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Focus question 3: How can Australian citizens influence the media and how does the media influence governments and political parties?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Recent issues in the media ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: The Tasmanian Wilderness Society and the media ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Media coverage of the blockade ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: True and fair? ESL Activity 4
Assessment task ESL Assessment task
Assessment criteria  
Activity 5: Effect of media campaign ESL Activity 5
Activity 6: Tasmanians' opinion of the dam  


The concern of national politicians about the destruction of a wilderness area was not simply a result of principle or belief. They were responding to growing public pressure. For example, writing 'No dams' on ballot papers, first done in the Tasmanian referendum, spread to mainland elections. In the ACT election of 1982, 41 per cent of voters wrote 'No dams' on their ballot papers. This groundswell of public opposition to the dam did not just happen; it was the result of a skilful campaign and one the most influential elements of the campaign was the use of the media.

Activity 1: Recent issues in the media

In a small group discuss public issues that have recently attracted media attention. Record your answers to 1a to 1e below, for reporting back to the class (1f).

1a Make a list of the issues your group identified. Choose one issue that your group knows most about for further discussion.

1b Has the issue been brought to the attention of the media by an individual, a political party or an interest group? What is their position on the issue?

1c Are there any other individuals, groups or parties supporting or opposing the view you identified above? Have they received media attention?

1d Which side is receiving most media attention? Why?

1e What attracts media attention and coverage of an issue?

1f Share your discussions with the class.


Activity 2: The Tasmanian Wilderness Society and the media

Read the sources below, watch the video again, and use the Stories of Democracy CD ROM. Your teacher may wish to divide the sources and extracts among the groups.

2a In small groups make a list of all the methods the Tasmanian Wilderness Society used to influence public opinion through the use of the media.

Use these headings in your analysis of the sources. Not every heading will apply to every source.

  • How the media coverage or use of the media might have influenced public opinion.
  • How the media coverage or use of the media might have influenced government.
  • The likely success of the media coverage or use of the media for the Tasmanian Wilderness Society cause.
  • What the source itself says about the media.
  • How the Tasmanian Wilderness Society is using the media or encouraging it to take up the issue.

Sources on Stories of Democracy CD ROM to use:

  • video: Tasmanian Wilderness Society Last Wild River.
  • Bob Brown interview

Parts of the video to use

  • interviews with Bob Brown
  • Organisation for Tasmanian Development meeting
  • Organisation for Tasmanian Development demonstration
  • other anti-dam demonstrations
  • Bob Brown's arrest
  • Lorraine Bayley and Bob Brown leading anti-dam demonstration
  • pro-dam demonstrations
  • interviews with Don Chipp and Norm Sanders following their rafting trip down the Franklin
  • politicians addressing rallies
  • Bob Hawke's 'election' speech
  • David Bellamy's arrest

Keep a record of your work like the following (some pointers have been provided as a guide for one of the pieces of footage on the video):



Footage of Bob Brown and Lorraine Bayley leading march

How this media coverage might influence public opinion

  • Appeal of leaders: the actress Lorraine Bayley is used because ... Bob Brown is referred to as ... This would make people think ...
  • Dress of leaders: The two leaders are dressed quite formally. This is because ...
  • Size of march: The large numbers of demonstrators would make people think ...
  • Behaviour of demonstrators: The demonstrators are all marching peacefully. This would make people think ...

How this media coverage might influence government action

People watching this media coverage might ... This might concern governments because ...

The likely success of the media coverage for the Tasmanian Wilderness Society cause

TV news coverage of this event would have made people think ...

The Tasmanian Wilderness Society and the media

Source 1

The Society [Tasmanian Wilderness Society] has the skill of knowing exactly what the media wants and when. Press releases have been landing on radio news desks, for example, in exactly the right format for reporting ... Media workshops ... throughout Australia teach members how to use television to their advantage ...

News report, ABC TV, 9/2/1983.

Source 2

Extract 1

Film is a means of public and political education ... Film of beautiful places allows those places to speak for themselves ... Film is a weapon for conservation for which the destroyer has no answer ... We can debate economics and employment, and of course it's very important that the homework gets done there too, but - ultimately - we may arrive at a standoff, with the public confused. But as far as the natural beauty of the area is concerned ... there's nothing to counter that.

Brown, Bob 1984, 'Wilderness versus hydro-electricity in South West Tasmania' in Fighting for Wilderness, Fontana Books, pp 60-1.
Courtesy Habitat/Australian Conservation Foundation.

Extract 2

(While you can get hundreds of people to an area if you've got time in a campaign, you can get the same area to millions of people through film.) The television stations begged for it - they loved it. If you can take some film, cut it into the best bits, and give them a 3 minute selected clip (well labelled), they'll use it time and time again. There is nothing more productive for any conservation campaign than to have film in the hands of the TV stations ... and that they get fresh film as the campaign proceeds.

Brown, 1984, p 60.
Courtesy Habitat/Australian Conservation Foundation.

