Australians are less interested in news and consume less of it compared to other countries, survey finds



More Australians rely on just one source to get their news.
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Caroline Fisher, University of Canberra; Glen Fuller, University of Canberra; Jee Young Lee; Sora Park, University of Canberra, and Yoonmo Sang, University of Canberra

Australian news consumers access news less often and have lower interest in it compared to citizens in many other countries. At the same time, Australians are more likely to think the news media are doing a good job keeping them up to date and explaining what’s happening.

These findings are contained in the Digital News Report: Australia 2019. In its fifth year, the Digital News Report Australia is part of a 38-country survey coordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

In comparison to the other countries, the survey of 2,010 online adults shows that Australian news consumers:

  • are the “lightest” news consumers out of 38 countries
  • use fewer sources to access news
  • are less interested in news and politics
  • are more likely to subscribe to Netflix than news
  • are less likely to check the accuracy of a story.



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‘Light’ consumers of news

The survey finds almost half (48%) of Australian news consumers are “light” users, who access news once a day or less, whereas the global average across the 38-countries was one-third (34%).

Correspondingly, Australia also has the lowest number of “heavy” news consumers, who access news more than once a day, at 52%. This is compared to an average of 66% across the other countries.

Participants were asked how often they typically access news, meaning national, international, regional/local news and other topical events accessed via any platform (radio, TV, newspaper or online).
Author provided

Reliance on a single news source

Australians also use fewer sources or platforms to access news. Just one third say they get their news from four or more sources, such as online, social media, TV, newspapers, social media and so on. This is well below the 38-country average of 44%.

More Australians rely on just one source to get their news (21%), which is higher than the 38-country average (17%). Only three other countries in the survey (Japan, South Korea and the US) have more people relying on just one source to access news than Australia.

The data tell us that Australians who rely on just one source of news also tend to consume less of it. Those who use four or more sources to get their news, also seek news more often.

Participants were asked which, if any, of the following they have used in the last week as a source of news.
Author provided

Preference for Netflix over news

Globally, news consumers are more likely to pay for video streaming services such as Netflix than news, but Australians have a stronger preference for entertainment over news than consumers in other countries.

More than a third (34%) of Australians say they would prioritise a subscription for a video streaming service, compared to an average of 28% across 16 countries where the question was asked. Only 9% of Australians say they would choose online news first.

This year, survey participants were asked whether they thought the news media in their country was doing a good job across five areas:

  • scrutiny
  • relevance
  • negativity
  • keeping them up to date
  • explaining.

Australians delivered a mixed report card on these questions and the results vary compared to the global average. On a positive note, two-thirds of Australian news consumers (66%) agree the news keeps them up to date, which compares favourably to the global average of 62%.

But Australian news consumers are also more likely to think the news is too negative (44%) compared to the country average (39%). Australians are also slightly more likely to agree that the news is not relevant to them (28%) compared to the international average of 25%.

Participants were asked to indicate whether they thought the news media in their country was doing a good job or not according to five criteria.
Author provided

According to the data, perceptions of news performance are strongly influenced by age and gender. Younger news consumers are the least likely to feel the news is relevant to them, particularly Gen Z women. This points to opportunities for more content that speaks to this age group.

Significantly, Australian news consumers who rely on legacy media for their main source of news, such as TV and newspapers, are more likely to think journalism is performing well. This highlights the ongoing importance of well-resourced traditional news brands as part of the hybrid mix of online and offline news sources.




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Australians are less interested in politics

The lower rates of news consumption in Australia can perhaps be explained by the fact that Australian news consumers are less interested in both news and politics.

58% of Australians say they have a high interest in news, which is below the 38-country average (60%). When compared to other English-speaking democratic countries (UK, US, Canada and Ireland), Australians and Canadians are the least interested in news, and Americans and UK news consumers are the most interested (67%).

Australians are also slightly less interested in politics. Two thirds of Australians (65%) said they have little or no interest in politics, compared to 63% across the other countries. In contrast, Turkish news consumers have the highest interest in politics (67%) and Malaysians the lowest (19%).

When compared to other English-speaking democratic countries Australians are the least interested in politics, and news consumers in the US are the most interested (59%).

Participants were asked how interested, if at all, they would say they are in politics.
Author provided

Analysis of the data clearly shows that interest in politics is one of the strongest indicators of engagement with news. Those who are interested in politics are more likely to have a high interest in news, access it often, use more sources, have higher trust in it and are more likely to pay for it.

Participants were asked their MAIN source of news, how interested they would say they are in news, and how interested they would say they are in politics.
Author provided

The connection between political interest and news interest is supported by a range of academic studies examining citizen participation in politics and the role of the news media. Generally speaking, the research finds a reciprocal relationship, but some types of news consumption inspire greater interest in politics than others.

A 2018 study found those who rely on commercial TV for news, rather than a public broadcaster, have lower interest in politics. Given the high rates of commercial TV news consumption in Australia this might help partly explain the lower interest in both news and politics – but this requires further research.

Interest in news by age and gender

It’s possible that people’s interest in news and politics has been displaced. Rather than adverse events causing people to disconnect, their interest and attention has been drawn to other things. This is the primary thesis of the “attention economy”, and we see evidence of this in the levels of interest in news between genders and generations, and the platforms they tend to get news from.

Participants were asked how interested, if at all, they would say they are in news.
Author provided

Women and Gen Z have lower interest in news, but they are also more likely to get their news from social media than men, and older generations. Whereas, men and older generations are better conditioned to engage with politics and news via traditional channels.




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Trust in news and politics is low overall

A further contributor to Australians’ low interest in news could well be the general malaise among the Australian population toward the news media and politics. Research shows trust in politics, politicians and the news media to be at an all-time low.

This year’s Digital News Report also finds general trust in news is low, at 44%. Trust in news found on social media (18%) and search engines (32%) is even lower. Given that more Australians (57%) use online sources as the main source for news, this isn’t surprising.

Over the past year, there has been a lot of turbulence in the news media, with takeovers, closures, job losses and a leadership crisis at the national public broadcaster. This general turmoil in the news media was echoed in the corridors of power, with a third prime minister installed in as many years.

