Row 1: Budget Coverage. Row 2: Budget Reply Coverage

Top Row: Budget Coverage. Bottom Row: Budget Reply Coverage

By Paul Davis

May 29, 2013

The second Tuesday in May saw the Federal Government hand down the 2013-14 Federal Budget, with the Federal Opposition budget reply the following Thursday. While some people may be avid budget followers and analyse the speeches and budget papers, chances are the majority of Australian’s rely on the media to inform them. It is probably fair to say the media is the lens through which the majority of the public frame their opinion of Federal Parliament. This line of thinking can lead to an interesting series of questions to be explored, such as is the media reporting facts, or opinion, and how does one tell the difference?

In early May Margo Kingston published The Press Gallery contemplates reform: Join the conversation. I was stunned to learn that the list of people who form the Parliamentary Press Gallery is not publicly available. This meant I had no way of knowing who is helping to frame public opinion as to happenings in Parliament. In lieu of having such a list, I thought I would examine two reporters, Malcolm Farr, and Michelle Grattan, who Wikipedia has as members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. How did these two reporters inform the public on the budget and the budget reply? Building word clouds of their articles (using Wordle), does a picture allow distillation of anything new from that which is written.

Malcolm Farr

The following two images are word clouds for Malcolm’s Federal Budget 2013: Wayne Swan says budget balance between austerity and spending is right and Budget reply: Low earners to pay for Abbott cuts.

Farr Budget piece

Farr Budget piece

This article has many of the words (around 50{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3}) which are direct quotations from the budget speech.


Farr Budget Reply

Farr Budget Reply piece

Around 30{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} of this article is quotations. The word “robbing” caught my eye, the context being:

He continued the Opposition’s attacks on such measures as abolition of the Baby Bonus, “attacks on Medicare” and “robbing Peter to pay Paul on education”.

Michelle Grattan

Michelle’s Federal Budget 2013: The slow road to the black, and Grattan on Friday: Suddenly, Tony can’t stop saying yes, are displayed as word clouds below.

Grattan Budget piece

Grattan Budget piece

Less than 5{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} of the content of this article is made up of quotations. The word “hypocrisy” stood out, the context being:

“The budget night changes are sensible and will be another test for the opposition. Shadow treasurer Joe Hockey has frequently criticised the “entitlement” mentality. If the opposition attacks these measures, it will be an exercise in hypocrisy.”


Grattan Budget Reply piece

Grattan Budget Reply piece

This article has less than 1{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} quotations. This article mentions Abbott 13 times, one more than Government (12), which is the same frequency as in the previous word cloud.

Obviously I found the use of quotations interesting. Malcolm made heavy use of quotations as content within the articles: the budget speech article around 50{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} quotations compared to the budget reply with around 30{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3}. Michelle on the other hand has around 5{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} quotations as content in the budget speech article, and less than 1{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} in the budget reply article. The opinion I formed was Malcolm’s articles were more ‘factual’, given the quotations, compared to Michelle’s which appeared to be more opinion/analysis. Of course, this in turn is an opinion, and whether this is a good or a bad thing is up to the reader of course. I also found it interesting neither author provided links to the budget speech or the budget reply. This means the reader would have to go searching for the source of news for their article.