This morning, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman called a snap early election for January 31. Today’s front page of The Courier-Mail, printed long before the Premier’s announcement, shows the News Corp rag is as well-connected as ever to the Coalition — rumour has it some government MPs even found out about the election by reading this morning’s paper.

And given yesterday’s front page, which screamed “Bikies back Labor for power”, it’s not hard to guess how the tabloid will lean over the next four weeks.

It’s far from the first time a Murdoch tabloid has attempted to smear the Labor party through a tenuous connection to a socially undesirable group. In the recent Victorian election, the Herald Sun ramped up coverage of the union heavyweights it claimed would run a Daniel Andrews government (the campaign against now-Premier Andrews clearly didn’t work). And in the last federal election, The Daily Telegraph didn’t shy away from putting Labor MPs in Nazi uniforms.

A few years back, we might have been concerned about the effect this kind of one-sided, smear-based coverage could have on the election outcome. But these papers hold less sway than they used to. Their circulations are falling, as is their public standing. After the last federal election, the Tele saw a precipitous drop in its measures of reader trust, according to iSentia surveys published in Crikey, which it recovered only as its election coverage faded from memory.

Yes, Brisbane is a one-paper town, but that doesn’t mean what it used to. Fairfax and The Guardian join the ABC as alternative sources of information this election, and provide some competition to the tabloid. If The Courier-Mail stretches credulity with one-sided reporting, we suspect its reputation will be what is most damaged.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey