Did the ABC provide an equal platform to both sides in the Australian election campaign?
The method by which the ABC determines whether or not its election coverage is studiously neutral offers misleading and incomplete assessments, says the ABC's election coverage review committee report
into the 2016 federal election states.
It's far from the first time ABC managers have urged caution on interpreting their figures. They've sounded the alarm for almost 10 years, beginning in the 2007 election. But the ABC continues to use media monitoring and share of voice calculations that seek to equalise coverage between different parties. This crude methodology, the ABC's report says, relies on the often inaccurate assumption that those who speak for longer make more of an impact, and tells the ABC little about the tone or content of the discussion.
The ABC's monitoring of its election coverage, the review notes, is far from comprehensive. It only seeks to monitor a "representative sample" of content, but the proliferation of ABC content has made this sample smaller than ever. This tends to throw up false discrepancies in the data. The review states: "On many occasions the [Election Coverage Review Committee] followed up on discrepancies in the count only to find there were technical reasons for differences that were unrelated to issues of balance."
With that caveat in mind, the ABC's figures show the Coalition securing 42.6% of the cumulative share of voice over the monitored ABC platforms during the seven weeks of the election. Labor received 35.9%, the Greens 8%, and the next largest block was "other" -- a collection that would have included One Nation but excluded the Nick Xenophon Team and the Palmer United Party, which are broken out separately in the analysis.
The figures also reveal the widely divergent media strategies of the Labor and Coalition teams when it came to appearing on the ABC. Labor's campaign was very much built around keeping Bill Shorten ubiqiuotious, at least on the ABC. The Coalition campaign, meanwhile, shared the spotlight around.
Bill Shorten was by far the most popular politician on ABC platforms in the seven weeks, receiving 13.9% of all coverage despite Labor as a whole receiving a lower share of voice than the Coalition. Malcolm Turnbull had a 12.7% share of voice, Scott Morrison a 3.3% share of voice, and Mathias Cormann a 3.2% share of voice. The next most seen leader was the Green's Richard Di Natale with a 2.2% share of voice, followed by Julie Bishop (2.0%). From Labor's frontbench, only Chris Bowen and Tanya Plbersek recieved any significant ABC coverage, both on a 1.4% share of voice. -- Myriam Robin