Extract 3

It is very important to appear conservative because that allows people to relate to our message rather than to see us as different, strange or threatening ... The first thing we might need to do to save a mountain, is have a haircut - or grow it longer, depending on which sex we are ... Appearance is never more important than when a TV camera is aimed at you.

Brown, 1984, pp 61-2.
Courtesy Habitat/Australian Conservation Foundation.

Extract 4

[Talking about wording and sloganeering] ... Stridency goes down like a lead balloon. It turns people off in their thousands. Clenched fists, or even chanting, or strident sloganeering ... must be avoided at all costs because it frightens people.

Brown, 1984, p 62.
Courtesy Habitat/Australian Conservation Foundation.

Extract 5

Media classes, run by ourselves [the Tasmanian Wilderness Society] were important right at the start. We went to the local college of advanced education. We asked local TV journalists to help. We had TV cameras pointed at us ...

Brown, 1984, p 63.
Courtesy Habitat/Australian Conservation Foundation.

Extract 6

It is very good to know how to write media releases. We had classes on that too. They're simple. You put the date at the top, a headline, and the main message is in the first line; a message which is positive ... When the time came for the Franklin Blockade in Tasmania, we had a dozen people on occasions making media releases, doing interviews and speaking before TV cameras. All those people had in one way or another been practised.

Brown, 1984, p 63.
Courtesy Habitat/Australian Conservation Foundation.

Extract 7

[We used] marketing methods which are the underpinnings of big business. For instance, we knew before the Franklin Blockade ... that most people in Australia thought it reasonable to try to stop bulldozers destroying the wilderness, provided we were not destructive ourselves. We took regular opinion polls. We even surveyed pro-dam people to gauge their perception of the campaign and to help us home-in on the most telling economic and employment arguments against the dam.

Brown, 1984, p 67.
Courtesy Habitat/Australian Conservation Foundation.

Source 3

Extract 1

The blockade's aim was to draw national attention to the fate of the Franklin. Few illusions were held about its potential to stop the work ...

As 14 December dawned the action began ... Well before sunrise the Wilderness Society's high speed 'shark cat' had raced across Macquarie Harbour and onto the lower Gordon. It was packed with members of the print and electronic media. If all was to go according to plan, the blockaders would emerge from the forest by noon in order to allow the arrests to be made and the news film to be back at Strahan in time for the evening news bulletins all over Australia.

Thompson, Peter 1984, Bob Brown of the Franklin River, George Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, pp 161, 162.

Extract 2

Brown was arrested along with 48 others ... Before a television audience of millions Brown shook hands with the arresting officer. It was an odd sight. Brown wore a pullover and tie, much more suited to the city than the river.

Thompson, 1984, p 166.

Source 4

Professor David Bellamy is a British botanist and TV personality who, until this issue arose, had refused to involve himself in political issues despite constant requests. He flew to Australia to take part in the blockade.

The operation was carried out with the precision of a military manoeuvre ... One film crew, complete with decoy 'David Bellamy', approached Warner's landing from one direction, and another, with the real me, came in from another. I was thus able to step off the front of the boat right in front of the bulldozer where I was arrested ... When a police officer arrested me I knew that my journey across the world had been worthwhile. All that the members of the Wilderness Society had worked for so long to achieve was now ready to be flashed to news programmes the world over.

Bellamy, David 1983, from an interview in Queenstown gaol, David Rudder, Blockader, The Wilderness Society, Hobart.

Source 5

The first aim of the blockade was to force a federal Government to intervene according to its responsibilities under the Australian Heritage commission Act of 1975 ... Tactically the action of the blockade was aimed at generating both short- and long-term publicity, which would act on politicians directly, and through pressure from the electorate, indirectly.

McQueen, J 1983, Franklin - Not Just a River, Penguin Books Australia, p 30.

Activity 3: Media coverage of the blockade

3a What does Source 5 say was the main aim of the blockade? How was it to be achieved?

3b Why would the media have been so willing to cover the blockade? Think back to the video to help with your answer.

3c Why would the Tasmanian Wilderness Society have used celebrities and famous people to help their cause?

3d In Source 4, why would the Tasmanian Wilderness Society have gone to the trouble of using a decoy David Bellamy as well as a real one?

3e Use the sources to work out how the Wilderness Society was able to afford to do things like own boats and property, bring David Bellamy to Australia, and undertake media courses.

Stories of Democracy

Activity 4: True and fair?

Draw on your work from the Stories of Democracy CD ROM, the video and the sources above to answer these questions.

4a Why was there so much media attention on Bob Brown? Would that have helped the Tasmanian Wilderness Society or not? Why or why not?

4b Is there any evidence of the media misrepresenting or putting a particular slant on events. If so, why did they do this?

4c Do any of the sources provide a view that appears to be untrustworthy or biased? Which ones? Why?

4d Was it a 'fair fight'? Was democracy well served? (Think about the complaint of the pro-dam demonstrators on the video, that they had difficulty gaining media attention.)

