Reporting the great debate: press coverage of Australian televised leaders' debates

Leadership Political leadership Australia

Since 1984, every Australian federal election campaign except 1987 has featured at least one televised debate between the major party leaders. The debates have always generated considerable interest and significant media attention. International research suggests that coverage can influence perceptions of debates, for debate viewers and particularly for non-watchers. In Australia, viewing audiences for debates have steadily declined in the last four campaigns, suggesting an important role for media coverage. However coverage of Australian leaders? debates has received little academic attention. This paper considers post-debate press coverage of the 1993, 1996 and 2004 debates. Firstly, the extent, type and prominence of coverage is examined. Secondly, the extent to which coverage focuses on identifying a winner, and the basis on which judgments are made about leaders? debates is considered. Thirdly, the extent to which coverage discusses actual debate content, and the nature of that coverage are considered. Fourthly, the manner in which coverage focuses on aspects of presentation and style is assessed. Finally, the degree to which coverage discusses the influence of debates, and the effects highlighted are examined.

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