How can we restore trust in media? Fewer biases and conflicts of interest, a new study shows



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Caroline Fisher, University of Canberra; Sora Park, University of Canberra, and Terry Flew, Queensland University of Technology

The COVID-19 global pandemic has seen news consumption rise in Australia. Audiences for TV news are up and Australians are spending more time on news websites seeking reliable information about the virus and the social and economic consequences of our policy responses.

This makes trust in the media more imperative than ever.

Researchers at the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Canberra have undertaken a survey of 1,045 Australians to gauge levels of trust and mistrust in news and what influences it.




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The most trusted voices in news

We found people trust the news they personally consume more than the news in general, and that trust in news was higher than trust in business or government, although lower than trust in friends and educational institutions.

Our participants deemed television the most credible source of information that provides good analysis of current events. Online news sources (including online only and mainstream media) were not viewed to be as credible or professional as traditional offline media.


Performance by media platform.
Flew, T., Dulleck, U., Park, S., Fisher, C. & Isler, O. (2020). Trust and Mistrust in Australian News Media. Brisbane: Digital Media Research Centre.

Some brands were more trusted than others. Trust in established news brands and public broadcasters was highest. Measured on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the highest, ABC TV (3.92) and radio (3.90) ranked highest, followed by SBS TV (3.87).

Among commercial media, the most trusted news brand was The Australian Financial Review (3.74), followed by The Age (3.69) and The Australian (3.69). More recently established brands had lower levels of trust, with Guardian Australia (3.45) being the most trusted.

Declaring conflicts of interest is important

To find out why people do or don’t trust the news, we asked them to rank a range of possible influences.

Factors that promoted mistrust in news included a past history of inaccurate stories, opinionated journalists or presenters, a lack of transparency, sensationalism and excessive advocacy on behalf of particular points of view.

Factors that promoted trust included depth of coverage, the reputation of the news brand, the reputation of particular journalists or presenters, and openness to comments and feedback from audiences.


Ways to improve trust in news from the perspective of news trusters and mistrusters.
Flew, T., Dulleck, U., Park, S., Fisher, C. & Isler, O. (2020). Trust and Mistrust in Australian News Media. Brisbane: Digital Media Research Centre

The single most significant measure that would restore trust in news brands was journalists declaring any conflicts of interest or biases with regards to particular stories. These measures were supported most by both trusters and mistrusters of news.

The negative impact of perceived bias and conflicts of interest appears consistently in studies about trust in news. News outlets need to take this seriously.




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Accurate. Objective. Transparent. Australians identify what they want in trustworthy media


Hiring more journalists and social media are not the answers

Our research also reveals some interesting contradictions in how to improve trust in the media.

On the one hand, there was a clear desire for more in-depth reporting. However, most respondents simultaneously showed less support for media outlets employing more journalists. This suggests audiences want better-quality journalism, but not necessarily more of it.




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In fact, employing more journalists and being more active on social media were deemed the least likely to increase public trust in media – two approaches that feature prominently in the business models of most news organisations.

As with institutional trust more generally, there is also a “trust divide” between educated elites and the wider population when it comes to the news media. Older people also have higher trust in news than younger people.

Trust in news is hard to restore

Importantly, our findings show that people who don’t trust the news are less supportive of ways to improve it. In contrast, people who do trust the news are more enthusiastic about options to boost it further.

In particular, mistrusters do not see employing more journalists or reporters using more social media as a way to boost trust. Doing either of those things would only increase the circulation of news they already mistrust.

This suggests it is harder to improve trust of those who are already sceptical and mistrustful of news. This is an important message for news outlets to take on board. Once lost, trust in news is harder to restore.The Conversation

Caroline Fisher, Assistant Professor in Journalism, University of Canberra; Sora Park, Associate Dean of Research, Faculty of Arts & Design, University of Canberra, and Terry Flew, Professor, Digital Media Research Centre and Centre for Behavioural Economics, Society and Technology, Queensland University of Technology

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

Why is it so hard to stop COVID-19 misinformation spreading on social media?




Tobias R. Keller, Queensland University of Technology and Rosalie Gillett, Queensland University of Technology

Even before the coronavirus arrived to turn life upside down and trigger a global infodemic, social media platforms were under growing pressure to curb the spread of misinformation.

Last year, Facebook cofounder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg called for new rules to address “harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability”.

Now, amid a rapidly evolving pandemic, when more people than ever are using social media for news and information, it is more crucial than ever that people can trust this content.




