The republic referendum would have succeeded in 1999 if the electorate had followed the views of journalists, writes Dr Gerard Henderson in his Sydney Morning Herald column, “Power of the press a lot less muscular than some imagine” (26/6/12)
Although he is a republican, he thinks the media’s role was counterproductive. I do not agree. The media argument that a politicians’ republic is inevitable was so persuasive that a large number of politicians and celebrities jumped onto the bandwagon.
It became fashionable, especially for the more susceptible middle-aged in the inner-city electorates. In my view this artificially increased the republican vote not only there, but across the country.
At the same time the constitutional monarchist message was diluted or sometimes even suppressed.
Republican support in 1999 peaked at less than 45%, but it was flaccid. Although the prominent republicans often describe themselves as ‘passionate’, there is little passion in their support. The demonstration which ACM called in 1996, with over 20,000 people has never been even approached by the republicans. Their 'crowds' have been so small to be embarrassing even during the referendum.
Republicans know they would be slaughtered in a vote today.
….journalists overestimate their significance….
Journalists, he says, frequently overestimate the significance of their own role, as do politicians. When both forces come together, what follows, he says, is an absence of reality.
“This is evident in much of the debate about the future of the print media.” He says there are at most only two Australian elections in the modern era when the media probably had an impact on results.
One was in 1961 when Sir Warwick Fairfax threw the support of the Herald behind Labor and its leader Arthur Calwell, who almost won. The other was when Rupert Murdoch's strong support for Labor probably assisted Gough Whitlam in his moderate win in 1972. He points out that media proprietors are just one of a number of players in the political landscape.
“Many politicians and journalists alike do not understand them.”
He says the shareholder activist and former Crikey proprietor Stephen Mayne’s description of Rupert Murdoch as ‘the world's most powerful guy’ is a ludicrous exaggeration. He points out that if Murdoch were so powerful, he would not be appearing before Lord Leveson’s inquiry in Britain.
Journalists, he says, frequently overestimate the significance of their own role. One example was the referendum.
Today, with some notable exceptions, “journalists have led a cheer squad that urged Kevin Rudd and later Julia Gillard to introduce an emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax. The opinion polls indicate a significant disparity on this issue between majority journalistic opinion and the majority view in the suburbs and regional areas.”
“There is also a tendency for journalists to overestimate their role in facilitating the public debate. In recent times, ABC TV's Q&A gives the impression of campaigning to have Tony Abbott come on the program. The truth is that he does not need to.’“In this overcrowded media market, journalists need politicians more than politicians need journalists.”