Course Title: Media, Politics and Policy in Australia

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: Media, Politics and Policy in Australia

Credit Points: 12.00


Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


365H Global, Urban and Social Studies


Sem 1 2007,
Sem 1 2009,
Sem 1 2012

Course Coordinator: Kent Middeton

Course Coordinator Phone: 9925 2000

Course Coordinator Email:

Course Coordinator Availability: By appointment

Pre-requisite Courses and Assumed Knowledge and Capabilities

None required.

Course Description

In every society one can identify hundreds of issues that the community would regard as matters of public concern.  Governments confronted with this predicament are forced to give priority to certain problems as being more urgent than others.  It is claimed that this decision is based on objective policy research.  Some public policy commentators dispute the suggestion that social problems are identified and defined in such a logical and benign fashion. Instead, governments are said to have the capacity to play an active role not only in deciding whether an issue will be regarded as a social problem to be dealt with, but also whether an issue will emerge in the consciousness of the community.  In a democracy, where governments must contest regular elections, public policy changes can maximize public support for the incumbent.   Implicit in this contention also is the possibility that governments can deliberately manufacture social problems and propose corresponding policy solutions for political ends.

Generally, governments are able to determine when a social problem is identified, how it is defined, and what can be done to ameliorate it. There is no reason to assume that this entire process is not guided by a political agenda. Nor should it be assumed that a newly identified social problem is indeed a ‘new’ problem. The widespread adoption and ready application of modern media management practices in politics over the past 30 years has provided governments with the technical means to construct social problems for covert political purposes.  As a result, ‘symbolic political action’ is now said to be increasingly used in many western democracies including Australia, as a substitute for trying to tackle ‘real’ social problems. Central to this process of policy and public opinion manipulation is the ’media’.

Some commentators view the media as performing a rather benign role in the political and public policy making process. For them, the media essentially reports on what is happening inside of government and how certain policy changes will or will not benefit the broader community. In sharp contrast, there are other political commentators who believe that the media can and does play a vastly more independent role in this process. The media is not only a major critic of government and its policy agenda but also can attempt to shape the policy agenda itself via its agenda setting capacity of reporting news. Evidence of the latter might be the fact that governments in Australia each year spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars monitoring every word that is uttered about them by the media. To ensure that the general public know what the government  is doing, governments also distribute political propaganda at public expense, to promote their policy agenda. Here, the media is often used as a vehicle to simply help disseminate policy messages on behalf of the government, as the commercial media is still reliant upon revenue raised from advertising.

This course seeks to explore these kinds of issues via an assessment of the complex inter-relationship that can be found to exist between governments and the media. In particular, the course aims to address the following areas:

1. To develop an understanding of the role that the media performs in liberal democratic societies such as Australia;

2. To identify and reflect upon the impact the media has had upon politics and public policy making in Australia;

3. To identify how governments seek to manipulate the flow of information to the community via its use of the media;

4. To develop an appreciation of  the various techniques used by governments to influence the media and regulate what the community thinks about certain public policy issues;

5. To identify and discuss contemporary developments in this intricate relationship and speculate upon its possible implications for the political and public policy direction of Australia.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes/Capability Development

At the conclusion of this course you will:

1. be able to read and critically reflect upon the media representation of a chosen public policy area;

2. be able to further develop existing research skills in order to complete assignment work set for this course;

3. be able to further extend ones writing skills at a more advanced level;

4. be able to practice oral presentation skills in the various tutorials organised.

At the conclusion of this course you will be able to:

1. specify where and how the media has contributed to shaping policy making in Australia;

2. know where and how a government is able to manipulate the media for its political intentions;

3. critically evaluate the inter-relationship that exists between the government and the media;

4. interpret this relationship and the various issues it raises from a number of perspectives;

5. be able to recognise the various goverment strategies used to influence public discourse and opinion:

6  be able to devise strategies to influence a policy agenda being promoted either by the government or the media.

Overview of Learning Activities

Week 1 -   Course Overview. The Mediatization of Politics 

Week 2  -  The Media in a Liberal Democracy

Week 3  -  Media Ownership and Regulation

Week 4 -   Public Discourse and Agenda Setting

Week 5  -  Manufacturing News: Objectivity and Bias

Week 6  -  Pollsters, Public Opinion and Political Cynicism

Week 7 -    Talkback Radio: Broadcasting Democracy?