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Digital platforms are now taking more steps to tackle misinformation about COVID-19 on their services. In a joint statement, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube have pledged to work together to combat misinformation.

Facebook has traditionally taken a less proactive approach to countering misinformation. A commitment to protecting free expression has led the platform to allow misinformation in political advertising.

More recently, however, Facebook’s spam filter inadvertently marked legitimate news information about COVID-19 as spam. While Facebook has since fixed the mistake, this incident demonstrated the limitations of automated moderation tools.

In a step in the right direction, Facebook is allowing national ministries of health and reliable organisations to advertise accurate information on COVID-19 free of charge. Twitter, which prohibits political advertising, is allowing links to the Australian Department of Health and World Health Organization websites.

Twitter is directing users to trustworthy information.
Twitter.com

Twitter has also announced a suite of changes to its rules, including updates to how it defines harm so as to address content that goes against authoritative public health information, and an increase in its use of machine learning and automation technologies to detect and remove potentially abusive and manipulative content.

Previous attempts unsuccessful

Unfortunately, Twitter has been unsuccessful in its recent attempts to tackle misinformation (or, more accurately, disinformation – incorrect information posted deliberately with an intent to obfuscate).

The platform has begun to label doctored videos and photos as “manipulated media”. The crucial first test of this initiative was a widely circulated altered video of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in which part of a sentence was edited out to make it sound as if he was forecasting President Donald Trump’s re-election.

A screenshot of the tweet featuring the altered video of Joe Biden, with Twitter’s label.
Twitter

It took Twitter 18 hours to label the video, by which time it had already received 5 million views and 21,000 retweets.

The label appeared below the video (rather than in a more prominent place), and was only visible to the roughly 757,000 accounts who followed the video’s original poster, White House social media director Dan Scavino. Users who saw the content via reweets from the White House (21 million followers) or President Donald Trump (76 million followers), did not see the label.

Labelling misinformation doesn’t work

There are four key reasons why Twitter’s (and other platforms’) attempts to label misinformation were ineffective.

First, social media platforms tend to use automated algorithms for these tasks, because they scale well. But labelling manipulated tweets requires human labour; algorithms cannot decipher complex human interactions. Will social media platforms invest in human labour to solve this issue? The odds are long.

Second, tweets can be shared millions of times before being labelled. Even if removed, they can easily be edited and then reposted to avoid algorithmic detection.

Third, and more fundamentally, labels may even be counterproductive, serving only to pique the audience’s interest. Conversely, labels may actually amplify misinformation rather than curtailing it.

Finally, the creators of deceptive content can deny their content was an attempt to obfuscate, and claim unfair censorship, knowing that they will find a sympathetic audience within the hyper-partisan arena of social media.

So how can we beat misinformation?

The situation might seem impossible, but there are some practical strategies that the media, social media platforms, and the public can use.

First, unless the misinformation has already reached a wide audience, avoid drawing extra attention to it. Why give it more oxygen than it deserves?

Second, if misinformation has reached the point at which it requires debunking, be sure to stress the facts rather than simply fanning the flames. Refer to experts and trusted sources, and use the “truth sandwich”, in which you state the truth, and then the misinformation, and finally restate the truth again.

Third, social media platforms should be more willing to remove or restrict unreliable content. This might include disabling likes, shares and retweets for particular posts, and banning users who repeatedly misinform others.

For example, Twitter recently removed coronavirus misinformation posted by Rudy Guilani and Charlie Kirk; the Infowars app was removed from Google’s app store; and probably with the highest impact, Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube removed corona misinformation from Brasil’s president Jair Bolsonaro.




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Finally, all of us, as social media users, have a crucial role to play in combating misinformation. Before sharing something, think carefully about where it came from. Verify the source and its evidence, double-check with independent other sources, and report suspicious content to the platform directly. Now, more than ever, we need information we can trust.The Conversation

Tobias R. Keller, Visiting Postdoc, Queensland University of Technology and Rosalie Gillett, Research Associate in Digital Platform Regulation, Queensland University of Technology

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

No more negotiating: new rules could finally force Google and Facebook to pay for news




Katharine Kemp, UNSW and Rob Nicholls, UNSW

Digital platforms such as Google and Facebook will be forced to compensate news media companies for using their content, under a new mandatory code to be drawn up by Australia’s competition watchdog.

The announcement, made by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg today, follows last year’s landmark report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which found that news media businesses lack bargaining power in their negotiations with digital giants.




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News media businesses have complained for years that the loss of advertising revenue to Google and Facebook threatens their survival. The economic crash caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has turned that crisis into an emergency.