This overall climate of instability reflects a degraded political and news environment, which can be seen in some of the findings this year.The Conversation

Caroline Fisher, Assistant Professor in Journalism, University of Canberra; Glen Fuller, Associate Professor Communications and Media, University of Canberra; Jee Young Lee, Research Associate; Sora Park, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Arts & Design, University of Canberra, and Yoonmo Sang, Assistant Professor, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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To protect press freedom, we need more public outrage – and an overhaul of our laws



This week’s police raids have forced us to think again about the role of the media in a democracy.
David Gray/AAP

Peter Greste, The University of Queensland

A few days ago, Waleed Aly asked a not-so-rhetorical question in The Sydney Morning Herald. He wondered how many Australians were worried about the fact that the Australian Federal Police had spent a good portion of this week raiding the offices and homes of journalists who’ve published stories clearly in the public interest.

His conclusion? Not many. He went on to argue that it is because we have developed a culture of accepting excessive state power, with no real thought about the consequences for civil liberties or the functioning of our democracy.

Sadly, I would have to agree with Aly, but as with so many surveys, the answer you get depends on the question you ask.

What if we asked, “Hands up who feels comfortable with relying on the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds of our politicians and departmental spokespeople for information about what our government is up to? Who thinks that is a good way to run a democracy?” Then, I bet you’d get a very different answer.




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I agree that Australian media are hardly trusted by the public, but I am also convinced that most Australians recognise the need for some kind of independent watchdog keeping track of politicians and the government on our behalf. It might be imperfect and messy, but a free press has performed that role well enough to keep us broadly on track for much of our history.

Earlier this week, my colleague and fellow University of Queensland researcher Rebecca Ananian-Welsh laid out the intricate web of national security laws passed in recent years that collectively serve to straight-jacket journalists and threaten legitimate whistle-blowing.

In a number of research projects, we have been looking at both these laws and their impact on reporting, and while we still have a long way to go, the early results suggest something deeply troubling.

While they may have helped shore up national security, the laws have also led to a net loss of transparency and accountability. It has become harder for journalists to reach and protect sources and keep track of wrong-doing by government officials. It has also become harder for them to safely publish in the public interest without risking long years in prison or cripplingly expensive and traumatic court cases.




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An overhaul of Australia’s legal landscape

My organisation, the Alliance for Journalists Freedom, has published a white paper that offers a better way of balancing those two crucial elements of our democracy – national security and press freedom.

The most important of its seven recommendations is a Media Freedom Act. Australia has no legal or constitutional protection for press freedom. It isn’t even formally recognised in law; the High Court has merely inferred that we have a right to “political communication.”

That needs to change. The AJF is proposing a law that would write press freedom into the DNA of our legal system. It would both prevent our legislators from unnecessarily restricting journalists from doing their jobs and give judges a benchmark they can use whenever they are adjudicating cases that deal with media freedom issues.

That alone isn’t enough though. The second recommendation in the white paper calls for changes to the national security laws themselves.

Currently, many of the current laws that Ananian-Welsh laid out in her article include a “public interest” defence for journalists. But as we have seen in this week’s raids, that does nothing to stop the AFP from trawling through journalists’ documents for sources and forcing everyone into court.




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Instead, there should be an exemption for journalists and their sources when reporting on matters of public interest.

That isn’t to suggest that journalists should be immune, though. Rather, the onus should be shifted to the authorities to show why the public interest defence should not apply. It is also important that the exemption include whistleblowers.

Beyond national security, there are a host of other laws that have contributed to a wide culture of secrecy at odds with the principles of open government.

Payouts under defamation laws now routinely run to millions, potentially destroying news organisations and chilling further investigative work. Shield laws that allow journalists to protect their sources in court are also inconsistent across states and need to be strengthened.

Suppression orders that judges use to smother reporting of certain court cases are being applied with alarming frequency and urgently need review. And whistleblower legislation needs to be strengthened to encourage and protect anybody speaking out about wrongdoing in government or elsewhere.

While the raids of the past week have been shocking, they have forced us all to think again about the role of the media in a democracy. If it leads to better legislation that both protects national security and media freedom, then some good might have come out of it after all.The Conversation

Peter Greste, Professor of Journalism and Communications, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the raids on Australian media present a clear threat to democracy



On Wednesday, the AFP raided the ABCs Sydney headquarters in relation to the 2017 “Afghan files” report.
AAP/David Gray

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, The University of Queensland

The Australian Federal Police has this week conducted two high-profile raids on journalists who have exposed government secrets and their sources.

On Tuesday, seven AFP officers spent several hours searching News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s Canberra home, her mobile phone and computer. The AFP linked the raid to “the alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret”.

This stemmed from Smethurst’s 2018 article, which contained images of a “top secret” memo and reported that senior government officials were considering moves to empower the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to covertly monitor Australian citizens for the first time.

Soon after, 2GB Radio Presenter Ben Fordham revealed he had been notified by the Department of Home Affairs that he was the subject of a similar investigation, aimed at identifying the source of classified information he had reported regarding intercepted boat arrivals.

And then on Wednesday, the AFP raided the ABC’s Sydney headquarters. This dramatic development was in connection with the 2017 “Afghan files” report based on “hundreds of pages of secret defence force documents leaked to the ABC”. These documents revealed disturbing allegations of misconduct by Australian special forces.

The reaction to the raids was immediate and widespread.

The New York Times quoted News Corp’s description of the Smethurst raid as “a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths”. The Prime Minister was quick to distance his government from the AFP’s actions, while opposition leader Anthony Albanese condemned the raids.

But to those familiar with the ever-expanding field of Australian national security law, these developments were unlikely to surprise. In particular, enhanced data surveillance powers and a new suite of secrecy offences introduced in late 2018 had sparked widespread concern over the future of public interest journalism in Australia.

The crackdown of the past few days reveals that at least two of the core fears expressed by lawyers and the media industry were well-founded: first, the demise of source confidentiality and, secondly, a chilling effect on public interest journalism.

Source confidentiality

Upon finding out he was the subject of an investigation aimed at uncovering his sources of government information, Ben Fordham declared

The chances of me revealing my sources is zero. Not today, not tomorrow, next week or next month. There is not a hope in hell of that happening.

Source confidentiality is one of journalists’ most central ethical principles. It is recognised by the United Nations and is vital to a functioning democracy and free, independent, robust and effective media.

