It’s the picture that sums up the thoughts of a nation – a young child “face palming” his school desk as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott addresses the class. The photo, taken last August, has re-emerged on social media following Mr Abbott’s latest gaffe, where he described indigenous people living in remote low-income communities a “lifestyle choice”.
This is not the first time, however, that Tony Abbott’s comments have attracted widespread criticism. From saying “shit happens” upon discussing the death of an Australian soldier in Afghanistan in 2011 to declaring the carbon tax repeal as his top achievement as Minister for Women, awarding Prince Philip an honorary knighthood and describing Australia as “unsettled” before British colonisation, it is no wonder why a leading US think tank has labeled Abbott the most “incompetent leader in any industrialised democracy”.
Yet has Abbott’s leadership plunge, which has slumped to a record low of 24 per cent, been exacerbated by the media’s negative coverage of this recent series of slip-ups?
Such a hypothesis would likely form part of a broader scholarly research investigation into the role of the media in politics. This includes research into the use of media outlets by their owners or editors as instruments of political power, influencing public opinion formation in ways that have dramatic effects on the political process.
The field of Media and Communications research offers extensive avenues to explore issues surrounding media and politics. As an extraordinarily multi-faceted and interdisciplinary area of study, media research involves the investigation of how professional, social, cultural, political and philosophical spheres are experiencing unprecedented transformation as a result of media technologies and practices.
The recently turbulent relationship or “bromance” between media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the embattled Tony Abbott exemplifies the issue of media power. Last month, Murdoch tweeted a public demand for Abbott to show leadership and make the “cruel choice” to sack his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, a staff member to whom Abbott is said to be “intensely loyal” and “close” to. This assault on Credlin comes after Abbott’s contentious knighthood decision, which Murdoch not only strongly condemned but, along with many other Credlin critics, believed she should have prevented. As a result, Murdoch put Abbott in a no-win situation – either sack Credlin and look like Murdoch’s “lap dog”, or stand firmly by her and lose the support of the Murdoch press.
It now appears that Abbott’s fate has been publicly sealed, with his refusal to cede to Murdoch’s latest demand resulting in News Corp’s increasingly partisan stable of newspapers issuing the message “you’re done”. Murdoch’s intervention has, therefore, only served to escalate the issue, using Credlin as a scapegoat to foster public cynicism towards the Abbott government. This not only directs attention away from the real issues at hand, such as the plight of indigenous people and gender issues, but feeds into the heightened paranoia about Tony Abbott’s leadership style that exists in the Government Cabinet.
In this way, these recent events provide ample material for an investigation into how media outlets are used as tools of political influence. Abbott’s decline in popularity, while a consequence of his own performance, is, in part, a result of the strident front pages and editorials published by the Murdoch press ridiculing his recent behaviour. Not only is this a relevant aspect of the media to research, but is imperative to promoting the general public’s critical discernment of media coverage that is driven by powerful individual’s political prejudices.
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