Frydenberg pledged that the latest move will “level the playing field”, adding: “It’s only fair that those that generate content get paid for it.”

Power imbalance and tumbling profits

A mandatory code of conduct was not the original plan. When the ACCC released its report last year, it suggested that Google and Facebook should each negotiate with news media businesses to agree on how they should fairly share revenues generated when “the digital platform obtains value, directly or indirectly, from content produced by news media businesses”.

The report concluded that tech giants are currently enjoying the benefit of news businesses’ content without paying for the privilege.

For example, Google’s search results feature “news snippets” including content from news websites. Both Google and Facebook have quick-loading versions of news businesses’ articles that don’t display the full range of paid advertising that appears on the news websites’ own pages.

These tactics make it less likely users will click through to the actual news website, thus depriving media businesses of the ensuing subscription and advertising revenue. Meanwhile, as the ACCC report showed, media companies’ share of advertising revenue has itself been slashed over the past decade, as advertisers flock to Google and Facebook.

Platforms giveth, platforms taketh away

Why don’t news businesses negotiate compensation payments with the platforms themselves, rather than asking the government to step in?

The answer is the vast mismatch in bargaining power between Australian media companies and global digital giants.

The ACCC report found that digital platforms such as Google and Facebook are “an essential gateway for news for many consumers”, meaning the news businesses rely on them for “referral traffic”.

Put simply, much of news companies’ web traffic comes via readers clicking on links from Google and Facebook. But at the same time, these digital giants are dominating advertising revenues and using news companies’ content in competition with them.

The pandemic effect

The COVID-19 crisis has dealt a further blow to media companies’ advertising revenue, as potential advertisers are forced into economic hibernation or simply go out of business.

Content licensing payments from Google and Facebook could provide crucial alternative revenue. But if the payments are structured as a share of advertising income, the publishers will share in Google and Facebook’s own advertising downturn.

The ACCC will not unveil the draft code until July, so it is still unclear how the obligations will be implemented or enforced.

ACCC chief Rod Sims has pledged that Australia’s mandatory code of conduct will feature “heavy penalties” for Facebook and Google if they fail to comply, involving fines that are “large enough to matter”.

How might Google and Facebook react?

The platforms could conceivably attempt to sidestep the compensation rules by no longer providing users with quick-loading versions of news articles. Google could also cease publishing news snippets at the top of its search results, as it did in Spain when faced with similar obligations.

But there is evidence, albeit from news publishers themselves, that this would merely drive readers directly to publishers’ websites.




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Australia’s decision to abandon negotiations in favour of mandatory rules stands in contrast to the situation in France, the European state most advanced in the implementation of a similar policy flowing from the European Union’s 2019 Copyright Directive.

Earlier this month, France’s competition regulator ordered Google to negotiate in good faith with publishers on remuneration for use of content. Any agreed compensation will be backdated to October 24, 2019, when the Copyright Directive became law in France.

Google’s previous solution had been to require that publishers license the use of snippets of their content to Google at no charge. But France’s watchdog argued this was an abuse of Google’s dominant position.

Google and Facebook are likely to continue to resist these developments in Australia, knowing they could be copied in other jurisdictions.

Even if they do cooperate, it’s not yet clear that “levelling the playing field” with the tech giants will make any difference to the collapse of media advertising revenue driven by the coronavirus.The Conversation

Katharine Kemp, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW, and Academic Lead, UNSW Grand Challenge on Trust, UNSW and Rob Nicholls, Associate professor in Business Law. Director of the UNSW Business School Cybersecurity and Data Governance Research Network, UNSW

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

Now more than ever, we need quality health reporting in Australia



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Andrea Carson, La Trobe University; Andrew Brett, University of Melbourne, and Timothy B. Gravelle, The University of Queensland

As the number of COVID-19 infections climbs across the globe, so too do stories about journalism job losses, newsroom cutbacks and masthead closures. This raises the question: what does the pandemic-induced economic crisis mean for public interest journalism?

Our latest research suggests quality health reporting in Australia – an important type of public interest journalism – was already under threat before the latest cutbacks, and before mis- and disinformation about the pandemic infected the internet.




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To stem the haemorrhage of public interest journalism, the Morrison government has announced a pandemic relief package for Australian media, including a A$50 million Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program. The government will support commercial television, newspaper and radio businesses that produce “quality news, particularly in remote and regional Australia”. Yet details about what constitutes public interest journalism and how it will be adequately supported remain sketchy.