One of the greatest threats to source confidentiality is Australia’s uniquely broad data surveillance framework. The 2015 metadata retention scheme requires that all metadata (that is, data about a device or communication but not, say, the communication itself) be retained for two years. It may then be covertly accessed by a wide array of government agencies without a warrant. Some reports suggest that by late 2018, some 350,000 requests for access to metadata were being received by telecommunications service providers each year.




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The government was not blind to the potential impact of this scheme on source confidentiality. For example, obtaining metadata relating to a journalist’s mobile phone could reveal where they go and who they contact and easily point to their sources.

This led to the introduction of the “Journalist Information Warrant” (JIW). This warrant is required if an agency wishes to access retained metadata for the direct purpose of identifying a professional journalist’s source.

So, access to a professional journalist’s metadata in order to identify a confidential source is permitted, provided the access has a particular criminal investigation or enforcement purpose and the agency can show it is in the public interest and therefore obtain a JIW.

This week’s raids suggest that either JIWs could not be obtained in relation to Smethurst, Fordham or the ABC Journalists, or the journalists’ metadata did not reveal their sources, or the AFP did not attempt to access their metadata.

Alternatively, if metadata had identified the journalists’ sources, it is less clear why these dramatic developments took place.

After 2015, journalists were advised to avoid using their mobile devices in source communications. They were also encouraged, wherever possible, to encrypt communications.

But in 2018, the government went some way to closing down this option when it introduced the complex and highly controversial Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018.

As well as expanding computer access and network access warrants, the Act provided a means for government agencies to co-opt those in the telecommunications industry to assist agencies with their investigations. This could include covertly installing weaknesses and vulnerabilities in specific devices, circumventing passwords or allowing encrypted communications to be decrypted. A warrant would then be required to access the device and communication data.

It is impossible to know whether Australian journalists have been targeted under the Act or had weaknesses or spyware installed on their personal devices. This week’s raids suggest the AFP would be prepared to target journalists under this framework in order to identify journalists’ confidential sources.

However, this could only be done for some purposes, including in the investigation of a secrecy offence.

Secrecy offences

In June 2018, the government introduced a suite of new espionage, foreign interference and secrecy offences. This included an offence of current or former Commonwealth officers communicating information, obtained by virtue of their position, likely to cause harm to Australia’s interests. This offence is punishable by imprisonment for seven years. If the information is security classified or the person held a security classification, then they may have committed an “aggravated offence” and be subject to ten years’ imprisonment.

This week’s raids reveal just how common it is for public interest journalism to rely on secret material and government sources.




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But the journalists themselves may also be facing criminal prosecution. The 2018 changes include a “general secrecy offence”, whereby it is an offence (punishable by imprisonment for five years) to communicate classified information obtained from a Commonwealth public servant. Fordham’s radio broadcast about intercepted boat arrivals was, for example, a clear communication of classified information.

Again, journalists are offered some protection. If prosecuted, a journalist can seek to rely on the “journalism defence” by proving that they dealt with the information as a journalist, and that they reasonably believed the communication to be in the public interest. The meaning of “public interest” is unclear and, in this context, untested. However, it will take into account the public interest in national security and government integrity secrecy concerns as well as openness and accountability.

Protecting media freedom

Australia has more national security laws than any other nation. It is also the only liberal democracy lacking a Charter of Human Rights that would protect media freedom through, for example, rights to free speech and privacy.

In this context, journalists are in a precarious position – particularly journalists engaged in public interest journalism. This journalism is vital to government accountability and a vibrant democracy, but has a tense relationship with Australia’s national interests as conceived by government.

National security law has severely undercut source confidentiality by increasing and easing data surveillance. National security laws have also criminalised a wide array of conduct related to the handling of sensitive government information, both by government officers and the general public.

And these laws are just a few parts of a much larger national security framework that includes: control orders, preventative detention orders, ASIO questioning and detention warrants, secret evidence, and offences of espionage, foreign interference, advocating or supporting terrorism, and more.

JIWs, and the inclusion of a journalism defence to the secrecy offence, recognise the importance of a free press. However, each of these protections relies on a public interest test. When government claims of national security and the integrity of classifications is weighed into this balance, it is difficult to see how other interests might provide an effective counterbalance.

One of the most disturbing outcomes is not prosecutions or even the raids themselves, but the chilling of public interest journalism. Sources are less likely to come forward, facing risk to themselves and a high likelihood of identification by government agencies. And journalists are less likely to run stories, knowing the risks posed to their sources and perhaps even to themselves.

Against this background, the calls for a Media Freedom Act, such as by the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, have gained significant traction. It may take this kind of bold statement to cut across the complexities of individual laws and both recognise and protect the basic freedom of the press and the future of public interest journalism in Australia.The Conversation

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Enough ‘gotcha’ campaign coverage. Here are five ways the media can better cover elections



One problem with our campaign coverage is that we’re too focused on the party leaders – the media should be covering the ministers more and going deeper into policy.
Dean Lewis/AAP

Rodney Tiffen, University of Sydney

The key to understanding media coverage of election campaigns is that the political parties are far more professional than the news organisations.

The reason is simple: for political parties, elections are make or break, determining their fate for the next three years; for the media, an election is just another story, admittedly a long-running and important story, but not an organisation-transforming event.

Because the parties have a clear aim and measure of success, each campaign is a learning experience. Although there are electoral ups and downs, their overall trajectory is towards constant improvement. The resultant professionalism is, of course, not often conducive to a healthier democracy, but it is dynamic.

In contrast, there seems to be little learning among the news media about how they might cover elections better.

I’ve identified five weaknesses in the approach of most mainstream media. I am highlighting here tendencies in the approach to news coverage, rather than, for example, the blatant and unrelenting partisan bias of News Corp publications. And obviously, both news organisations and individuals vary in the quality of their reporting.

1. Follow the leader

Media coverage of elections – especially television coverage – has always been leader-focused. This is logistically convenient and feeds into the narrative of a gladiatorial contest. But if this is the main news effort, it will always result in fairly circumscribed coverage.

At times, media outlets devote time to covering certain high-profile electorates, such as Warringah in this year’s election. Occasionally, some back-bencher or candidate will make the news, normally in an embarrassing way, as a result of digging by the other side’s “dirt unit” rather than any media initiative. But even then, the focus is on the leader’s response.




