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Where is the media narrative linking multiple Liberal National govt scandals into a wholistic story of a rotten government doing dirty deals, wasting public funds, enriching their mates and failing the public interest test? Where is this storyline in election coverage? A thread👇🏻
My research interest is in political narratives. I’ve found once someone or a group of people is framed by the media as a particular archetype - hero, villain or victim - this characterisation is sticky and tends to influence how they are framed subsequently.
You all remember when Gillard was framed as a ‘liar’ for bringing in carbon price (it wasn’t a tax)? That villainous characterisation was impossible for Gillard to escape. It ultimately cost her the Prime Ministership and political career.
This example shows stories don’t have to be true, just repeated. They take on a life do their own and become the lens through which future events are appraised. Information that fits the story frame is emphasised and contradictory evidence is excluded.
You would think after #Reefgate, #PaladinAffair and now #Watergate, there would be fairly obvious storyline fixed to the Liberal National govt about political scandal, mismanagement of govt funds, deals without tender, private profit at public expense, lack of transparency etc.
These are just 3 scandals - of course there have been many more. Au Pairs given visas for mates. An expense scandals with astronomical home internet charges. MP away from his electorate more than he is home. All this stuff was reported in media, but never changes the narrative.
Somehow, the storyline for the Libs Nats hasn’t gone down a negative path. There’s a reason for that. The first is that the MPs/Ministers/PMs involved in these scandals have just dismissed any wrong doing and moved on, with media moving on with them as there was no further story.
The reason there was no further story is because Ministers weren’t fired, no one was sacked, there was no consequence and the media narrative didn’t change. Therefore, the Lib Nats basically get away with scandals because the media don’t join the dots into a narrative. But why?
The reason the dots aren’t joined into a negative narrative for Liberals is because there is already a much stronger and more powerful narrative that is used as a frame through which Liberal National govts are appraised. All their actions are rinsed through this frame.
This frame is what I found in my research is also assigned to employers involved in industrial disputes - I call it the narrative of authority. It is a story about natural power, where those in charge of capital (money) are assumed to be naturally more authoritative in govt.
This story is the reason why you’ll often hear Liberals referred to as ‘better economic managers’ even though there is no evidence to back this story up. Lots of research shows narratives are more important than facts - story ahead of evidence.
Since Lib Nats belong to capital class, they are given a powerful taken-for-granted position when in govt which assumes every action they take is good for the economy - they are ‘captains of industry’ and therefore are assumed to be legitimate in govt as in any position of power.
The #Watergate, #PaladinAffair and #Reefgate scandals are actually the opposite of ‘good business’ just as much as they are the opposite of ‘good government’. If the govt was a business who paid without tender far too much for questionable results, would they receive a bonus? No.
Good govt is using tax payer funds effectively for good public outcomes - these three scandals fail this test entirely. I think a key reason these scandals have not caused much pain (yet) for Libs is because the facts aren’t emphasised and analysed via attachment to a narrative.
What should really be happening with #Watergate coverage is that the story should be: ‘once again there are murky links between dubious public spending enriching private profits - the govt is again in major political hot water with the public deserving to be angry’.
By the by, Labor doesn’t get to benefit from this taken-for-granted assumption of being ‘better economic managers’, despite evidence that shows Labor govts are indeed very good economic managers, such as steering a vulnerable economy through the GFC.
Can you imagine if a Labor govt had been responsible for #Watergate (during election!), #PaladinAffair and #Reefgate? Just think back to Gillard’s treatment in the no-evidence case of an ex boyfriend’s renovations 20 years prior.
This ‘questions to answer’ story fit with the Gillard-can’t-be-trusted narrative, so the media had a field day with it. I’ve found narratives are used as rules of thumb which lead to events on one side of politics being treated completely differently than the other.
Another example - Gillard was always framed as an illegitimate PM because she won the leadership in a spill - forming minority govt was used to emphasise this illegitimacy. Why is Morrison not treated as an illegitimate PM? Because he has the gift of Liberal implied-legitimacy.
It’s all about the narrative. I think part of the reason tweeps get so frustrated by political media coverage is they can feel these inconsistencies in coverage, the hypocrisy, the lack of joining the dots, and the way this advantages right wing govts.
The Murdoch media’s blatant right wing bias is an extreme form of this narrative equation, but the same bias tends to occur across most of the mainstream media - including the ABC. The bias is class based, structural and in most cases, unconscious.
I hope I’m wrong and that #Watergate does shift the narrative about the Liberal govt by showing their true characters. But, I fear this will be yet another opportunity for Libs to get away with a scandal with their ‘legitimacy’ in tact.
The fact this can happen during an election proves how strong these cultural narratives are. I hope this helps to explain how our media works and why as members of the public we feel let down by political coverage. End.
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