Our study examined the quality of health reporting about cancer in Australia’s daily newspapers from 1997 to 2017. It found significant and increasing shortfalls in this type of public interest journalism.

While concerning, this finding was not surprising. Media companies have experienced significant financial duress in the digital age as technologies have transformed advertising markets and shifted revenues away from print to online competitors. This hardship for media outlets has led to newsroom cost-cutting and hundreds of masthead closures.

In terms of health reporting, it has meant fewer specialist medical reporters and experienced editors in newsrooms to sift through hype about miracle cures.

This is of concern for public knowledge about health issues. While newspapers have suffered significant cutbacks, their online reach and agenda-setting power mean they remain an important source of information for the public’s understanding of health care and disease. As many studies have found, news media play a key role in public health awareness and can influence how citizens use the healthcare system.

A prominent example of media effects on public health knowledge was the direct impact of an ABC television report in 2015 that was critical of a cholesterol-lowering drug. It resulted in 60,000 Australians changing their prescribed medication, often at serious risk to their health. The content was later removed, but the damage was done.

Our latest research investigated the quality of cancer reporting in two different years. These covered both a time of prosperity (1997) and a time of austerity (2017) for the Australian press.

More than 600 stories were sourced from tabloid and broadsheet-styled daily newspapers across Australia using keywords relating to cancer. We were specifically interested in cancer treatments and research.

We scored each story using a Media Quality Index (MQI), made up of eight measures. The eight measures were informed by past studies and tested the detail, accuracy and balance of reporting in the news stories and their headlines.

We found a statistically significant decline in the quality of reporting about cancer from 1997 to 2017 across the mainstream press. Tabloid articles received
significantly lower MQI scores than the broadsheet stories.

Of particular concern was the under-reporting of harms. We found stories published in 2017 were far less likely to discuss side effects or the potential for harm of cancer treatments compared to stories in 1997. In 1997, 60% of news stories about cancer treatments and research mentioned potential side effects. This compared with just 7% of stories published in 2017.




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This lack of critical health reporting about medical harms can limit the capacity of health consumers to make informed decisions about their illnesses and treatments. It can also inadvertently promote overuse of health services, with implications for the healthcare budget and public policy. Potentially, it can foster unrealistic expectations and undermine the public’s confidence in the medical profession if these expectations are not met.

We also found a significant rise in the use of sensational and emotive language in news reporting about cancer in 2017 (71%) compared to stories published in 1997 (34%).

This rise in emotive language and sensationalism is alarming because of the media’s potential to influence patient decision-making.

However, not all responsibility for sensationalism lies with media outlets. Researchers can stand to gain from favourable coverage of preliminary findings in terms of attracting venture capital. This underscores the need for specialist reporters who can detect questionable health claims in self-serving media releases.

In 2017, more headlines were guilty of clickbait – misleading readers to stoke attention and boost reader metrics to attract advertising dollars – compared to 1997. In 1997, 72% of headlines were considered accurate compared to 48% in 2017.

The initial misconception caused by a misleading headline is problematic because false impressions can be hard to correct. Again, they may raise a patient’s hopes and expectations regarding their cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Our study signals a broader warning about the quality of health reporting in the mainstream media. It shows the need for more public interest journalism to counter the abundance of health misinformation online.

To this end, the government’s PING program is a step in the right direction, but whether it will be enough remains to be seen.

This research project was led by Dr Nicholas Lawler, a medical resident at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.The Conversation

Andrea Carson, Associate Professor, Department of Politics, Media and Philosophy, La Trobe University; Andrew Brett, Associate Professor (Clinical), University of Melbourne, and Timothy B. Gravelle, Senior Manager, Research and Data Insights, The University of Queensland

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

Government orders mandatory code of conduct for Google, Facebook


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has told the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to develop a mandatory code of conduct to address bargaining power imbalances between media companies and digital platforms such as Facebook and Google – and the question of payment for content.

Earlier the ACCC was directed by the government to facilitate a voluntary code. But slow progress and the impact on the media of the coronavirus have convinced the government of the need for more urgent and compulsory action.

In its Digital Platforms Inquiry report of last year, the ACCC identified a bargaining power imbalance between news media organisations and these large digital platforms, and recommended codes of conduct to govern commercial relationships.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher have said in a statement the timeframe needs to be accelerated.

“The Australian media sector was already under significant pressure – that has now been exacerbated by a sharp decline in advertising revenue driven by coronavirus,” the ministers say.