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We live in a parliamentary rather than presidential democracy, in which the good functioning of the cabinet is central to a government’s effectiveness. Instead of focusing so obsessively on the leaders, the media should give more attention to the whole front bench.

While there was much outcry about whether there would be a third leaders’ debate in this campaign, a much higher media priority should have been to demand ten minister-vs-shadow-minister debates about issues in each portfolio. These would not only have more substance than the leaders’ debates, they’d provide a much stronger guide to each party’s policy directions, and the competence of each team to govern.

In this campaign – but not always – this would have arguably favoured Labor, with Scott Morrison receiving support from so few Coalition ministers (Josh Frydenberg, Simon Birmingham and almost no others). It is amazing, for instance, that the environment could be such a central issue, but the environment minister, Melissa Price, was simply unavailable for any interviews.

There should be more election debates between ministers, such as this year’s spirited panel in South Australia featuring Penny Wong and Simon Birmingham.
David Mariuz/AAP

2. Conniving in meaningless figures

The political parties use statistics to impress, to alarm, and nearly always to bamboozle. With the honourable exception of the fact-checking teams, most media tend to either pass numbers on uncritically or have an indiscriminate suspicion of them – lies, damned lies and statistics.

The numbers cited in campaigns are usually so great and so remote from most peoples’ experience that they have little meaning. People generally do not know the size of the country’s labour force, the amount of government spending in any particular area, or the size of the economy.

A first step in making statistics meaningful for the public would be to contextualise them as proportions, and to perhaps offer some comparisons.

The situation has reached peak stupidity in recent campaigns. To go beyond the limits of annual sums, the idea of the forward estimates – the budget projections for revenue and expenses over a four-year period – was introduced. Conveniently for the parties, this was a year beyond the next election.

Then, former prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard escalated the tendency to project, for example, promising big increases in education spending, but with the largest amounts kicking in just beyond the forward estimates. The Morrison government has escalated the trend even further with ten-year estimates of its tax cut plan – a forecast that must involve so many assumptions, it is fanciful.

The proper use of statistics is an indispensable tool in evaluating policy performance. As such, the media need to develop protocols for keeping the parties accountable in their use of figures.




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The media should report primarily what the promise will mean for the next budget year and the next period of government, and should either ignore or downplay estimates beyond this, or at least give warnings about the unreliability of more distant projections.

Raw sums should also be supplemented by percentage amounts. And when funding pledges are made, the media should always ask how much of this money is new and whether it comes at the expense of an existing program.

3. The polls were so unanimous, so consistent and so wrong

The 2019 election was disastrous for the pollsters. Not only were the polls tightly clustered, not a single poll in the past two years had found the Coalition scoring 50% or better of the two-party preferred vote.

Some commentators found the degree of clustering so unusual, they suspected there was some herding by pollsters, aligning their published results with the apparent consensus.

The spectacular failure of the pollsters is not the fault of the media who commission them. But as the pollsters’ major clients, they must demand a thorough review of methods. Are the sampling frames still adequate? Are they relying too much on weighting the results?




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The media themselves can also aid in one important way. Having paid for the poll, they want a strong story to result. As a result, they are tempted to impose a misleading certainty on the flux of public opinion.

There needs to be both in the presentation and interpretation of polls more attention to lack of opinion, to those respondents who say they haven’t decided. The softness of opinion and how it is resolved may be crucial in affecting an election result.

4. History starts today

A common, but somewhat misplaced criticism, of the media is that they cover elections like horse races. But in addition to this, the media need to develop strategies for making election campaigns meaningful policy debates.

Political leaders everywhere have become increasingly adept at evading questions, at mastering and surviving the televised moment, with any problems in their claims only catching up to them later and to a much smaller audience.

The most convenient way for the media to cover policy pronouncements by the parties is as duels over alternative futures. If the parties are allowed to frame the debate, the benefits of their policies are often overstated and the costs and difficulties understated.

This is abetted by the media’s tendency to cover such promises in a vacuum. When politicians talk about future policy, the media rarely take the initiative to explore the extent and effectiveness of existing policy. Too often these debates are conducted as if no history has preceded them.

Good governance is about deciding priorities, weighing costs and benefits. But the media often want to play “gotcha” in their election coverage, as if policies are cost-free and have no losers. As long as this continues, there will be a disconnect between politicking and governing – and politicians will be rewarded for avoiding realistic debate.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten fronting the media during a press conference at Cairns hospital this month.
Lukas Coch/AAP

5. Superiority signalling

Virtue signalling, a recently coined phrase much in favour among right-wing commentators, means the conspicuous expression of moral values, intended more to show someone’s righteousness than to have any substantial effect.

We need a similar phrase – superiority signalling – to describe how the media position themselves as above the fray in their election coverage, substituting posturing for performing their role. Many times, they are overly concerned with signalling their impartiality, but in ways that do not further inform the public.

One way journalists do this is by opting for balance rather than truth. Reporting stories in a “he said, she said” fashion appears to be impartial, but leaves the audience little wiser. Another manifestation is “bothsides-ism.” Here, journalists highlight their neutrality by criticising both sides as if they are equivalent (which they sometimes are). But if they stop here and fail to probe further, the public learns little.

Another common way journalists signal their superiority is through their disdain for a boring campaign, as if this is the fault of the politicians, and not their own failure to make a campaign interesting. Politicians, after all, are not meant to be reviewed like vaudeville entertainers.

After this election, the major parties will review their strategies. The process will certainly be less than objective – especially in the blame game among the losers – but they will be thinking about what they can do differently next time. It would be nice to think the media will undertake a similar exercise, with a focus on how they can improve in ways that enhance democratic choice and accountability.The Conversation

Rodney Tiffen, Emeritus Professor, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From irreverence to irrelevance: the rise and fall of the bad-tempered tabloids



File 20190329 139352 3eylba.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Refusing to change with the times, Australia’s tabloids now cater to an aged, monocultural and alienated constituency.
Shutterstock

Rodney Tiffen, University of Sydney

“Kick this mob out” shouted the front page of The Daily Telegraph reporting the calling of the 2013 election in which Tony Abbott was to triumph. Restraint and modesty have never been the hallmarks of tabloid newspapers. Sometimes they celebrate what they claim is their impact – most famously when the London Sun proclaimed “It’s The Sun wot won it” after the 1992 Conservative victory.

