The Queensland election and the media

The dust has settled and Anna Bligh’s Labor has comfortably retained power in a Queensland election everyone thought would be much closer. While the opinion polls were calling a 51:49 split in favour of the LNP, the bookmakers were closer to the mark with Labor always firm favourite to win (even if it was mostly early money that made up their minds). Labor has now won their fifth victory in 11 years and the plaudits belong to Anna Bligh. Defeated LNP leader Lawrence Springborg said she had done “an outstanding job” in the campaign and Labor Treasurer Andrew Fraser called it a “tremendous affirmation” of her leadership. “There is one reason we won this election campaign and that’s Anna Bligh,” he said.

This morning Prime Minister Kevin Rudd also praised Premier Bligh on Channel Nine’s Today program calling it a great day for Queensland and Australian women. “This is the first elected woman premier in the country’s history and I think that point needs to be marked in history as well,” he said. The weekly Laurie Oakes interview is one of Channel Nine’s increasingly rare forays into politics. Their coverage of the Queensland election was abysmal apart from a daily sniping about Bligh’s government in the nightly news. The other commercial channels showed even less interest in the affair leaving substantial coverage to newspaper and online media.

The best coverage of the election was to be found online. In particular, the ad hoc Crikey collaborative effort Pineapple Party Time offered copious astute, timely, and relevant updates that covered all aspects of the campaign. The blog had a pleasing blend of talents which combined the psephological knowledge of William Bowe with the statistical wizardry of Possum (Scott Steel) rounded off by the penetrating analysis of Mark Bahnisch. Possum also was first to call Labor’s victory at 6:13pm Queensland time based on Auspoll’s exit poll which also successfully predicted the 2007 Federal election.

Brisbane’s only daily newspaper The Courier-Mail has been left with egg on its face after campaigning strongly with a series of anti-Labor stories throughout the election. Last week its editorial endorsed the LNP (unlike its Sunday Mail stablemate which supported the government) saying Labor was “out of touch and out of time”.

The paper was forced to release a more conciliatory online editorial at 11pm last night. This time they gave grudging credit to Labor’s win while still questioning the wisdom of the electorate. The paper called Bligh’s victory a remarkable result and she deserved congratulations. But they also said that now she must deliver and claimed the people of Queensland “have been remarkably forgiving of a catalogue of failure, miscalculation, short-sightedness and, sometimes, sleaziness over the 11-year Labor rule.”

While the Courier-Mail seems to be on an irrevocable course to irrelevance, the impact of an article in Thursday’s The Australian on Labor’s win cannot be discounted. Peter Van Onselen stated leaked internal Labor polling showed that the LNP were on track to win just two days out from the vote. While nowhere in the article does Van Onselen say how he obtained the poll results, they were deliberately leaked by Labor to shore up its base vote. Van Onselen also noted that Labor strategists targeted electorates under threat, using interstate resources, “in a last-minute attempt to turn around local fortunes.” Both of these late Labor strategies worked.

The Brisbane Times did a reasonable job of coverage in the first Queensland election since it was founded. They reported several stories daily with occasional useful analysis such as by Cosima Marriner. However the publication remains handicapped by a severe shortage of journalists and most of their reportage originated from other Fairfax outlets (particularly the Sydney Sun-Herald) and the wires of AP and AAP.

Lack of journalists is not (yet) a serious problem at the ABC and they can be commended for their coverage of the election. Antony Green’s election site is a goldmine of information about the seats, the candidates and the issues. The weekly Friday night Stateline program has been an excellent resource for dispassionate argument about the policies and ideas that mattered in this election. Program host Jessica van Vonderen is a talented young journalist who did an excellent job in tandem with Green and Kerry O’Brien in the tally room on Saturday night.

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