Over the weekend, the Australian federal election ended in a manner that was the exact opposite of that expected by the public if one were to go by the opinion polls – Newspoll and Ipsos – that ran in the major media outlets. Both predicted a win for Labor. The result, as you are well aware, could not have been more different.
But surprisingly there were some people who were aware that the polling was not correct and kept mum about it. [Watch this video from 11:29].
ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas mentioned during election coverage on the network that she had been told of internal polling by the Labor Party that indicated that the reality was different. Karvelas said on the Insiders program on Sunday that Labor sources had told her of internal polling that indicated that things in Queensland were quite different to what was being reported in public.
And Niki Savva, a journalist who writes for The Australian, said on the same program that she had been told similar things by the Liberals; that their internal polling was totally different from what the public polls were saying and that there was no reason to fear they would lose any seats in that state.
Yet both these journalists kept quiet about it. One would have thought that this was a story well worth writing and one that the public should know about. In the case of the ABC, the public pays Karvelas’ wages and thus the obligation to report something so newsworthy was all the more pressing.
I think this is due to what I call an incestuous relationship between political reporters and politicians. It is not the first time it has happened. The public are the mugs in such cases.
Last year, the fact that Barnaby Joyce was having an affair with Vicki Campion, a media adviser of his, was revealed by the Telegraph. The reporter concerned earned a lot of righteous criticism from many others in the profession.
People like Katharine Murphy of the Guardian and Jacqueline Maley of the Sydney Morning Herald knew about it and kept mum. Another journalist, Julia Baird of the ABC, tried to spin the story as one that showed how a woman in Joyce’s position would have been treated – much worse, was her opinion. But all three did not say a word.
The story was in the public interest, because Joyce and Campion are both paid from the public purse. When their affair became an issue, Joyce had her moved around to the offices of his National Party mates, Matt Canavan and Damian Drum, at salaries that went as high as $190,000.
At the time, Joyce was no ordinary politician – he was the deputy prime minister and thus acted as the head of the country whenever the prime minister was out of the country. Thus anything that affected his functioning was of interest to the public as he could make decisions that affected them.
A third such case is that which concerns Peter Costello and John Howard. In 2005, journalists Michael Brissenden (ABC), Tony Wright (Fairfax) and Paul Daley (freelance) were at a dinner with former treasurer Peter Costello at which he told them he had set next April (2006) as the absolute deadline “that is, mid-term,” for John Howard to stand aside; if not, he would challenge him.
Costello was said by Brissenden to have declared that a challenge “will happen then” if “Howard is still there”. “I’ll do it,” he said. He said he was “prepared to go the backbench”. He said he’d “carp” at Howard’s leadership “from the backbench” and “destroy it” until he “won” the leadership.
But the three journalists kept mum about what would have been a big scoop, because Costello’s press secretary asked them not to write the yarn.
There was a great deal of speculation in the run-up to the 2007 election as to whether Howard would step down; one story in July 2006 said there had been an unspoken 1994 agreement between him and Costello to vacate the PM’s seat and make way for Costello to get the top job.
Had the three journalists at that 2005 dinner gone ahead and reported the story — as journalists are supposed to do — it is unlikely that Howard would have been able to carry on as he did. It would have forced Costello to challenge for the leadership or quit. In short, it would have changed the course of politics.
But Brissenden, Daley and Wright kept mum.
These are all cases that impact on the public knowing what they should, by right, know.