“At the same time, while discussions between the parties have been taking place, progress on a voluntary code has been limited, according to recent advice provided by the ACCC”.

The ministers say the ACCC considers it unlikely any voluntary agreement would be reached on the key issue of payment for content.

The code will cover data sharing, ranking and display of news content, and the monetisation and the sharing of revenue generated from news. It will also include enforcement, penalty and binding dispute resolution mechanisms.

The ACCC will release a draft before the end of July, and the government wants the code finalised soon after that.

The University of Canberra’s 2019 Digital News Report said the majority of surveyed consumers who access news online get this news via indirect methods, such as social media, news aggregators, email newsletters and mobile alerts.

According to Nielsen Panel Data for February 2019, Google search had a unique audience of 19.7 million in Australia, and Facebook had a unique audience of 17.6 million.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.

How some Australian media are failing us on coronavirus



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Stan Grant, Charles Sturt University

On a recent episode of ABC’s Q&A, Commonwealth Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly tried to add some valuable context to the national outbreak of coronavirus. Australia’s testing is higher, he said, and the rates of infection lower than almost all other countries. In his words: we are not Italy. As he spoke, a tweet appeared on the screen saying the viewer felt calmer hearing information from experts.

Presenter Hamish Macdonald could not wait for Kelly to finish speaking before interrupting to ask him about earlier predictions that up to 60% of the population would contract COVID-19. He could have asked: why are our numbers so much lower? What is Australia doing better than other countries? Will our rates remain relatively low?

But, instinctively, Macdonald went for the more alarming question.

I hesitate to criticise Q&A because it has generally been outstanding in its coverage of the coronavirus, eschewing outrage and opinion for expertise. It is performing a valuable service. But it is not immune to journalism’s more troubling instincts.

Macdonald, an accomplished and informed journalist, was doing precisely what he has been trained to do. That is the problem.




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American political scientist W. Lance Bennett, in his study News: The Politics of Illusion, identified the “crisis cycle” of news coverage that employs drama as “a cheap, emotional device to focus on human conflict and travail”.

Bennett writes:

The media … has settled on a formula that is profitable, cheap, and easy to produce, but just not terribly helpful to the citizens who consume this news.

He quotes fellow scholars David Paletz and Robert Entman, who in their book Media Power Politics describe how journalists “graft” on drama; they “highlight or concoct conflict”.

This too often is the business model of journalism. I have spent two decades in 24/7 news, and it has changed the way we consume information. At its best, it connects the world, gives voice to the powerless and holds tyranny to account. At worst, it is confected drama, endless talking heads who feed on controversy and conflict.

As coverage of the coronavirus shows, each hour must be more alarming than the last. The language of fear is its stock in trade: catastrophe, nightmare, disaster, lockdown.

On one recent prime-time news bulletin, the deep cleaning of an infected nursing home was described as “like something out of a disaster movie”. Dreadful cliché aside, right now is real life not frightening enough?

A seasoned foreign correspondent referred to numbers of infections “soaring” in Spain. Why not simply that Spain recorded X number of new coronavirus cases? Because numbers “soaring” sounds more urgent, more alarming.

Such hyperbole lacks context and nuance. The second world war was “catastrophic”; the 2005 Asian tsunami was a “nightmare”; we can look back on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic as a “disaster”. Thankfully, the efforts of governments, health officials and the sacrifice of a responsible public means we are not there yet, and hopefully never will be. Journalists should spare their adjectives in case they really need them.

Think too of the ubiquitous use of wartime analogies. We are told we are in a “war” against the virus; governments are on a war footing; prime ministers and presidents are now wartime leaders. Yes, this is a terrible time. Lives are being lost. But we are in a battle, not in a war.




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In my 30-year journalism career I covered wars in several countries. Right now there are people homeless, their neighbourhoods bombed-out shells; there is no electricity, scant medical facilities, no schools, no work. Their governments do not pay them for wages lost. What they would give to be confined to their homes with running water, power, air conditioning, televisions, Netflix, internet. They count themselves lucky just to be alive.

News images, too, are used to provoke an emotional response. Stories about supermarkets invariably use footage of empty shelves. My local supermarket is well stocked and people behave with courtesy and calm. We are assured Australia has more than enough food, but images of empty shelves heighten the sense of siege.

As this crisis has been a stress test of our politics, economy, health systems and society, so too is it a stress test of our media. Healthy journalism is vital for a healthy democracy. A free and open media in China could have stopped the Chinese Communist Party from covering up the initial outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan last year. This worldwide pandemic might have been averted.