But it is a long time since any tabloid newspaper could plausibly claim such a role because their reach has shrunk so markedly. In 1972, the biggest-selling newspaper in Australia was The Sun News Pictorial in Melbourne, with a daily circulation of 648,000. Its stablemate, the Melbourne Herald, was the biggest-selling afternoon newspaper with 498,000.




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By 2018, the print circulation of the merged Herald Sun was around 303,000, still the largest in the country. However, in 1972, Melbourne’s population was 2.6 million and by 2018 it was 4.9 million. The Sun’s circulation in 1972 was around one-quarter of Melbourne’s population. In 2018, the Herald Sun’s was about one-14th.

Sure, business models changed, but so did the tabloids’ temper

This is a stunning story of commercial decline and failure. Of course, over the past two decades, all major media have had their business models challenged by the digital revolution. But the decline of newspapers in relation to population had already been going on for several decades, partly because the first source of news for most people had become radio and television. My guess is that tabloid newspapers are the least likely of all legacy media to thrive in the digital age.

Beyond the changing technologies, where tabloid newspapers are on the wrong side of history, at least part of the reason for their decline is the changes in their own product. Viewed over decades, we can see how these papers, and especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, have been on an editorial trajectory that is self-defeating and has added to their decline. Compare the Herald Sun of 2019 with the Melbourne Sun of the early 1970s.

One of Australia’s most distinguished journalists, Adrian Deamer, the first successful editor of The Australian until Murdoch fired him in 1971, later a senior legal adviser to Fairfax newspapers, had once been an editorial executive at The Sun. In the 1980s, he told me:

The Sun was extremely competent in its coverage of news. It was short and sharp, limited background. The Sun was then a serious tabloid, not like the Sydney afternoon newspapers. Its news covered the same things as The Age but sharper. It had a very wide, comprehensive coverage of the news, although it didn’t disregard trivia. It knew Melbourne better than any other paper knew its city. It presented Melbourne to Melbourne. It was very close to its readers. A remarkable association.

Tabloid newspapers are much less close to their readers now. One indicator suggesting this is how human interest news has changed. My research showed that in The Sun/Herald-Sun and Daily Telegraph, human interest stories covering “ordinary people” comprised 10% of all stories in 1956 but only 3% by 2006. Entertainment-related and celebrity stories had grown from 3% to 12% in the same period.

Perhaps there were changes in public demand, but equally it was much cheaper to feed off the spin of the entertainment industry than invest in the reporters necessary to engage with community news.

The columnist as outrage machine

Perhaps the clearest sign of change is in the papers’ major columnists. For more than a decade, The Sun’s columnist was Keith Dunstan. His “A Place in the Sun” was marked by warmth and humour, eloquence and lightness of touch.

Today their major columnist is Andrew Bolt. Bolt is the highest-profile person to have been convicted of breaching Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in an error-filled article full of bile against his Aboriginal targets.

Recently, Paul Barry on Media Watch called out some of Bolt’s Islamophobia

And if our politicians will not speak frankly and protect us from Islam, watch out for a civil war. A frightened public will not put up with this for much longer, and will defend themselves. (15-7-2016)

On March 25 this year, ten days after the massacre, his headline was:

Christchurch: Do the Greens have blood on their hands?

The default setting for Bolt and his fellow columnists is outrage. There is rarely consideration, let alone appreciation, of contrasting views. Rather there is dismissal of climate “warmists”, political correctness, the left and so forth. Waging culture war is their core business.

The London Sun famously boasted of its electoral clout in 1992.
Wikicommons

Today’s tabloids are the result of a long editorial trajectory. Murdoch’s London Sun is often blamed for many of the sins of modern tabloids. It had the page three girl, was irresponsible in much of its reporting, and full of marketing gimmicks. But that paper for most of the 1970s, under Larry Lamb, had a refreshing cheekiness and humour. After another decade under Kelvin Mackenzie, the humour was gone. Its politics and its view of the world were consistently nasty.

Perhaps there was a marketing logic to this. Its main competitor in circulation, the Daily Mail, set out on a similar course denigrating racial minorities, calling for more punitive approaches to crime, and denouncing those it disagreed with.

Paul Dacre’s last memorable front page before he ended his 26-year reign as editor was about the Supreme Court judges who ruled that the executive government had to get parliamentary approval for Brexit. The story screamed:


GuerillaWire

You’re either with us or against us

Polarisation runs through the way tabloids frame the news – between triumph and disaster; heroes and villains; common sense and absurdity. These papers offer their readers certainty and simplicity rather than ambiguity and complexity; they give them the opportunity to vent their anger at the modern world.

We should not romanticise the old Herald and Weekly Times newspapers. Their editorial outlook was rooted in a smug conservatism. Their international coverage was simplistic and stereotyped. They were unresponsive to emerging issues on the political agenda – including feminism, multiculturalism, environmentalism and consumerism. They were indifferent to many of the injustices in society.

But there was a tolerance and occasionally a generosity of spirit that is markedly lacking in their successors. Moreover, they believed in honest reporting. This in addition to their large audiences which gave them a political relevance today’s tabloids lack.

Probably the most important journalist in the Canberra press gallery during the Whitlam government was Laurie Oakes, working for the Melbourne Sun. It is impossible to imagine any Murdoch tabloid reporter having that centrality today.




Read more:
How the right-wing media have given a megaphone to reactionary forces in the Liberal Party


Bill Shorten, unlike his predecessors Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, has recently been reported as deciding not to have dinner with Rupert Murdoch in New York to pay homage. This is a sound political judgment. Very few swinging voters are reading the Murdoch tabloids.

The papers are so set in their anti-Labor ways that there is little prospect of meaningful change in their news coverage. Moreover, the anti-Labor diet has been so constant that if the readers have not yet been persuaded to go against Labor it is hard to imagine what future coverage will make them do so.

Much of their coverage of the coming campaign can be anticipated. There will be unflattering photoshops of Labor or Green politicians. Each day will bring either a triumph for the government or starkly presented disasters and scandals for Labor and the Greens. But shrillness should not be mistaken for relevance.

For a long time, the tabloids have given up trying to engage with the range of views in a pluralistic and dynamic society. Instead they have practised ghetto journalism, catering to an aged, monocultural, alienated constituency.

