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

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

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.

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

  1. wahloxford

    read the small print on the petition .The reason for the petition
    given by the smh is the nsw government has failed to adequately give the people of nsw, roads ,transport, housing etc.I read this has expressways cutting through innercity communities,high rise developments.This petition could have been worded by developers and the rta and the people that love building roads and tunnels.
    This isnt the reason I would sign a petition. Especially when the author of the petition is hiding behind the banner of the smh.

  2. nico

    However malodorous the NSW government, this seems to be a case of news outlets generating their own news which I would judge a step too far. Surely reporting the shortcomings of NSW Labor would similarly agitate for change, without the explicit interference.

  3. Alphonse

    A halfway competent opposition would have obviated the sorry excuse for a state government that prompted this travesty of journalism.

    Journalism that advocated and enabled an unedifying succession of federal Coalition governments created a favourable electoral climate for an increasingly sclerotic succession of state Labor governments.

    The media have helped create the state of affairs they are now decrying but it is their readership that is doing the suffering.

    Fixed terms give government a chance to govern with an eye beyond the next day’s headlines – but government would be more likely to take that chance if the headlines weren’t so short-sighted, let alone the petitions.

  4. 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.

  5. Tim Dunlop

    Just a quick point, Gibbot: it’s not a poll they are running, but a petition. So they aren’t canvassing opinion; they’re seeking a political outcome. That’s a big difference in my book.

  6. Gibbot

    Is it a step too far? I don’t think so. As a Sydneysider it’s hard to adequately express my disgust with this abomination of a government, and I’m confident that I’m far from alone.

    While a news outlet’s primary concern should obviously be the dissemination of news to its readers, I think on occasion it performs a valuable service by reflecting the general mood of its readership back at them. This poll is populist and reactionary, granted. I don’t personally feel it is without merit. I can’t remember a time when both sides of the voting public were so united in their condemnation of a government – so much so that it has become apolitical. Drastic times call for drastic measures.

    Like or dislike Rees, he was making an effort to get that mob of crooks masquerading as a party cleaned up. His ousting, and the subsquent instillation of that sock puppet crank yank is a clear victory to the very ghouls that must be exorcised from government if it is ever to recover a shred of credibility. They need to go before they do any more damage.

  7. Tim Dunlop

    Agree with Dave. The net effect is that they are openly campaigning against a given government of a given party and in doing that they lose any claim to objectivity. It’s activism, pure and simple.

    Was also amazed to hear the editor of the SMH claim that Barry O’Farrell’s endorsement of their campaign was somehow selfless of him bc an O’Farrell govt might itself be subject one day to the same mechanism. The editor is either incredibly naive, or completely disingenuous. Does it really take that much effort to figure out why the leader of the Oppn might think this campaign is a good idea?

    Additionally, as bad as the NSW govt is, going down the path of California-style plebiscites is a disaster in and of itself. Haven’t they noticed that California is currently ungovernable, in large part bc of such plebiscites?

    So all up, bad move by the papers. Speaking only for myself.

  8. 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.

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