Influencing the media. Once upon a time, when newspapers were the important means by which people received information and opinion, politicians would really sweat on the publication of editorials declaring which party was deemed worthy of support.

For Labor, historically, the hopes were usually forlorn. It took nigh on a hundred years from its foundation and a purchase in 1946 by the British Daily Mirror group for the Melbourne Argus to upset the normally unanimous conservative consensus among the capital city dailies. That source of a pro-Labor editorial line did not last long, with the paper disappearing into the grave after being sold to the Herald and Weekly Times in 1957.

There were occasional flirtations Left of centre from Ezra Norton’s various Truths and the Sydney Daily Mirror and the young Rupert Murdoch’s afternoon daily The News in Adelaide, but the mainstream stayed pretty much predictably pro-conservative editorially during my young life, with the exception of the Sydney Morning Herald turning on Sir Robert Menzies in 1961 in a way that caused some excitement in the Labor camp.

It took the Murdoch purchase of the Sydney Daily Telegraph to provide the only other substantial pro-Labor endorsement that I can remember, with a deliciously pro-Labor campaign against Liberal Prime Minister Bill McMahon 1972, which The Australian also joined in.

Only after television had become the predominant source of news for most people did we see major papers embracing anyone other than the Liberal-National coalition. These days the political strategists could not care less what a newspaper says in its largely unread editorial, although the politicians they work for prefer praise to criticism.

With the exception, perhaps, of something as uniquely extraordinary as the Melbourne Age on Saturday, with its pre-election entreaty to PM Julia Gillard to leave the political stage.

Here it was not the words in the editorial that rocked the Labor camp but the page one placement with its graphic treatment. The spinners and the planners knew it would influence the coverage of the really important media when it comes to public opinion, and the television and radio reacted as they feared. The weekend news services were full of it.

The role of newspapers in modern electioneering is the influence they have on the media that really does influence public opinion.

If you think that these days it is the placement and the picture — not the words — that make a newspaper influential, have a read of the editorial in The Age’s stablemate The Sydney Morning Herald back on June 10. It too argued for Labor to change its leader but, appearing in the normal place for boring editorial opinion, it passed by largely unnoticed.

Worst possible campaign start by Labor. It’s hard to imagine a worse possible start to an election campaign than Labor is enduring as the Parliament staggers to its end. Whoever leads the party come election day will be leading a horribly divided lot of candidates.

Only minor fluctuations in our election indicator, with the probability of a Coalition victory put at about 88% as the new day dawned. Goodness knows what it will be when the market has evaluated Newspoll by the end of the day.

When things are going bad. So the polls have sent your candidates into fits of depression. Doom and gloom abounds throughout your party. So what do you do with your campaign strategy? Give the people more of what has not been working.

Bring out the kids for a Sunday photo opportunity.

Gonski will be an appropriate epitaph.

Disasters can happen. Just something to keep in mind as we enter an Australian election campaign. Big declines in support can happen. An example from Canada not all that long ago:

Heating up the climate change debate. It has taken him a long time, but US President Barack Obama at last seems about to seriously enter the climate change debate. At the weekend the White House took to Twitter to preview a long-awaited climate speech that will come Tuesday afternoon at Georgetown University. The President promised to lay out his vision of “where we need to go, to do what we can to address and prepare for the serious implications of a changing climate” while posting a video calling on “all of us, as citizens, to do our part to preserve God’s creation for future generations — our forests and waterways, our croplands and snowcapped peaks.”

News and views noted along the way.

  • What song do you want played at your funeral? — “I’d take the weepy edge off with The Hell Of It by Paul Williams from the Phantom Of The Paradise soundtrack. All my friends and family and other bummed-out acquaintances boot-stomping to a chorus of ‘Good for nothin’! Bad in bed! / Nobody liked you, and you’re better off dead / Goodbye!’ suits me just fine.”
  • How austerity has failed — Martin Wolf — “Austerity has failed. It turned a nascent recovery into stagnation. That imposes huge and unnecessary costs, not just in the short run, but also in the long term: the costs of investments unmade, of businesses not started, of skills atrophied, and of hopes destroyed. What is being done here in the UK and also in much of the eurozone is worse than a crime, it is a blunder. If policymakers listened to the arguments put forward by our opponents, the picture, already dark, would become still darker.”
  • South African new party Agang to challenge ANC — “Its leader, Mamphela Ramphele, is a former World Bank managing director and was the partner of murdered anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko.”
  • Can a new party in South Africa really woo voters?
  • Much more to come on AWU scandal
  • Shame of gossip gone wrong — Charles Waterstreet writes how “I joined the ‘Three Amigos of Assassination’ – Sattler, Akerman and Andrew Bolt – in boosting a lie about our First Sheila. Any one of us can be unwitting arsonists. We cannot sing Billy Joel’s great anthem, ‘We didn’t start the fire …’ “
  • Saving for retirement is ‘a losing game’ –“Saving for retirement is ‘a losing game’ for hundreds of millions of European citizens as high charges and taxes destroy the value of pensions, according to the European Federation of Financial Services Users.” [Partial paywall]

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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