Assessment task

In small groups design a media campaign for the pro-dam lobby using some of the techniques used by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. The campaign is to take effect from 1980.

Each individual should:

  • write one media release (use Source 2, Extract 6 as a guide; Internet home page sites for political parties also provide models)
  • develop a pamphlet to support the cause.

Make sure that your media releases and pamphlets complement each other; don't all cover the same things! For example, one person might do a media release that deals with power needs and economic benefits; another might cover a pro-dam rally and the views of demonstrators; another might cover a speech or announcement made by a politician.

As a group:

  • develop a plan of action for influencing public opinion in the lead-up to an election, including:

- deciding which groups in the community you should target
- what methods you will use
- how you will fund your campaign
- who you will use to 'front' or support your campaign.

  • develop a storyboard for television footage that presents your point of view in one minute. Include:

- visuals (refer to the beginning of the video for ideas; and think of others)
- an interview (state the position and the name of the person to be interviewed)
- questions to be asked
- main points to be made.

Assessment criteria

Individual work will be assessed on:

  • using the pamphlet and media release to convey persuasive messages
  • supporting your messages with accurate information
  • choosing from among the Tasmanian Wilderness Society tactics those most likely to be effective with the groups you are targeting.

Group work will be assessed on:

  • pamphlets and media releases completed by individuals in the group complementing each other
  • all tasks outlined for the group being completed
  • the campaign strategy using a range of strategies that are appropriate to the target groups
  • the storyboard presenting a persuasive and convincing message through visuals and interviews.

Activity 5: Effect of media campaign

5a What conclusions can you draw from Source 6 about the effectiveness of the Wilderness Society's national campaign against the dam?

Source 6

This opinion poll was conducted over the two weekends in December 1982 just before the beginning of the blockade. Two thousand and sixty-one people throughout Australia were asked: 'Do you approve or disapprove of the proposed dam for hydro-electricity to be built in the wilderness of south-west Tasmania?' The same question had been asked a year earlier. The second table shows a breakdown of responses to these questions by State.

Do you approve or disapprove of the proposed dam for hydro-electricity to be built in the wilderness of south-west Tasmania?

  December 1982
November 1981
Approve dam 31 42
Disapprove dam 42 38
Don't know 27 20

'Poll shows majority oppose south-west dam', Hobart Mercury 18/12/1982, p 2.
Davies Brothers/The Mercury.

State breakdown of results from above.

  All people
Approve dam 31 36 29 26 23 20 69 29 34
Disapprove dam 42 38 49 37 47 41 27 46 36
Don't know 27 26 22 37 30 39 4 25 30

'Poll shows majority oppose south-west dam', Hobart Mercury 18/12/1982, p 2.
Davies Brothers/The Mercury.

Activity 6: Tasmanians' opinion of the dam

6a What are Robin Gray's main arguments against the dam in Sources 7 and 8?

Source 7

Anyone, be it the Federal Government, Tasmanian Wilderness Society leader Dr Brown and his cronies - will have a massive fight on their hands if they try to obstruct the will of the people in Tasmania ...

Conservationists training for the south-west blockade are like guerilla forces in third-world countries.

The Tasmanian people have spoken [referring to the referendum and the vote for the Liberal Party which was more strongly pro-dam than was the Labor Party]. Only one isolated group, determined to get its way through misinformation, obstruction and, if need be, violence, has not come to terms with the reality of the situation in this state.

Press statement of the Office of Premier Robin Gray, 14/10/1982, cited in Thompson, Peter 1984, Bob Brown of the Franklin River, George Allen & Unwin, North Sydney, p 159.

Source 8

The Premier of Tasmania, Mr Gray, addressed the meeting [a pro-dam rally]

I'm proud because I see before me Tasmanians standing up and saying 'This is our State ... we'll make the decisions' ...

We Tasmanians are determined that the power scheme will go ahead ...

My Government is not going to stand by and let a minority group dictate to us and stop what is an important project for Tasmania's economic future and stop us creating thousands of jobs.

'3,000 attend pro-dam rally in Queenstown', Canberra Times, 13/12/1982.

6b In Source 6, look at the views of Tasmanians surveyed compared with those of Australians in other States and discuss these questions as a class:

  • Why might Tasmanians have become such firm supporters of the dam? In 1979 a Tasmanian opinion poll showed 28 per cent favoured and 53 per cent opposed the building of the dam. (Sources 7 and 8 might provide one answer.)
  • Which Australians would be most affected by the building (or stopping the building) of the dam?
  • Were there more Australians opposed to the building of the dam or supporting it?
  • How should a decision be made? On the basis of numbers alone? Should the people the dam will most affect have more say?
  • Think back to the way people are represented in Australia's national parliament. In the House of Representatives the States with the most people have more say whereas in the Senate each State has an equal say. Does that give a small State like Tasmania a fair voice against a massive popular movement and media campaign designed to oppose something Tasmanians wanted? We will examine this issue more fully in Focus question 4.

ESL activities

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