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Dec 11, 2009

Sydney's newspapers petition for an early election - a step too far?

I've been trying to think of precedents, and I can't. Today the Sydney Morning Herald is campaigning to get its readers to

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I’ve been trying to think of precedents, and I can’t. Today the Sydney Morning Herald is campaigning to get its readers to sign a petition for an early election, and a constitutional change to overturn four year fixed terms for the state government.

All of which is very interesting, though not original. The Daily Telegraph did it two weeks ago, although in their case the petition lacked the constitutional subtleties and simply called on the Governor, Marie Bashir, to dissolve the parliament.

Now, heaven knows it is easy to understand where these populist moves come from. The present NSW Government is such a sorry beast. But has there ever been a time before when both the state’s daily newspapers actively promoted a petition for an election?

I can’t think of it.

And is it a proper thing to do? The newspapers wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t condemn the government and its shennangans in their editorials – but promoting a petition? Is that a step too far in campaigning journalism? Where does it leave their political reporters, particularly if, against the odds, such an electdion does indeed come about.

Not sure what I think yet. Views invited.

Margaret Simons —

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

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8 thoughts on “Sydney’s newspapers petition for an early election – a step too far?

  1. Dave Gaukroger

    Hi Margaret,

    Here’s part of what I wrote over at Pure Poison

    All that these two newspapers have achieved with their campaigns is that they have lost any claim to be disinterested reporters and commentators. The NSW print media has shown that it is willing to actively campaign against a sitting government, making a mockery of their role as the fourth estate. This is not a sign of a healthy and informed democracy.

  2. Heath

    You’re right of course, Tim. And my apologies to Margaret – rereading my rant, I realise how inappropriate it is.

    Perhaps I’m overly cynical, but I still find it hard to see the line in the sand that you and Dave believe has been crossed in this instance. The Oz has been running a campaign of disinformation on climate change and the ETS for some time, and every post from the dean of UEB & Herald Sun blogger #1 is a virtual call to arms against the federal government. Are they not also seeking a political outcome? The Murdoch press in particular has been unapologetic in attempting to manipulate public opinion for longer than I’ve been reading newspapers, though all are guilty to some degree.

    If SMH was an Iranian newspaper would we not all be praising their bravery in confronting a corrupt and undemocratic regime with such a move? Admittedly NSW isn’t executing homosexuals and torturing political dissidents yet, but we’re getting there. Just look at the laws that were enacted for world youth day that empowered volunteers to police any public behaviour that visiting Catholics might happen to find unpalatable (as far as I know those laws haven’t been revoked yet).

    Of course the petition is toothless and essentially pointless, as Dave eloquently explained in the post he linked to above, but I really don’t think it crossed a line that hasn’t already been trampled beyond recognition. The only thing that makes it novel is that both of the major Sydney papers actually agree on something, which is simply because they are reflecting the views of their readers.

    I would vote for a half eaten tub of yoghurt before I voted for Kenneally and her handlers. I wasn’t given the chance. Disenfranchised doesn’t even come close to describing how I (and I’m sure many others) feel. For once, my daily paper said what I wanted it to say. Enough is enough. I signed the damned thing and I don’t feel remotely guilty about it. If that’s a perversion of democracy then it is an indictment of how perverted our democracy has become. I was glad for the opportunity to voice my dissent, even if it was ineffectual. It saved me from storming Macquarie St with an axe handle, or venting on some poor talkative Indian student on a train.

    Damn. I ranted again. Sorry Margaret.

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