Workers Online
Workers Online
Workers Online
  Issue No 106 Official Organ of LaborNet 10 August 2001  

 --

 --

 --

.  LaborNET

.  Ask Neale

.  Tool of the Week


Media

The Fine Print


Mark Hebblewhite looks at how the major dailies handled the Tri-Star dispute and finds that the story really does depend on the telling.

***************

There's an old saying that goes never believe everything you read in the papers. But while this cynicism towards the media is ingrained in our society, the printed word still exerts an amazing influence on Australian politics and culture. As much as we'd like to believe that we are immune from the biases and agendas of our motley collection of tabloids and broadsheets, their influence on our attitudes and views are undeniable.

Now, for those of us who are unionists this is not good news. I'm not going to claim it as fact, but there's a widely held belief amongst many that the union movement cops an unjust and unfair hiding in the mainstream press. If this is true, it's very damaging. For many in the wider community their only exposure to the union movement is through the press, and you tell me any person who has the time to sit down and read a wide variety of papers all the while critically analysing what they are taking in. Net result, unfavourable coverage = unfavourable attitudes towards our movement.

This problem can be especially pronounced in the cases of high profile disputes, such as the recent Tristar saga. With reams and reams of diverse coverage spewing forth every day, I got to wondering just how the dispute was being presented to the casual observer. Was it a hatchet job, or was it indeed that journalistic Holy Grail, 'fair and balanced coverage''To help determine this I decided on a little experiment and to make my task manageable, chose the coverage of four influential dailies and how they presented the important issues on a defining day of the dispute'.

The papers: The Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and the Financial Review

The day: August 3rd- This was a perfect day, Howard was visiting Mitsubishi in Japan, the strike was starting to bite car manufacturers, and negotiations had reached a stage where all the issues were tabled and decision making was at hand. 'In short there was a huge range of important issues that needed to be covered, any failings on the part of these publications would therefore be obvious'.

The aim: To find out how fair and balanced was the coverage? Did it differ much in each publication? And if so why? Remember, each paper is staffed by professionals with access to same information, it's what they do (or don't do) with it that is the key.

So what form did the coverage take? Read on, the results are quite eye opening.

The Australian- The Oz's coverage was by far the most comprehensive, and balanced. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a union love in, but all sides were aired. While one opinion piece criticised unions for their support of tariffs for the car industry, another piece detailed the story of a Tristar worker enduring financial hardship for a principle he believes in- that working people are entitled to decent (and secure) entitlements.

In another example, an article detailing the negative flow on effects of the strike sat next to an expose of Tristar's corporate structure that acknowledged workers fears that the company was set up to fail. There was no doubt that the Australian had done its homework, it even went as far as to question the numerous false rumours of Mitsubishi's imminent demise. If the other papers were this balanced, my faith in our print media was about to be restored.

The Daily Telegraph - In the wake of recent positive union coverage I was confident about the 'Tele'. Ten seconds later things were back to normal. Their coverage consisted of a very unfunny cartoon lampooning the AMWU, an opinion piece by Australian Industry Group Chief Bob Herbert (complete with crocodile tears) slamming Manusafe and an article entitled 'How 350 workers can cripple a $17 billion industry'.

Unlike the Australian there was no effort to understand why the unions had taken this course of action, and no comment on the appalling record of the coalition in regards to workers entitlements. Did the Tele not have access to information on Tristar's dodgy structure that was presented by the Australian? I have no problem with the paper detailing the effects of the strike on the automotive industry, but why focus on the industries lost revenue and ignore the plight of the Tristar workers? When you consider the Tele's coverage as a complete package a very obvious pre-determined agenda appears. After reading this issue would a casual observer even know that these workers were so worried they felt they had no other option but to strike? No chance in hell.

Sydney Morning Herald: Like the Telegraph the venerable SMH went with the Mitsubishi angle. One front- page story to go. Title, 'Strike puts Mitsubishi at risk'. But unlike the Tele, the SMH did make some attempt to explain the workers grievances, even going as far as to quote the AMWU's Doug Cameron on both Tristar's intransigence and the antagonism of the Federal Government and their mates in the Australian Industry Group. It also presented a wider range of figures. While tabling the number of automotive workers inconvenienced by the strike, the Herald also pointed out that 900 workers had lost $9 million in entitlements in the last year due to company collapses.

This coverage was supported by a secondary article on page 2 detailing the history of the dispute, and explaining the 'just-in-time' system of parts delivery. After rightfully noting that this system does provide unions with a useful tactical tool, the writer went on to mention the very pointed absence of Tristar General Manager Mr Vincent Kong from negotiations. With the limited space they devoted to the story the Herald could not have conducted the comprehensive coverage that was presented by its competitor The Australian. This said, they did make an attempt to at least mention the many different facets of the dispute. While Telegraph readers were left thinking that this was just a story about greedy unions, the SMH at least presented the issue as what it was- an industrial dispute encompassing a wide range of important facets.

Financial Review - Strangely, only one article on the dispute graced the pages of the Fin on this day. Provocatively entitled 'Threat grows as PM slams strike' it focused solely on Howard's outrageous claims that the strike could cause Mitsubishi to pull out of Australia altogether. In the space of a couple of hundred words, Howard's laughable claims were quoted, the views of the Australian Industry Group on Manusafe were presented as gospel, and a statistical picture of the damage car makers were facing was tabled.

