20/06/2006 - 22:00

Decision makers in the court of public opinion

20/06/2006 - 22:00


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The editor of Perth’s only daily newspaper, The West Australian, is one of the most influential people in the state.

Decision makers in the court of public opinion

The editor of Perth’s only daily newspaper, The West Australian, is one of the most influential people in the state.

The current editor, Paul Armstrong, operates in an activist, campaigning style, picking issues and running hard with them.

The West Australian often acts as the de facto political opposition, throwing its resources at selected issues to mount sustained attacks on its chosen targets, which are usually state government ministers or their appointees, such as Health Department boss Neale Fong and Water Corporation chairman Tim Ungar.

The West Australian certainly dominates the daily news agenda in Perth, with radio and TV stations often taking their lead from the morning headlines.

It is harder to determine whether The West also leads public opinion.

It may seem flippant to suggest, but cartoonists can play an important role in shaping public attitudes and perceptions.

The West’s long-serving cartoonist, Dean Alston, is held in high regard and his cartoons – rather than the headlines on page one – often spark follow-up discussions in the community.

Not many other media players have a platform to lead public opinion. Two contenders are the hosts of morning talkback radio.

6PR’s Liam Bartlett effectively has the field to himself at the moment, after moving from the ABC earlier this year, since his permanent replacement has not yet commenced.

Mr Bartlett’s predecessor at 6PR, former editor of the  The West Australian, Paul Murray, may have lost his radio platform but he is still considered an opinion leader in the media via his columns in The West Australian.

More generally, Mr Murray is well known and generally respected around Perth as a social and political commentator.

John Curtin Institute for Public Policy executive director Greg Craven has built a national profile as a commentator on constitutional and political issues.

Another person who has been given a highly influential public position is barrister Wayne Martin QC, who was appointed WA’s chief justice in May.

Mr Martin has outlined plans for substantial reform of the justice system and, subject to his constraints as a judicial officer, is expected to figure more prominently in public debate over the judicial system.

Barry Marshall has become the latest scientist in WA to gain a high public profile, following on from Australians of the year Fiona Stanley and Fiona Wood.

As a Nobel Prize winner, Professor Marshall has been given a public platform to speak out on issues of interest.

He has also agreed to work with the state government as an international ambassador to promote the state’s emerging biotechnology industry across the globe.


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