It is the complaint neither side of politics ever tires of making; the media is biased. While Tom Switzer uses his every television appearance to sulk about the left wing bias of the ABC, Paul Barry enjoys nothing more than writing a condescending critique of the culture of right wing shockjockery. In truth neither complaint is particularly invalid but the inference that this bias is in someway skewing the political battlefield in one sides favour is delusional. There would be few less influential commentators in modern politics than the dragon of the right, Andrew Bolt. His readership consists almost entirely of rusted on voters of both political persuasions. He tells his fans what they want to fair, he gives self righteous lefties a reason to feel angry or superior and is largely ignored by everyone else. Likewise David Marr might have been an odd choice for the theoretically neutral host of ABC’s media watch but nobody would tune into it thinking John Howard was a fairly decent Prime Minister, hear Marr’s pontifications and reverse their views on politics.
When Kevin Rudd was riding high as Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson liked to claim that Rudd was being given a piggyback by the media, now the coalition are miles ahead in the polls and the Labor faithful like to talk about the barrage of negative journalism from the Murdoch press. On both counts it’s little more than a thin veiled attempt to avoid confronting the real cause of the parties unpopularity, in Labor’s case a nice explanation of which can be found in this previous post. The Gillard government has an enormous mountain to climb if it’s going to win the next election, the last thing it needs to focus on are right wing opinionists. It doesn’t matter if Alan Jones cuts the government a little bit of slack for a few months, his listeners won’t vote Labor anyway.
One way of viewing it might be to read some of the comments written in response to online political pieces. Those which actually refer to the piece at all tend to be of the “you tell em” variety by ardent supporters of the writer, or strident denunciations. You don’t tend to get many commenters admitting to rethinking a previously held conviction on the basis of what they’ve just read.
Most voters aren’t stupid; they can spot bias and will steer clear of it if they are genuinely after a fair and balanced presentation of the facts. It might be bad for journalists themselves if their trade is to suffer in quality but its impact on politics is negligible. If the Labor Party can mount a compelling message that they are a preferable party of government to the Liberal Party, the message will filter through to most voters, how right wing shock jocks represent their message won’t make a lot of difference.