"To an extent, the TV news directors are captive to events on the campaign and whatever the politicians decide to dish up. And they don't try to overtly swing votes like newspaper editors ..."Seven has some surprises up its sleeve this year. Crikey can reveal that Seven is planning to team up with the recently launched PolitiFact Australia to test the truth of politicians' statements during the campaign. Seven and PolitiFact declined to comment, but we hear an announcement is imminent. Seven has also secured former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett as a campaign commentator, and a deal is being stitched up with a Labor figure. The ABC, where Kate Torney is now in her fourth year as news director, is also hitching its star to the fact-checking wagon: a well-resourced fact-checking unit will be up and running by election time. The Age contributing editor Russell Skelton will leave Fairfax to become foundation editor, and a soon-to-be-announced presenter will pop up across the ABC network to test claims by politicians (and other influencers). The ABC has also flagged greater policy scrutiny, a beefed-up online offering and more opportunities for voters to set the agenda. To an extent, the news directors are captive to events on the campaign and whatever the politicians decide to dish up. And they don't try to overtly swing votes like newspaper editors, particularly in the News Limited stable, are prone to do. While Seven's Raschke thinks the ABC's "equal time" election campaign rules for political parties is "absurd", he said: "We need to be fair, absolutely objective and to give both sides an equal go. The audience will not watch us if they think we're being unfair." But news directors can and do impose agendas -- particularly when they want to capitalise on an in-house scoop. Bruce Hawker recalls Channel Seven running especially hard on claims that then-premier Mike Rann had an affair during the 2010 South Australian state election after Sunday Night aired an exclusive with former SA parliament house barmaid Michelle Chantelois. Nine dominated the last federal campaign -- first with Oakes' series of damaging scoops (that won him a Gold Walkley and cratered Labor's campaign) then with former Labor leader Mark Latham's stint as a 60 Minutes freelance reporter. Latham scored more media mentions than Treasurer Wayne Swan or shadow treasurer Joe Hockey the week he controversially confronted Julia Gillard on the hustings. Things turned meta when Oakes weighed in to bag Latham and his own network, with rival media outlets duly following up the stoush. Nine was exactly where it wanted to be: dominating the news cycle and killing it in the ratings. Whether the public was any more informed about policy is another issue entirely. The question of the media campaign bus -- which keeps news outlets captive to the political parties' agenda -- remains a perennial debate among the news directors. Although Seven's Raschke despairs about the "staged and orchestrated" nature of campaigns, he says the bus remains the place to be. "During the last campaign [Seven political editor] Mark Riley travelled with the leaders more than most of the other political correspondents and we expect that to be the same this year," Raschke said. "He's not sitting in a distant office in Canberra. I actually think there's a powerful advantage in having your most senior person on the road with the leaders ... "The reality is you have to be on the caravans. If you're not with the political leaders it's very hard to hold them to account and to see how they interact with voters. The least worst option is being on the bus."
The Power Index: election deciders, TV news directors at #8
The nightly TV news remains the key battleground for the federal election. So who are the all-powerful news directors who oversee their stations' coverage of the election campaign at Seven, Nine and the ABC? The Power Index talks to them -- as well as some well-placed insiders -- to see how they'll cover election 2013.