Monday, 25 January 2010

Have the leopards changed their spots? On one hand we’ve got The Australian dubbing Kevin Rudd ‘Australian of the Year’ for his handling of the GFC. On the other, we’ve got The Sydney Morning Herald giving two days of front-page, above-the-fold exposure to Tony Abbot’s whinge about migrants not appreciating their luck by gaining residency in this sun-soaked, untroubled and spectre-less land of ours.

Over at Crikey, Bernard Keane thinks that The Australian has “swallowed its pride” and admitted they were wrong about Rudd, whose contra-GFC economic stimulus measures attracted uncompromising criticism from the News Ltd flagship.

But things may not be as black-and-white as they appear. The motivation for The Australian’s volte-face may lie elsewhere.

At the same time as they were tapping Rudd on his newly-besuited shoulder – the PM has just returned from his end-of-year holidays - for mustering the nation’s formidable resources to combat a scourge of biblical proportions, editors at The Australian also saw fit to give space to Malcolm Turnbull’s screed against the monarchy.

This took the form of an editorial and a video of Malcolm – sans necktie – promoting the notion of having an Australian as head of state.

The video appears to be spontaneous. It’s as if the ex-opposition leader had quietly sat down with a cup of latte and a bunch of mates in order to give his personal viewpoint an impromptu airing. It’s effective and, for many, long overdue.

So is The Australian backing the fallen in preference to the actual challenger?

A few things should be borne in mind. One is that Rupert Murdoch declared a couple of years ago that he would support the notion that climate change has been caused by human activities. We know that Tony Abbot, who took over the reins of the Liberal Party from Turnbull a month ago, is a climate sceptic.

The other thing worth noting – at least in passing – is that, historically, there have consistently been three leadership changes in the opposition party in the aftermath of an election defeat. Abbot gained the helm as a result of the second leadership change since the 2007 election. The next election is due this year or next.

So perhaps The Australian anticipates that Abbott will not last long. This will be welcome news for many, if it is true.

The decision by Fairfax to give Abbott leverage over its readers’ time is equally mysterious, but it’s mitigated by the counter-punch appearing yesterday evening at 11.30pm.

It’s not merely likely that Abbott chose to have a go at migrants – they don’t believe in equality, their youth engage in gang violence – to conjure up the xenophobic devils that served his former master (John Howard) so well in 2001. Abbott got a 2-point rise in the preferred party polls recently, and is looking at any method available that will knock Rudd off the perch that his broad popularity has given him – for a long time.

I can’t find a good reason for it. The story that appeared late last night showed that the Sydney Morning Herald may have been simply doing the standard thing that newspapers do: give both sides of the story.

Titled ‘Abbott taken to task over 'offensive' citizenship message’, it includes quotes by two NGO operatives blasting Abbott’s words as “divisive, hurtful and deliberately crafted to push buttons and play the race card before Australia Day”.

We’ll see how prominently this story runs on the website. So far, it’s only been a few hours and it’s already set to fall below the fold.

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