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Differences found in news coverage of governments



A University of Queensland researcher has found that significant differences exist in the news coverage given to Labor and Liberal Federal Governments in two Australian metropolitan dailies



The study, which analysed Federal political news stories over a six-year period in the Melbourne Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail, compared the three years of Labor Government between 1972 and 1975 with the first three years of the Fraser Government from 1975 to 1978. The study is published in the recent issue of the journal Politics, produced by the Australian Political Science Association. It is the first time such an extended study has been undertaken in Australia. Previous research and analysis has concentrated on election campaign periods only.



Lecturer in Journalism Studies, Mr John Henningham, said that a relationship seemed to exist between the editorial opinion of these newspapers and their news treatment of Federal politics. His study found that The Age gave the same news treatment to Labor in government and in opposition as it did to the coalition, while The Courier-Mail carried more stories, critical of Labor in government, and fewer stories about Labor in opposition than it did in the case of the coalition.

These findings appeared consistent with a similar study of the editorial opinions of metropolitan dailies conducted in 1977 by senior lecturer in the Department of Government, Mr Roy Forward. This study found The Courier-Mail to be the paper most opposed to the Labor Government in its editorials, while The Age was the only paper of all the Australian dailies to be in favour of Labor, although only slightly.

Mr Henningham said this did not mean news reporting in The Courier-Mail was biased against Labor, but rather that over a long period The Courier-Mail seemed more ready to publish more anti-Labor material in its news columns than was The Age. He said the different news environments in which the two newspapers operated accounted to some extent for differences in their politics - For example: Queensland has a more vocal anti-Canberra premier which means, there are simply more stories in Queensland criticising the Federal Government than in Victoria."

Mr Henningham said that an analysis of the sources of government criticism over the six year period of the study had found that Mr Bjelke-Petersen was considerably more critical of Canberra than was the Victorian Premier, Mr Hamer. "However if the data are analysed excluding the criticisms made by both premiers, The Courier-Mail is still significantly more anti-Labor than The Age," he said.

It is also more apparent that The Courier Mail was more critical of the coalition government than was The Age, though in this case, by a significantly smaller margin.

Mt Henningham said that the cyclical characteristics of the data collected over the six-year period showed the papers to be in general agreement as to the news value of events that were reported. Taken in three month periods, the results indicated that there were roughly parallel peaks in anti-government stories reported in the two papers.

The Courier Mail, however, had a higher proportion of anti-government compared with the total number of political stories it published.

The above report appeared on Sept., 24th, 1980 in "University News", a publication of The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia




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