act and how these industries actually carry out their business is now starting to become unacceptable to the world. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want us to drink vodka under the hammer and sickle but it I think Bernard has a point that maybe it’s time that boundaries need to be redefined to match community expectations. As I have argued before, the media are given a privileged position in society and they need to treat it with the respect that it deserves and I think most people believe that currently they are trashing it to the point of no return. Paul Keating made the point about the banks during the GFC where maybe the market needs to be segmented so that deposits, loans and other critical transactions are contained in one particular banking industry which is regulated so that it won’t fail and then all the other dodgy stuff is open to market forces and if they fail – bad luck. But also have the laws in place to make the executives accountable, something that has not happened to any of the financial institutions that brought us the GFC.

    The same thing probably needs to happen in the media industry also. The code of ethics is there so just make them enforceable by law. Media organisations can choose whether they wish to operate in that space or they can operate in the clearly identifiable Alan Jones Talking Shite space. Have similar laws like Canada’s truth in media laws and allow the courts to decide.

  9. Suzanne Blake


    I am sure you would disagree with any suggestions. But if there are none as you suggest, dont you think that is because people want opinion, commentary and hypothesis etc.

    @ John Bennetts

    The ABC and SBS are not focussed on ratings. I have never heard them report them. Some of the ABC TV shows have rated so poorly for years, yet they are still on air. But they have around 500,000 Bowls viewers on Saturday afternoon and decide to delete it? Does not make sence. Even if the Bowls program rated poorly, they should still retain it as it comments with the seniors, albeit younger and younger people are playing Bowls these days.

  10. Suzanne Blake

    meant connects with seniors.

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