Facebook Google Menu Linkedin lock Pinterest Search Twitter



Jul 27, 2012

ABC to unleash citizen's agenda at 2013 election

The ABC plans to revamp its campaign coverage at next year's federal election following heavy criticism of the media's performance during the 2010 campaign.


The ABC plans to revamp its campaign coverage at next year’s federal election following heavy criticism of the media’s performance during the 2010 campaign. On the menu is greater policy scrutiny, a beefed-up online offering and more opportunities for voters to set the agenda rather than politicians or journalists.

The last federal election campaign — best remembered for Mark Latham’s aggressive appearance on the campaign trail — was widely seen as a nadir for the major parties and the media. Independent MP Tony Windsor described it as the worst campaign he’d ever seen from the fourth estate.

The ABC’s head of policy Alan Sunderland tells Crikey: “There was a lot of discussion after the last election campaign — as there is after many campaigns — that we need more focus on substance, more coverage of issues. That there was too much horse race coverage and not enough policy.

“At the last election, much of what we did — such as [psephologist] Antony Green’s blog — was gold standard. In terms of policy coverage, we did a fair amount. But if there was a fantastic Background Briefing piece on a certain issue you couldn’t necessarily find it. Next time around we want better, richer policy coverage and to put it in a place people can actually find it.”

One need only take a brief look at the ABC’s 2010 election campaign portal to see what Sunderland is talking about. There’s a sophisticated seat-by-seat analysis, plenty of breaking news and lots of commentary from the campaign trail. But when it comes to policy, there’s little besides brief dot points on the major parties’ offerings in key areas and feeds of ABC stories. There’s no search function and little distinction between in-depth investigations and perfunctory “he said, she said” news reports.

Some of the national broadcaster’s best election reporting isn’t even there. This detailed Radio National piece on the NBN, for example, doesn’t appear in the ABC’s collection of 2010 election internet stories.

At the next election, Sunderland says Aunty devotees can expect better searchability and an increased pooling of resources between the broadcaster’s divisions so that cracker stories don’t get lost. He also anticipates a greater emphasis on “explainer journalism” — reporting that provides background and context to help the audience understand the daily news.

The other key development, Sunderland says, will be giving voters a voice in what does and doesn’t get covered. As he explains on ABC’s new Engine Room blog:

“The media shouldn’t just confine itself to covering what the major parties are telling us is the agenda of the campaign. There’s another stakeholder in the discussions, and that’s our audience. More than ever before, the Australian electorate is starting to put forward its own views about what should be the agenda for the coming election. You can hear this emerging ‘citizen’s agenda’, as some have called it, coming through loud and clear … So our aim for the coming federal election campaign, whenever it is, is to tune into that emerging agenda, work with our audiences to identify the policy issues that matter to the community, and ensure they are front and centre in our coverage.”

During a visit to Australia during the 2010 election campaign, influential US journalism academic Jay Rosen outlined a vision to transform election coverage so that it’s driven by a “citizen’s agenda”. Around six months before the campaign, Rosen proposed, journalists should start asking the electorate which issues they want the candidates to discuss during the campaign. The most popular six to 10 issues would then form the “master narrative” for the campaign and be used to determine which stories get prioritised and which questions politicians get asked.

Although it’s clear Sunderland and ABC boss Mark Scott have been influenced by his ideas, the ABC has no plans to adopt the “full Rosen” at this stage. The idea of a master narrative, Sunderland says, is “too didactic”.

So how would an ABC citizen’s agenda work? Sunderland admits it’s still being nutted out — and he’s keen to hear ideas from consumers. But town hall-style forums on specific policy issues are one possibility. Questions for a Q&A forum on health, for example, could be crowdsourced before hand. Discussion could then continue online at the ABC’s election site. The ABC is also likely to quiz voters on what issues they want covered via social media and online polls.

That said, don’t expect the shots of Gillard eating a pie or Abbott filleting a fish to disappear.

“The media does have a responsibility to cover the election campaign we are actually having, rather than the one we might wish we were having,” Sunderland wrote. “The public is entitled to know what is actually happening on the ground each day. And, of course, if ever it was relevant to focus on who is ahead in the race for popular support, the election campaign is the time to do it. In many ways, an election campaign is something of a horse race, and it will always be covered like one.”

Covering politics and policy, Sunderland tells Crikey, is not “an either/or equation”. “We should be able to cover all the colour of the campaign itself and still focus on policy,” he said.


