The language of news

Two headline stories in the SMH this morning demonstrating how effective framing and language can be in the media sphere, and how that language can affect the opinion of the reader.

The first a story about how the government have slumped in the opinion polls, despite, as the headline states, its “Best Week Yet”.

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-slumps-in-polls-despite-best-week-yet-20140413-zqu9c.html

The language couldn’t be more biased –

 The April Fairfax Nielsen poll shows the government has paid for a month in which its central economic policies such as repealing the carbon and mining taxes and crafting a fiscally responsible budget were allowed to be swamped by self-inflicted political controversies.

These were the surprise restoration of the royal titles of knight and dame; the furore surrounding the suspended Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos and his links with the disgraced Obeid family; and the government’s divisive efforts to weaken racial anti-discrimination laws at the urging of a tiny but powerful group of shock-jocks and libertarian fundamentalists.

Only a third of Australians back the return of British titles – albeit within the Australian award system – and nine out of 10 Australians believe it should continue to be unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” based on race or ethnicity.

Tellingly for the government, which has pursued the removal of legal sanctions against offending, insulting or humiliating, within the Racial Discrimination Act, six out of 10 disagree with Attorney-General George Brandis’ statement that “people do have a right to be bigots”.

Both issues blew up in the government’s face in recent weeks, right when it was trying to make a strong public case against Labor obstructionism over the mining and carbon tax repeal bills.

Note the words imply the repeal of the mining and carbon taxes is carefully crafted and fiscally responsible and that it is clearly the public who are fickle and liable to walk away from the government’s mandated agenda.

But not just one article form the Herald, not it is then followed immediately followed-up by another

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/greens-benefit-from-main-parties-unpopularity-20140413-36lk3.html

In this one, journo Michael Gordon calls the result of the latest opinion poll Counter Intuitive.

Tony Abbott enjoys the finest week of his prime ministership and goes backwards, Bill Shorten goes on leave and goes forward, and disenchanted Coalition voters park their votes with the Greens.

And that’s just for starters. For all the talk of primary producers benefiting from freer trade, the big drop in Coalition support has occurred outside the cities, in regional Australia, where support has fallen by 8percentage points.

“His finest week” – flying out of the country and negotiating a trade deal that will benefit the big end of town and open the door for corporations to sue our government.
In particular the deal with Japan – the Japanese agree to lower their tariffs and protections slowly over the course of some 18 years from 29% to around 15%. Yep, you heard right – lowered over 18 years – not eliminated as one would expect when the term”Free Trade” is bandied about.

We, on the other-hand have dropped our protections on the importation of cars immediately because hell… we don’t have a car industry any more, thanks to Abbott and his unwillingness to protect Aussie jobs.

Wow! We’ll save $1500 on a new Japanese car. Won;t that be nice for the displaced workers at Holden and Toyota.

Gordon goes on to say:

For all the seeming contradictions in the latest The Age/Nielsen Poll, two points are clear.The first is that the Abbott government remains deeply unpopular, having surrendered much of the support that delivered the emphatic victory at the last election.

The second is that there are plenty vying for the attention of voters whose inclination more than two years out from an election is to disengage, with no consistent pattern in thinking emerging other than the fact that neither side has a clear ascendancy.

Again, we have a statement that it is the voters who are to blame for the slump rather than the government – the voters “inclination.. is to disengage with no consistent pattern of thinking” infer the voters are all dullards, incapable of consistent thought and an ability to see the government is doing such a great job – in the journo’s eyes.
I think we all know the truth behind the plunge, that this government has finally revealed their cards and the public have realised they elected a bunch of duds uninterested in governing for all Australians – their intent is to give to the rich at the expense of hurting the most vulnerable, and Australians have finally woken-up to the mistake they made last September.

But the importance of this post is to recognise how deliberate use of the language has the ability to affect the reader.  By using words that make the government look upstanding, honest, committed and reliable, the journalists infer that it must be a small number of fickle voters responsible for the poll slump.  A simplistic point of view, evident in much of the MSM nowadays, where it is easier to dismiss trends as anomalies rather than asking the questions, doing the analysis, and looking at the deeper root cause.

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