No quotes from union officials were offered and no examination of Tristar's less than reassuring corporate structure was undertaken. Instead, the Fin decided to insinuate that the AMWU was using its 'leverage' at Tristar to bully the company and hold the economy to ransom. They didn't even bother to mention that the workers were extremely afraid that their entitlements would not be honoured by Tristar.

This coverage can only be described at best as narrow and at worst blatant scaremongering. Funny thing is, do you think the Financial Review's business savvy readership would for a minute believe Mitsubishi would pull the plug on its multi million dollar operations due to legal industrial action by 350 workers? Didn't think so.

The Wash-Up And so the great experiment came to an end. While I acknowledge that it wasn't perfect, I would like to reaffirm its one major advantage. With its limited focus upon a day where a number of important issues came to a head, incomplete or biased coverage could quickly be discerned.

Sadly, our print press didn't do too well. Only the Australian truly took the time to present all facets of this complex issue. The SMH did make an attempt, but were obviously content to wrap their coverage in eyegrabbing rhetoric about the fate of Mitsubishi. And as for the Tele and Financial Review? Well, considering the vast resources of these papers, their limited and pointed coverage was very disappointing. All I can say is that on this evidence, those of us who claim severe bias and selective coverage have had their case strengthened.

Finally, amongst all the gloom, we must also ask whether this limited exercise has any lessons to impart. I believe the answer to be yes. As unionists we need to be proactive with the media. If you see biased coverage, write and complain. Don't be scared to ask why their competitor managed to tackle an issue that they ignored. You may not get published, but you'll keep them on their toes!

Mark Hebblewhite is a MEAA member from Sydney


------

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 106 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: In Exile
Burmese's government in exile's Minister for Justice U Thein Oo talks about a struggle for democracy that has become a test of international solidarity.
*
*  Politics: A National Disgrace
Labor's IR spokesman Arch Bevis gives his take on the workers entitlements issue and its mismanagement by the Howard Government.
*
*  E-Change: 2.2 The Information Organisation
Peter Lewis and Michael Gadiel look at how network technologies will change the way organizations operate in the Information Age.
*
*  Media: The Fine Print
Mark Hebblewhite looks at how the major dailies handled the Tri-Star dispute and finds that the story really does depend on the telling.
*
*  Human Rights: A People Besieged
Labor MLC Janelle Saffin, an active supporter of the pro-Democracy movement in Burma, sets out the issues behind the ILO sanctions.
*
*  International: Postcard From Brazil
The CFMEU’s Phil Davey reports on a rural movement that puts our National Farmers Federation to shame.
*
*  History: Indonesia Calling
They needed no resolutions. Soldiers and workers who did not know one another moved together, the black ban started to reach out across the harbour from the noisy, smoke-filled room.
*
*  Solidarity: On the Frontline
Australian trade unionists are providing practical help for the Burmese through projects funded by APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad.
*
*  Satire: Skase 'Too Ill' to Fly Home for Burial
Spanish authorities have deemed Christopher Skase too ill to return to Australia for his own funeral.
*
*  Review: Living Silence
In these extracts from her new book, Christina Fink goes inside Burma to find a world where military repression is slowly crushing a people.
*

News
»  Revealed: ABC Censors Industrial Reporting
*
»  WorkCover Revisited – Public Sector Laws Rammed Through
*
»  Bras First in Burma Boycotts
*
»  Tri Star Only the Start of Entitlements Push
*
»  New Spying Tactics Hit Work Cars
*
»  Howard’s Secret Anti-Worker Plans
*
»  Direct Action to Increase Nurses' Worth
*
»  High Court: Courier Was Employee
*
»  Victory for Academic Freedom
*
»  Put A Stop To Acoustic Shock
*
»  Builders' Bucks: Payroll Tax Evasion Rife
*
»  Tassie Workers Brew Up a Storm
*
»  HIH Collapse Hits Arts Industry
*
»  Labour for Hire Not Entitlements
*
»  Rail Inquiry Into Treatment of Homeless
*
»  ACTU Awards To Reward Union Excellence
*
»  Activist Notebook
*

Columns
»  The Soapbox
*
»  The Locker Room
*
»  Trades Hall
*
»  The Soapbox
*

Letters to the editor
»  Botsman Goes Crosby
*
»  Left Right Out
*
»  Belly's Shout
*
»  Ode to the New Serfs
*

What you can do

Notice Board
- Check out the latest events

Latest Issue

View entire latest issue
- print all of the articles!

Previous Issues

Subject index

Search all issues

Enter keyword(s):
  


Workers Online - 2nd place Labourstart website of the year


BossWatch


Wobbly Radio



[ Home ][ Notice Board ][ Search ][ Previous Issues ][ Latest Issue ]

© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW

LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSW

URL: http://workers.labor.net.au/106/b_tradeunion_mark.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005

[ Privacy Statement | Disclaimer | Credits ]

LaborNET is proudly created, designed and programmed by Social Change Online for the Labor Council of NSW

 *LaborNET*

 Labor Council of NSW

[Workers Online]

[Social Change Online]