We recommend

From around the web

Powered by Taboola


Leave a comment

25 thoughts on “ABC to unleash citizen’s agenda at 2013 election

  1. Hamis Hill

    All very well on the Gunnadoo front, but “the worst campaign Tony Windsor has ever seen from the fourth estate” has continued every week since, setting Gillard PM to crash and burn at any moment.
    And the worst campaign from the unelected politicians will continue all the way to the election, next week. Which is exactly what The ABC and others have been conditioning the electorate to expect since 2010. Well isn’t it! Pathetic, lazy and arrogant non reporting from the palace eunuchs of the press, politicians in hiding.
    As all will remember John Howard started campaigning from the first day of government, revealing the above ABC, last minute, plans “to do better”as outdated nonsense. Th election campaign is on now and has been since the last election.

  2. mikeb

    I wonder how the “free” press will respond to the ABC’s direction policy? I suspect they’ll change nothing.

  3. klewso

    Are they still going to strain it through the sort of “values” it (or someone), obviously, puts on Reith’s?

  4. Whitting Michael

    If the ABC is genuine about wanting to be less biased about their political reporting they can begin immediately. But does anyone believe that the hacks and fools appointed by John howard would do that? Of course not. By 2013, although promoting a more just even-handed coverage they will find a way around that. Poor, irresponsible journalism is one of the factors which has killed off newspapers. TV may be next.

  5. zut alors

    Please, simply allow the two major party leaders to toss a coin to decide who takes government in 2013 rather than expose hapless voters to several weeks of spin, verbal whoppers, catch phrases, repetitive cr@p about Australian working families et al.

    Not sure I have the strength or mental fortitude to survive that limp, drawn-out dreck again.

  6. Marc Sassella

    If the ABC are serious in wanting to improve their coverage of the next election, the first thing they need to do is replace the second-rate team running the 7.30 programme. Leigh Sales’ interview with the Prime Minister this week was evidence enough that she’s simply not up to it. Her co-host is no better.

  7. klewso

    Steve Cannane stands out, admittedly in a field of mediocrity, at the ABC at the moment – after what Maurie Newman did to dumb it down.

  8. Pedantic, Balwyn

    No doubt the ABC Radio News will continue to get its headlines from News Ltd, usually the Daily Telegraph throughout the campaign.
    A perfect example yesterday when the leading item was PM Gillard denies she favoured Labor States in NDIS funding. This came at 9.00 am in Victoria, where ironically, only seconds before State Premier Bailleau was reduced to petty mumblings over protecting state finances by ABC veteran Jon Faine over the failure of his Government to support the scheme by contributing a measly $10 million per year for a trial scheme.
    All the while the phones and texts messages ran hot condemning Bailleau’s politically inspired parsimony. However public opinion was completely ignored by the right wing supporters in the ABC news room where clearly they live in a parallel world.

  9. drmick

    Have the ABC run this past their bosses at limited news yet?
    It will be as unfair and unbalanced as the last one because they did not get what they wanted then, and have been trying ever since to correct that mistake.
    Their ABC indeed.

  10. CML

    @ PEDANTIC, B – I agree. Love listening to Jon Faine when I visit my daughter in Melbourne. Also with the comments on Steve Kinnane (good), Leigh Sales & Chris Uhlmann (very bad). The partisanship of the latter two frequently dissolves into downright rudeness. I gave up watching 7.30 some months ago – the standard of reporting since Kerry left is appalling. There were also some similar comments to mine on the ABC’s “The Drum” website about Annabelle Crabb – she is just too clever by half these days. Very busy trying to cover-up her right-wing views. Well I don’t buy it, Annabelle.
    The ABC has to do much better if it wants me to believe that it presents a “balanced” political view. Whatever happened to the likes of Ellen Fanning? She was very, very good! Does anyone know if she is still with the ABC? I read somewhere that Ellen applied for the 7.30 position – how anyone could bypass her in favour of that blo+dy awful Sales person, is unbelievable. Influence from the Howard -appointed, top echelon of the ABC no doubt. Always thought Rudd should have had a
    BIG cleanout of that organisation when he won office. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!

  11. CML

    In moderation again – what on earth have I said now, Crikey?

  12. Clytie

    During the previous U.S. federal election, the St. Petersburg Times newspaper ran a Fact Check on statements and promises by politicians, as they were made. This was effective in (1) informing the electorate and (2) pricking the bubble of a false statement before it could puff up into a “narrative”. It also enabled voters to question politicians specifically on these promises and statements.

    Could the ABC please do this? Fact Check could be a sidebar item, linking first to a summary of each item, which in turn links to specific investigations and discussions in Policies.

    We need a fact-based election, not one based on whatever snake oil the pollies are trying to sell us at that moment.

  13. Mobius Ecko

    The ABC could not do worse than get rid of the pollies on the panel as supposed expert spokespeople.

    Every time on every channel covering the election I can nearly word for word anticipate what each is going to say no matter what the fortune of the candidate in the seat being discussed.

    All without fail will say the candidate on their side ran a great campaign and was a great local member, no matter what the truth, which is usually they were a dud and it is a safe seat who would vote for Humphrey B Bear if he belonged to their party.