Commercially, this is the equivalent of a political party knowing it is bound for defeat trying to save the furniture. Politically, it means their coverage is full of sound and fury, but signifying almost nothing of electoral relevance.

This piece has been corrected. It initially read that the “Kick this mob out” front page was on the day of the 2013 election. In fact, it was the day after the election was called.The Conversation

Rodney Tiffen, Emeritus Professor, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christchurch attacks provide a new ethics lesson for professional media


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The difference in the Christchurch attacks is that propaganda supplied by the perpetrator was available to the professional media, even as the story was breaking.
Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Two basic rules of media ethics apply to the coverage of terrorism: avoid giving unnecessary oxygen to the terrorist, and avoid unnecessarily violating standards of public decency.

The way to do this is to apply a test of necessity: what is necessary to publish to give the public a sufficiently comprehensive account of what has happened?

Significant elements in the Australian media – mainly commercial television, the online platform of News Corp and that company’s broadsheet, The Australian – failed to adhere to these basic rules in their coverage of the Christchurch massacre.

The television channels were particularly culpable.

They broadcast segments of the footage supplied by the terrorist showing him getting his gun from the back of his car and then firing as he walked towards the front door of one of the mosques. The backs of three men were visible in the doorway. Scenes from inside the mosque after the killings were also shown.




Read more:
Why news outlets should think twice about republishing the New Zealand mosque shooter’s livestream


Sky News, also owned by News Corp, showed some of this footage repeatedly.

It came from a camera mounted on the terrorist’s head and was obviously designed for propaganda purposes: to glorify this act of barbarism, to inspire weak-minded people to copy it, and to sow fear in the community.

The test of necessity would have been satisfied by showing the first minute, where the terrorist is getting his gun from the car and where white supremacist slogans can be seen written on his equipment.

A voice-over drawing attention to the fact that the terrorist was using a head-mounted camera and promoting white supremacy was all that was needed to give the public a sufficient idea of this aspect of the atrocity.

It made clear the cold-blooded planning involved and it explained the motives: racial hatred and the glorification of bloodshed as a means of expressing it.

Beyond that, the use of the footage was obscenely voyeuristic and gave the terrorist the propaganda dividend he wanted.

It also grossly violated standards of public decency. It is getting on for 200 years since civilised societies treated the killing of people as a public spectacle.

Not content with exploiting the violence, some media outlets, notably The Australian, published substantial extracts from the terrorist’s manifesto. Once more, it handed the terrorist a propaganda victory.




Read more:
Christchurch attacks are a stark warning of toxic political environment that allows hate to flourish


It is enough to know that the manifesto suggests the terrorist was radicalised during his travels in Europe and seemed determined to take revenge for atrocities committed there by Islamist terrorists.

Publishing his words of hate was not necessary to an understanding of that.

An influential factor in how this story unfolded was the interaction between the professional media and social media.

The atrocities were designed for social media. The camera footage was uploaded there and so was the manifesto.

The professional media took this material from social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter which, as usual, had published them in full without any regard for the ethics involved.

The significance of this for the way the story unfolded was that the propaganda supplied by the perpetrator was available to the professional media, even as the story was breaking.

This naturally placed the perpetrator at the centre of the story from the start.

Only when footage of victims started to become available some time later did attention switch to them.

Comparisons have been made between the way the professional media covered the Christchurch atrocity and the massacre by Islamist terrorists at the Bataclan theatre in Paris in 2015, where 89 people were killed.

The immediate focus at Bataclan was on the victims because it was they who provided the first footage – using mobile phone cameras – and because other footage was available from security cameras in the area.

Only some time later were the terrorists identified as belonging to Islamic State.

It is obvious, then, that whoever gets footage out first will have the advantage of exposure in the early stages of media coverage. The Christchurch terrorist seems to have grasped this at some level.

So Christchurch contains a new ethical lesson for the professional media.

While a story is breaking, the media can only go with the content they have to hand. But if the first footage takes the form of terrorist propaganda, then no matter how hellish or sensational it is, there is an added ethical duty to minimise what might be called “first footage advantage”.

Whether social media have published it is immaterial. Social media are an ethics-free zone; professional media are not. The weakest ethical reason for publishing something is that someone else already has.

Moreover, once the professional media have given their authority to an occurrence, the general population is much more likely to believe it actually happened. It is no longer just another mass of unverified junk swirling around the internet.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A tale of two media reports: one poses challenges for digital media; the other gives ABC and SBS a clean bill of health



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The competitive neutrality report has given the ABC, and SBS, a clean bill of health.
Shutterstock

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Two reports out this week – one into the operations of Facebook and Google, the other into the competitive neutrality of the ABC and SBS – present the federal government with significant policy and political challenges.

The first is by far the more important of the two.

It is the interim report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission of its Digital Platforms Inquiry, and in a set of 11 preliminary recommendations it proposes far-reaching changes to media regulation.

Of particular interest are its preliminary recommendations for sustaining journalism and news content.

These are based on the premise that there is a symbiotic relationship between news organisations and the big digital platforms. Put simply, the news organisations depend heavily on these platforms to get their news out to their audiences.

The problem, the ACCC says, is that the way news stories are ranked and displayed on the platforms is opaque. All we know – or think we know – is that these decisions are made by algorithms.




Read more:
Constant attacks on the ABC will come back to haunt the Coalition government


The ACCC says this lack of transparency causes concerns that the algorithms and other policies of the platform giants may be operating in a way that affects the production of news and journalistic content.

To respond to this concern, the preliminary recommendation is for a new regulatory authority to be established. It would have the power to peer into these algorithms and monitor, investigate and report on how content – including news content – is ranked and displayed.

The purpose would be to identify the effects of the algorithms and other policies on the production of news and journalistic content.

It would also allow the authority to assess the impact on the incentives for news and journalistic content creation, particularly where news organisations have invested a lot of time and money in producing original content.

In this way, the ACCC is clearly trying to protect and promote the production of public-interest journalism, which is expensive but vital to democratic life. It is how the powerful are held to account, how wrongdoing is uncovered, and how the public finds out what is going on inside forums such as the courts and local councils.

So far, the big news media organisations have concentrated on these aspects of the ACCC interim report and have expressed support for them.

However, there are two other aspects of the report on which their response has been muted.