Week 8 -    The PR State and Government News Management

Week 9 -    Leaders and Public Image

Week 10 -  Political Advertising and Election Campaigns

Week 11 -  Engineering Moral Panics and Electoral Support

Week 12  -  Media Activism and the Political Agenda

Overview of Learning Resources

Baker, C.E. (2007) Media Concentration and Democracy. Why Ownership Matters, Cambridge University Press, New York.                                                                               

Barns, G. (2005) Selling the Australian Government: Politics and Propoganda From Whitlam to Howard, UNSW, Sydney. 
Bonney, B. & Wilson, H. (1983) Australia’s Commercial Media, Mac Millan Press, Melbourne.
Bowman, D. (1988) The Captive Press, Penguin Books, Melbourne.
Carey, A. (1995) Taking the Risk out of Democracy: Propaganda in the US and Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney.
Chomsky, N. (1989) Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, South End Press, Boston.
Craig, G. (2003) The Media, Politics and Public Life, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
Cunningham, S. and Turner, G. (2002) The Media and Communication in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
Curthoys, A. & Schultz, J. (1999) Journalism: Print, Politics and Popular Culture, Queensland University Press, Brisbane.
Denton, R. (1991) Ethical Dimensions of Political Communication, Praeger Press, USA.                                                                                                                                

Economou,N. & Tanner, S. (2008) Media, Power and Politics in Australia, Pearson Education Australia,Frenchs Forest                                                                                 

Errington, W. & Miragliotta, N. (2007) Media and Politics. An Introduction, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne
Ferguson, M. (1990) Public Communication: The New Imperatives, Sage Pubs., London.                                                                                                                                     

Fitzgerald J. (2008) Seeing Beyond the Spin. Inside the Parliametary Press Gallery, Clareville Press,Isaacs 
Henningham, J. (1990 ed.) Issues in Australian Journalism, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.
Henningham, J. (1988) Looking at Television News, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne.
Herman, E. & Chomsky, N. (1988) Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Media, Vintage Books, USA.
Kavanagh, D. (1995) Election Campaigning: The New Marketing of Politics, Blackwell, UK.
Keane, J. (1991) The Media and Democracy, Polity Press, London.
Lloyd, C. (1988) Parliament and the Press: The Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery, 1901 to 1988, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.                                                

Louw, E.  (2005) The Media and Political Process, Sage, London
McManus, J. (1994) Market Driven Journalism: Let the Citizen Beware?, Sage Pubs., USA.                                                                                                                                         

McNair B. (2007) An Introduction to Political Communication, 4th edition, Routledge, Milton Park 
McNair, I. & Teer, F. (1983) Political Opinion Polling in Australia, in Worcester, R. (1983 ed.) Political Opinion Polling, MacMillan Press, UK.   
Meikle, G. (2002) Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet, Pluto Press, Sydney.
Mills, S. (1986) The New Machine Men: Polls and Persuasion in Australian Politics, Penguin Books, Melbourne.
Osborne, G. and Lewis, G. (2001) Communication Traditions in Australia: Packaging the People, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Parker, D. (1990) The Courtesans: The Press Gallery in the Hawke Era, Allen & Unwin Press, Sydney.
Potts, J. (1989) Radio in Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney.
Reynolds, P. (1989) "On being a Political Commentator", Australian Journalism Review, Vol. 11, pp. 139-142.
Rhee, J (1996) "How Polls Drive Campaign Coverage", Political Communication, Vol. 13, pp. 213-229.
Schultz, J. (1994 ed.) Not Just Another Business: Journalists, Citizens and the Media, Pluto Press, Sydney.
Schultz, J. (1998) Reviving the Fourth Estate: Democracy, Accountability and the Media, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne.
Simons, M. (1999) Fit to Print: Inside the Canberra Press Gallery, UNSW Press, Kensington.
Stockwell, S. (2005) Political Campaign Strategy, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne

Street, J. (2001) Mass Media, Politics and Democracy, Palgrave Press, UK.
Tiffen, R. (1989) News and Power, Allen & Unwin Press, Sydney.
Tiffen, R. (1999) Scandals: Media, Politics and Corruption in Contemporary Australia, UNSW Press, Kensington. 
Ward, I. (1995) Politics of the Media, MacMillan Press, Melbourne.
Windschuttle, K. & Windschuttle, E. (1981) Fixing the News: Critical Perspectives on the Australian Media, Cassell Australia, Melbourne.

Young, S. (2004) The Persuaders. Inside the Hidden Machine of Political Advertising, Pluto Press Australia, North Melbourne.

Young, S. (2007) Government Communication in Australia, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne.

Overview of Assessment

The assessment requirements provide you with a framework for learning and are the means by which you provide evidence of your progress in this course. The basis for assessment in this course requires that you complete all  of the assessment tasks:

                                                                           Value     Length

1. Media Policy Analysis Report                ( 30%)      1300 wds
2. Research Essay                                       (60%)      2300 wds
3. Tutorial Participation                              (10%)

For clarification purposes, the media policy report will permit students to apply some of the many conceptual arguments developed in the course lecture program to a chosen policy area of interest, in order to analyse how the media has selected to report on a particular policy issue.

The research essay will permit students to explore in greater depth a chosen area of interest where original research and thinking will be encouraged.

Tutorial participation is designed to engage students during the semester on issues covered in the lecture program.