Malcolm Turnbull is not the first prime minister to criticise journalists and their editors, but when he described the ABC and other outlets as “elite media” last week, political watchers across the country were bemused.
With the nation’s very recent history proving that a fight with the media is not one any political leader should want to have, some pundits are describing Mr Turnbull’s comments as unwise in the extreme.
“Has he not learned anything from Tony Abbott?” asked political lecturer at Australian National University, Dr Andrew Hughes.
“Abbott picked a fight with the media. He thought he could choose favourites in the media and ignore others – even publicly criticise those that were out of favour with him.
“Then he started to fight even the media that had been friendly. He took them on too much and the media turned on him big time.”
Dr Hughes, who specialises in political marketing, said Mr Turnbull has damaged his brand by attacking the media and blaming elites for his own performance.
“It shows Turnbull is in trouble and he’s running out of time. He needs to get something big through that resonates with the electorate,” Dr Hughes said.
“Why pick a fight when you don’t need to have one? If you want to take on the so-called elite media, you’ve got to be on top of your game. Malcolm Turnbull certainly isn’t on top of his game.
“My advice would be don’t pick a fight with any media – not even with The Shovel or other jokers. Leave them alone. Describing any media as elite makes you sound desperate.”
When being interviewed by Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7.30 program, Mr Turnbull described the broadcaster as “elite media” a number of times and suggested it was out of touch with everyday Australians.
When asked about proposed amendments to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, the Prime Minister turned it back on the host.
“This is a question you should address to your editors at the ABC, very seriously,” he said.
“18C is talked about constantly on the ABC, talked constantly in what’s often the elite media.”
Later in the interview he urged “some self-criticism of the ABC or other media outlets” and even later stated: “I often get on the elite media like the ABC, I often get criticised or sent up.”
The Australia Institute’s Dr Richard Denniss said such language reveals the Prime Minister is out of touch with the rest of Australia.
“How ridiculous that a Prime Minister, the representative of the Australian people who own the Australian Broadcasting Commission, refers to that very broadcasting commission as elite media,” Dr Denniss said.
“What makes it more ridiculous is that some of the newspapers mounting his argument for him have a mere fraction of the reach the ABC has.
“What better proof that ‘post-truth’ is the word of the year. The ABC is consistently polled as one of the most trusted institutions in Australia.
“It’s more trusted than the Prime Minister and he would be wise to remember that.
“Tony Abbott picked fights with the media. Kevin Rudd picked fights with the media. Neither of them won and Malcolm Turnbull won’t ether.”
US President-elect Donald Trump fiercely criticised the media throughout his campaign and won office despite most news outlets opposing him.
Mr Turnbull might have been buoyed by that outcome when describing some of Australia’s media as elite, but Dr Hughes urged caution with that approach.
“It could all come unstuck for Trump if he doesn’t deliver now and that’s maybe why he is toning down his rhetoric since winning the election,” he said.
“If he doesn’t deliver then the media, which he has already alienated, will ramp up even harder against him.
“So it would be very unwise for Turnbull to be thinking the media in Australia is fair game because of the relationship Trump has with the media in the US.”