The first of these is the preliminary recommendation that proposes a media regulatory framework that would cover all media content, including news content, on all systems of distribution – print, broadcast and online.

The ACCC recommends that the government commission a separate independent review to design such a framework. The framework would establish underlying principles of accountability, set boundaries around what should be regulated and how, set rules for classifying different types of content, and devise appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

Much of this work has already been attempted by earlier federal government inquiries – the Finkelstein inquiry and the Convergence Review – both of which produced reports for the Gillard Labor government in 2012.

Their proposals for an overarching regulatory regime for all types of media generated a hysterical backlash from the commercial media companies, who accused the authors of acting like Stalin, Mao, or the Kim clan in North Korea.

So if the government adopts this recommendation from the ACCC, the people doing the design work can expect some heavy flak from big commercial media.

The other aspect of the ACCC report that is likely to provoke a backlash from the media is a preliminary recommendation concerning personal privacy.

Here the ACCC proposes that the government adopt a 2014 recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission that people be given the right to sue for serious invasions of privacy.

The media have been on notice over privacy invasion for many years. As far back as 2001, the High Court developed a test of privacy in a case involving the ABC and an abattoir company called Lenah Game Meats.

Now, given the impact on privacy of Facebook and Google, the ACCC has come to the view that the time has arrived to revisit this issue.

The ACCC’s interim report is one of the most consequential documents affecting media policy in Australia for many decades.

The same cannot be said of the other media-related report published this week: that of the inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the public-sector broadcasters, the ABC and SBS.

This inquiry was established in May this year to make good on a promise made by Malcolm Turnbull to Pauline Hanson in 2017.




Read more:
The politics behind the competitive neutrality inquiry into ABC and SBS


He needed One Nation’s support for the government’s changes to media ownership laws, without which they would not have passed the Senate.

Hanson was not promised any particular focus for the inquiry, so the government dressed it up in the dull raiment of competitive neutrality.

While it had the potential to do real mischief – in particular to the ABC – the report actually gives both public broadcasters a clean bill of health.

There are a couple of minor caveats concerning transparency about how they approach the issue of fair competition, but overall the inquiry finds that the ABC and SBS are operating properly within their charters. Therefore, by definition, they are acting in the public interest.

This has caused pursed lips at News Corp which, along with the rest of the commercial media, took this opportunity to have a free kick at the national broadcasters. But in the present political climate, the issue is likely to vanish without trace.

While the government still has an efficiency review of the ABC to release, it also confronts a political timetable and a set of the opinion polls calculated to discourage it from opening up another row over the ABC.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

ABC and SBS are not distorting media market, government inquiry finds


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government’s inquiry into whether the ABC and SBS are competing
fairly with the private sector’s media operators has given a tick to
the public broadcasters.

The report concluded: “Given their market shares, and other factors, this inquiry considers the National Broadcasters are not causing significant competitive distortions beyond the public interest”. But it did see the need for greater transparency from them.

The review arose from a 2017 deal between the government and Pauline
Hanson to get One Nation support for media law changes which
liberalised ownership rules. It has been chaired by Robert Kerr,
formerly from the Productivity Commission. The report was released by
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield on Wednesday.

The outcome will be disappointing to News Corp in particular which has
been highly critical of the ABC’s expansion in online publishing. The
former Fairfax organisation, now taken over by Nine, also complained
about the competition eating into the market of commercial media
groups.

The report said: “Competitive neutrality seeks to ensure that
competition is not distorted by public entities taking inappropriate
advantage of government ownership.

“It is not intended to prevent public entities from competing, nor to
relieve discomfort from competitive processes which are bringing
benefits to consumers as they rapidly adopt and enjoy new services”.

The inquiry found the broadcasters’ business activities in order; they
were “abiding by a best endeavours approach to competitive
neutrality.” It suggested there should be some improvements in
transparency and internal procedures.

Beyond that, “the question arises as to how competitive neutrality
principles about competing fairly without distortion might apply to
the free services delivered by the ABC and SBS.

“Free ABC and SBS services are having some competitive impact.
Submissions included complaints about the ABC’s online news service
and SBS’ multi-channel and streaming services. But the National
Broadcasters are established and funded to provide free services. So
long as they operate within their statutory Charters they are
operating in the public interest”.

The report said submissions questioned whether the broadcasters were
operating within their charters. But, it said, these charters were
very broad, and reporting against them “is not detailed or robust
enough to settle doubts”.

“Accountability is difficult, especially as there is no opportunity
for Charter complaints to be addressed”.

The broadcasters should improve their reporting of charter performance
in the context of competitive neutrality. “If this enhanced reporting
does not occur, the government should consider a way of managing
complaints about Charter performance in this area,” the report said.

“While the National Broadcasters are not prohibited from competing,
some improvements in the way they interact with markets should be
contemplated”.

The report also said the government should consider options for a
longer term funding framework for the national broadcasters,
accompanied by increased transparency and accountability.

Fifield said he recognised the broadcasters’ charters were broad and
allowed flexibility in how their boards implemented them.
“It is now up to the national broadcasters to act on these
recommendations,” he said.

Labor’s communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the
government’s “fishing expedition” had spent half a million dollars to
establish what the public broadcasters had said all along – that they
“are operating in a manner consistent with the general principles of
competitive neutrality.

“Australians trust and value the ABC and SBS and should not have to
foot the bill for Mitch Fifield and Pauline Hanson’s vendetta against
public broadcasting,” she said.

Also in return for Hanson’s support the government agreed to bring in
legislation to require the ABC to be “fair” and “balanced” in its
coverage.

Under the legislation, the board would be required “to ensure that the
gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information
is fair, balanced, accurate and impartial according to the recognised
standards of objective journalism.”

But the legislation is bogged down, with no chance of being passed
before the election.

The government has yet to appoint a new ABC chair, after the implosion
within the organisation involving the board sacking managing
director Michelle Guthrie and the resignation of Justin Milne as chair
amid a row over editorial interference.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rudd says Murdoch media is a “political party”


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has used an address to the Labor national conference to deliver a fresh swingeing attack on the Murdoch media, declaring “it is not a news organisation, it is a political party”.

Rudd said for Labor and for Bill Shorten, “dealing with the Murdoch mafia is kind of like dealing with a daily evisceration”

“It ain’t fair, it never will be and as soon as we acknowledge that fact, the better we will be in our response.”

