Editorial: Super Saturday elections, parliamentarism and media coverage
We have just experienced the so-called Super Saturday by-elections which took place on Saturday 28 July in five electorates. As most of us are aware, the mainstream media framed the elections as an evaluation of the leaderships of the ALP Opposition and the Coalition Government. Other considerations such as policies were of secondary significance and did not garner that much commentary from journalists.
Either way, the elections were not as important as the mainstream media invariably makes out because ultimately no fundamental difference will be made to bourgeois class rule. The by-elections in particular and parliamentary politics more generally raise a number of questions about the nature of the mainstream political process in Australia and its reporting. Questions like: why do we get such superficial coverage; why do we get so much of it; and, why, if each election is supposedly historically important and will shape the Australian political landscape for the foreseeable future, do we not see any major changes which would alleviate the burdens faced by the working class of this country?
It is drummed into us that elections, parliaments and parliamentary politics are cornerstones of democracy. To a certain extent this is true, or rather, has been true especially in the past when the tyranny of absolute Monarchs meant that the majority of the people living under those Monarchical regimes had no say in how they were governed. Resistance to Monarchical absolutism in Britain, during the reign of Charles 1 in the 1640s for example, helped establish the importance of the parliament at Westminster. The rising class, the bourgeoisie used the parliament at Westminster to further their own class interests and set limits on the power of the King. The franchise however was limited; those able to vote were in a minority and there have been extensive struggles to extend the franchise since the time of Cromwell. The Chartists in the 1840s, the Suffragettes in the early twentieth century were part of the struggles to extend the franchise to working class males and to females respectively. In Australia, the Eureka rebellion helped spur the drive to extend the vote beyond those with wealth and property, though it was only males that were to get the vote. In sum, elections, parliaments and parliamentary politics were and are a limited progressive step on the path to democracy when compared with say Monarchical absolutism. Historically, parliaments, elections and parliamentary politics further particular class interests, and these are the interests of the dominant class. This holds true to the present day and wherever parliamentarism is held up as the zenith of political development.
Returning to the questions posed above, regarding the superficial and extensive nature of the coverage of elections and parliamentary procedures, there are a number of reasons for this.
For mainstream political reportage, parliament and bourgeois politics are the only games in town. It is not necessary to delve too deeply into the shortcomings of bourgeois democracy because for most journalists parliamentarism is democracy. There may be some problems, but that is often passed off as due to individual personalities, the adversarial nature of Australian parliaments and so on. In short, for bourgeois commentators, the parliamentary system is essentially fine; it just needs to be slightly reformed or tinkered with to bring it back to democratic good health.
Nowhere in mainstream representations of the ‘talking shop’ that is Federal parliament is there any in-depth critical analysis of the limitations of what passes for politics. Mainstream media companies are businesses, in many cases big businesses with vested interests in perpetuating the political, economic, social and cultural conditions of 21st century capitalism. One need only think of Murdoch’s empire to begin to understand why there’s no critical analysis of the shortcomings of bourgeois democracy. Capitalists like Murdoch benefit from the deception that is parliamentary politics. Real decisions are made in capitalist boardrooms. The wall to wall superficial coverage of such things as Super Saturday by-elections help deceive people into believing that elections, parliament and parliamentary politics can really make a difference to working people’s lives. They do not and will not; bourgeois political systems exist to serve bourgeois class interests.
The path to real democracy can only begin when the working class of Australia understands how duplicitous parliamentarism and bourgeois democracy really is and initiates its own democratic bodies.