Last week marked the one year anniversary of Julia Gillard’s rise to the top. In a highly unscientific straw poll, carried out by this blogger amongst friends, family and colleagues, there was one resounding reaction when asked about the PM and her year in the top job – “has it only been a year? “
Most of the respondents in our straw poll didn’t have a particular beef either way with the PM, most just felt like that they’d been watching and hearing about her Government for a very long time. Is this new world of the 24 hour media cycle, where every word uttered by a politician is either tweeted, blogged, critiqued and posted online by mid-morning, leading to a case of political fatigue for the voter?
When John Howard began his time as PM the news cycle really only kicked into gear with the unwrapping of the morning newspapers and the breakfast radio programs. Sky News Australia had only just begun broadcasting in the month before Howard became PM and online media sites were embryonic. Being PM then meant feeding and taming the three media beasts of radio, newspapers and the nightly news – something Howard’s team mastered early on and exceptionally well.
These days the PM and her staff are barely awake and someone will have tweeted, blogged or broadcast the latest news. ABC News24 kicks off at 6am, SKY News likewise and newspaper online sites pretty much operate on a 24/7 basis. Breakfast TV on the commercial channels also like a dose of politics and the shock jocks and current affairs radio all require talent. So crucial is it to tap into this morning news cycle that press secretaries phone conference at the crack of dawn and Blackberries are never switched off. Kevin Rudd’s political press office set a now infamous work schedule which due largely to the demands of the media cycle (and the desire to control it) has carried on into the current offices.
And with the Government in its current position they can rarely afford to knock back media requests. That’s why we see the PM popping up on anything from Sunrise to 60 Minutes hotly trailed by an Opposition Leader desperate for equal air time. Scan a metropolitan newspaper any day and there’s not only the main political news story but the obligatory analysis to go with it, switch on talkback radio and politics will undoubtedly dominate part of the conversation – it’s enough at times to make even the most hardened political junkie exhausted.
This smorgasbord of political news has also seen a format, pioneered by the ABC to fend off claims of bias, adopted across the board. If you have a Labor MP on then follow it with a Coalition member, if you have a commentator from the Right, then put up another from the Left. All this is good and well in keeping the coverage balanced and offering right of reply to all sides and it often makes for entertaining television but it can also lead to the real issues getting hijacked through a left versus right slanging match.
The irony here is that this new media landscape was heralded as a way for Governments to bypass the spin doctors and speak to voters directly. Social media was to be the key to engaging with the masses. It certainly has had that effect, and there’s a whole other blog in the successes and failures of that approach but maybe it’s also had the effect of making people tune out.
While no one is attempting to blame the unrelenting media cycle for the current Government’s woes there’s no doubt the saturation coverage voters get these days of politics has something to do with the exhaustion and the feeling we have that this has indeed been a very long year in politics.