Rudd and his wife, Therese Rein, were receiving ALP life memberships at the conference. Life memberships were also bestowed on two other former Labor prime ministers, Paul Keating and Julia Gillard, who were not present.

Attacks on the Murdoch media come frequently from Rudd, with a notable one in the 2013 election campaign.

Rudd told the conference the Coalition had “a very robust” partner in the “Murdoch party”, which had an ideology.

“Our movement has the audacity of hope to stand up and say ‘we don’t accept your ideology and your commercial interests. We actually will fight against it’. That’s why they hate us so much.”

“That’s why they hooked into Bill, that’s why they hooked into Julia, that’s why they hooked into me, that’s why they hooked into Paul, that’s why they hooked into Bob – because we represent a threat to their core commercial and ideological interests.”

He contrasted the treatment of Labor meted out by the “Murdoch party” with that accorded to “Saint John” Howard.

Rudd said he had a simple message for Rupert Murdoch: “you don’t own Australia. Murdoch doesn’t have Australia as his own personal belonging. This country belongs to the working men and women who build Australia.”

Shorten, introducing Rudd, paid tribute to his performance in the 2013 election, saying while that election was lost, “your campaigning skills … ensured that we entered opposition as a strong, viable electoral fighting force”.

Party sources said the opposition leader regarded it as important to pay tribute to the former prime ministers at this conference as a gesture of unity. Earlier conferences bestowed life membership on Bob Hawke and Gough Whitlam.

Shorten said in his tributes that Keating was a “hero of the true believers” and Gillard was a “continuing inspiration for women and girls”.

He said there had been a lot of pain but it was “time for healing to make peace with our past in the same way we are united about our future”.

“At our best, we are a movement focused on the future – but as Australia’s oldest continuous political party we have always revered our traditions and we take inspiration from our struggles in the past.

“And we are better, we are stronger, we are more confident and more complete when we extend to our former leaders and legends the respect they deserve, the gratitude they have earned.

“Labor can do more, indeed Australia can do more, to recognise the contribution of our past leaders – and to call upon their wisdom, their talents and their capacities in the continued service of our country.”

In his address, Rudd attacked Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton as a reminder of “that whole generation of Queensland coppers in the days of Bjelke-Petersen” and denounced the government’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “a lunatic decision”.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: The uncivil Mr Jones


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The row over shock jock Alan Jones and what will be displayed on the Sydney Opera House sails about The Everest horse race involves two sets of issues.

One is around whether it is appropriate to use this Sydney icon as an advertising hoarding.

The other is the appalling, but typical, behaviour of Jones and the weak, but probably not surprising, capitulation of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to the pressure of the racing industry, which had its arm strengthened by this bullying presenter from 2GB.

The details of the row are now familiar. Racing NSW wanted a full ad for The Everest’s Tuesday barrier draw on the lit-up sails; the Opera House resisted, saying it would only show the jockeys’ colours; Jones abused Opera House CEO Louise Herron on air on Friday; the Premier later that day overrode Herron and gave Racing NSW and Jones most of what was being demanded.

The broad question of ads on the Opera House seems to me less important than Jones’ behaviour and the state government’s abject falling into line with the demands made by Racing NSW.

Some people have no problem with the Opera House being used for advertising. They don’t subscribe to the view that it’s low rent to turn this World Heritage structure to commercial purposes, nor do they comprehend the fuss about having it as part of the promotion of a particular (mega rich) horse race – as distinct, say, from an Australian national team.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said on Friday that “people should chill out a bit. The fact is that this race is beamed around the world. People do associate Sydney with the Sydney Opera House”.

On a unity ticket with “Albo”, “ScoMo” doesn’t understand “why people are getting so precious about it”. For the man remembered for the “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaign, this is “just common sense”.

“This is one of the biggest events of the year,” Morrison said on Sunday. “Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has? These events generate massive economic opportunities for the state, for the city.”

There may be room for argument about the promotional issue but not about Jones’ interview.

The full horror of that tirade has to be heard to be believed – with its haranguing, denigration, abuse and threats.

Jones, with close personal connections to the racing industry, injected into it maximum nastiness and minimum civility. Herron probably should have told him to call back when he’d found his manners and hung up. But she didn’t.

It was of course Jones displaying one aspect of his trademark. He and others of his ilk use insult and aggression as part of their “brand”, whether in interviews or in commentary.

Over the years, Jones has got away with an extraordinary amount –
although recently a court caught up with him when he and 2GB lost a
huge defamation case
over claims he made about the Wagner family being responsible for deaths in the 2011 Grantham floods.

Imre Salusinszky, who was press secretary to former NSW premier Mike Baird, has written about how the shock jocks and the tabloid media wield their power at NSW state level.

The Howard government felt it had to manage Jones as best it could (as does the present NSW government). There was a Howard staffer whose remit included dealing with the Jones demands and complaints.

I recall a minister who’d been in that government later telling me how he’d given in to Jones on a certain matter just to get him off his back (after checking with advisers that to do so wouldn’t create any harm).

Jones insulted Malcolm Turnbull when the latter was communication minister, but Turnbull fought back and then refused to go on air with him. Until the 2016 election campaign, that is – when then prime minister Turnbull felt he had to have a brief rapprochement with his bete noire.

By her action on Friday, Berejiklian reinforced the perception that the politicians are scared of a bully who rages from his studio pulpit.

But according to social researcher Rebecca Huntley, they have less to fear than often thought. “15 years of research and I haven’t found Alan Jones to be that much more influential with voters than ABC radio or the SMH. He is only powerful because politicians think he is, ” she tweeted.

Berejiklian on Sunday defended the outcome, saying it was “at the back end of the decision-making process” – Racing NSW had earlier reportedly wanted to drape banners from the Harbour Bridge – and a “good compromise”.

The NSW government claims that Friday’s decision was not a reaction to Jones’ diatribe but the culmination of negotiations that had been underway for some while.

Nevertheless, it represented the premier’s cave-in to Racing NSW and came across as a victory for Jones’ bullying.

Now that a discussion of “bullying” in various situations is the flavour of public debate, isn’t it time that the media who run Jones’ programs (2GB is majority owned by Fairfax) imposed some standards and the politicians who listen to him grew some spine?The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.