  14. izatso?

    Fact Check, Mornin’, Noon and Night. Fact Check, Chronology. Fact Check, History. Fact Check, Scoreboard. Thank you, Clytie ……. FACT CHECK ! NOW ! tzzzz …….

  15. David Hand

    The ABC and everyone else could improve the policy focus of the next election by declining offers to be bussed to daily photo opportunities Abbott and Gillard are addicted to. The domination of the presidential style fluff and hot air leaves no room for discussion about issues.

  16. Dean Tregenza

    “The media does have a responsibility to cover the election campaign we are actually having, rather than the one we might wish we were having,” Sunderland wrote. “The public is entitled to know what is actually happening on the ground each day. And, of course, if ever it was relevant to focus on who is ahead in the race for popular support, the election campaign is the time to do it. In many ways, an election campaign is something of a horse race, and it will always be covered like one.”

    Sunderland shows a complete lack of vision when he says “it will always be”. The media perpetuates the horse race mentality and the politicians step up to the gates. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone had the backbone – let alone vision- to change the way things might be?

  17. Owen Gary

    Since the ABC has been corporatised, the editorial influence has been obvious, for all to see, listening to Annabelle Crab on the Drum pretentiously sweeping the indiscretions of the No-alition and their State Libs under the carpet re;- the NDIS.

    Paul Lyneham & Kerry O’brien used to hold all political persuasions to account & I used to enjoy watching them squirming out of mire’s of their own making. Alas Paul Lyneham (passed on in 2000, bless him) & Kerry proved to hot a potato for their liking so he got shuffled sideways so as not to cause angst for our honest & beloved pollies.

    As for the promising of better days to come from the ABC their best days have passed them by & since being controlled from the outside they are beginning to smell like mouldy cheese.

  18. Owen Gary

    Moderated again WTF???

    “Crikey get a grip”

  19. Mack the Knife

    Their ABC failed to report a single word about the conviction for fraud of the firm doing the Coalition’s 11Billion election costings. Nor the finding of collusion with the LNP.

    I would have thought this a more sensational story than the constant reiterating of Julia’s carbon tax lie.

    This shows that ABC is not just ‘leaning right’ but actively part of a coordinated attack to bring down the government.

    The array of IPA stooges, Bolts, Ackermans, Hendersons etc is proof of this

  20. TheFamousEccles

    I hope this is not simply a pre-emptive lip service to the idea of more analytical journalism, but I am not gonna hold my breath.

  21. Andrew (the real one?)

    Hey, maybe they are genuine about this. They could start by firing that awful presenter on JJJ’s ‘Hack’ program that airs at 6.30pm weeknights. Trying to influence the youth mind with her right biased take on stories. Oh, there are a few oldies listening to JJJ too you know.

  22. mikeb


    Don’t want to bust that little snippet but there was no “conviction for fraud”. The accounting firm was fined because there was no statement that the procedures performed did not constitute either an audit or a review. This is a technicality but still a breach of accounting standards & so the ICA tribunal issued fines.
    This distinction makes it a much less newsworthy event although I believe Barry Cassidy tackled it on Insiders.

    Still it is no excuse for Hockey proudly proclaiming an “independant audit”.

  23. Hamis Hill

    Unlikely to be of interest to the ABC or even Crikey?
    Abbott attacks Red Chinese government ownership of Australian mines and the communist government is happy that the government of The Vatican does not have ownership of any Chinese minds. Not to mention the protection of Chinese children from pervert priests.
    Now the Red Chinese know who the DLP are since that party, through its control of the senate, sent Australia into Vietnam to defend that foreign, colonial religion introduced by the French.
    So Abbott, Peter Costello’s DLP Stooge, is well known to the Red Chinese, as is his true politics.
    But in Australia it is what?? Realpolitik? not in the nation’s broadcaster or, sadly, its people.

  24. calyptorhynchus

    ABC are going to concentrate on policy at the next election, eh?

    That means that we won’t hear about the Coalition for the entire campaign. No more “The Opposition says…”

    Looking forward to it.

  25. Colleen Murrell

    To me the line from Sunderland that screamed out in this article was, “The media does have a responsibility to cover the election campaign we are actually having, rather than the one we might wish we were having.” Too right. While it is very laudable to try and make sure that the issues and policies of most interest are covered, as journalists you still have to cover the stories that are happening on the ground. You should not plan coverage so tightly that you either refuse to respond to stories or that you run out of resources to cover them.


https://www.crikey.com.au/2012/07/27/abc-to-unleash-citizens-agenda-at-2013-election/ == https://www.crikey.com.au/free-trial/==https://www.crikey.com.au/subscribe/

Show popup

Telling you what the others don't. FREE for 21 days.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.