Does the Australian media give more coverage to right-wing politicians than left or centrist ones? In the wake of the announcement of the new Senate last month, it seemed like Malcolm Roberts was everywhere; with appearances on Insiders, Q&A and Lateline, it’s been hard to miss the surprise Senator from Queensland. In the policy vacuum left by the government, the media looked to the new motley collection of crossbenchers, who were ready and willing to take the call. And now that he and Pauline Hanson have made their maiden speeches, the media coverage will blossom even further.
After Roberts was elected second after Pauline Hanson in the Sunshine State, he didn’t waste any time making his views about climate change or Islam known to the public. But in a sample period analysed by Crikey and Isentia, Roberts had more interviews than all his fellow One Nation colleagues combined — even the party’s leader, Pauline Hanson. Some crossbenchers had not been interviewed even once on radio or television, with barely any other mentions in the media. So do Malcolm Roberts and Pauline Hanson’s views get overstated when they get more airtime? Is it a good idea to give such prominence to someone who thinks that NASA is cooking climate change statistics or someone who announces that we are being “swamped by Muslims”?
Analysis by Isentia of the first few weeks since the Senate was confirmed shows that Nick Xenophon has had more media appearances than any other crossbencher, which is unsurprising, considering that the Senator has been in this game for a while and is particularly talented at creating a good headline or voice grab.
After quite a gap, returning Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm had the second highest number of interviews of the crossbenchers, although Pauline Hanson has been mentioned more in the media overall (this analysis covers the dates from August 4 — when the final states’ senators were confirmed — through to August 17. Some senators had been confirmed as elected before the fourth, meaning that their flurry of attention was over before this dataset.)
There is, of course, a commercial reality to measuring the number of times senators are invited on air by media outlets to spout their views. Xenophon, Leyonhjelm and Hinch are articulate and, in the case of Hinch and Xenophon, follow many populist causes. Roberts, Hanson and Jacqui Lambie have the lure of saying something outrageous, garnering more attention for the media outlet that has the grab of whatever is said.
While the Hansonites have been given a lot of attention, the members of Nick Xenophon’s team who aren’t Nick Xenophon have flown under the radar, and could probably walk down the halls of Parliament without troubling the media too much — but is this a good thing? Their votes have just as much weight as Malcolm Roberts’, and their views on climate change might even be based on science.
This chart shows that Nick Xenophon’s offsiders rated barely a mention, while their crossbench colleagues are everywhere in comparison. Will the interviews and mentions continue at this rate as Parliament continues? Or will the shininess of the new playthings wear off for the media in the coming weeks?