There is much excellent work being done in newsrooms stretched to capacity. But journalism culture carries its own virus: anxiety.

Now more then ever, the media should inform, not inflame. Less crisis and more context. Resist the worst instincts. The public needs no reminding this is serious.

People are afraid and not just of the virus: businesses will be lost, relationships broken, and mental health will suffer. Psychologists already warn of the potential for increased suicide. We don’t need media-generated anxiety.

As the tweet on Q&A read, we are calmer when we hear from experts. We need the news: we need it rigorous and unembellished. We do not need the illusion of news.The Conversation

Stan Grant, Vice Chancellors Chair Australian/Indigenous Belonging, Charles Sturt University

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

Regional media get COVID lifeline but ABC, SBS remain in peril



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Alexandra Wake, RMIT University and Michael Ward, University of Sydney

After weeks of devastating reports of local newspaper closures and regional broadcast stations turning off local news services, media supporters and observers were united in joy as the Australian government announced a coronavirus relief package for local journalism.

The four-part initiative has been designed to assist local newspapers and commercial free-to-air radio and television and subscription television, following calls for a lifeline from the industry and the communities they serve.

Although coronavirus might have hastened their financial woes, it’s clear that many of these news outlets have been in trouble for a while, with falling advertising and subscription revenue reductions.

Last year was described as “the worst advertising market since the global financial crisis for the television industry”.

Australian metropolitan radio revenues fell by 6% in 2019.

Regional newspapers have been buoyed by local advertising, but even that has its limits.

Two components of the government’s COVID package, a $41m waiver on the tax imposed on radio and television services for spectrum use, and suspension of key parts of the commercial television Australian content rules, will save commercial broadcasters millions in 2020.

Both major industry organisations, Free TV and Commercial Radio Australia, cautiously welcomed the announcement, but sought more action from the government.

The third component, a $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program, will fund journalism for regional broadcasters and print services.

The most heartening line in the government’s press release was the acknowledgement by the minister that

the government recognises that public interest journalism is essential in informing and strengthening local communities.

ABC and SBS left out

In the absence of other government action, there remain two big losers from the COVID-19 announcement for journalism.

First, it excluded the trusted national public broadcasters, even though SBS must also be experiencing a reduction in advertising revenue.

Further, there was no indication the ABC would be given any reprieve from the combined budget cuts/freezes that will total almost $800 million by 2022.




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In the midst of the COVID emergency, which has brought a record number of people to the broadcaster, the ABC is continuing to manage an annual budget reduction of over $100 million while delivering its range of services.

As has been widely acknowledged, it has also increased emergency broadcasting firstly for the devastating summer bushfires, and now for the coronavirus emergency, without any specific funds.

Local drama in jeopardy

Independent producers of Australian programs, including Australian drama, documentary and children’s drama, are also losers in the COVID announcement.

The decision to suspend commercial television Australian content rules for 2020 is couched in terms of production “disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

However, there are long lead times for much drama and documentary production, and commercial free-to-air broadcasters are allowed to average drama content over three years.

This means a more nuanced and flexible approach to developing and commissioning projects could have helped broadcasters and kept the production sector alive.

In an already hard hit creative sector, TV producers look like losing at least a year of commercial commissions. That’s worth $250 million to the sector.

The government statement also implies the reduction in the Australian content rule may extend into 2021. If that happens, it’ll bring to an end Australian content policy settings that have been in place for almost 60 years.

Originally introduced by the Menzies government, the policy was put in place to ensure there was a strong Australian identity on local television.

Chilling notes in the details

Finally, the government has included as part of its announcement, a fast-tracked consultation process on “Harmonising Regulation to Support Australian Content”.

Media observers will be pleased the process has finally started, but all will be concerned about the timing.

It seems more than a little odd for some of the most significant reforms to the way Australian content is delivered via screens are included in an emergency funding announcement.




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Buried on page 41 of the document, for example, is an option which would require the ABC and SBS to spend their funding to make up for commercial shortcomings in children’s programming.

Or to put it another way, if that option were accepted, the ABC and SBS would be told by the government of the day to do what the government wants, without any extra funding. That’s completely opposite to the idea of an independent public broadcaster. Perhaps it’s a case for the Inbestigators.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University and Michael Ward, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

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

Media receives some government relief after coronavirus hit


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has announced relief measures, including a $50 million program for regional journalism, to help media hit by the fallout from COVID-19 crisis.

Commercial television and radio broadcasters will be given a year’s waiver of spectrum tax, at a cost of $41 million.

There will also be an “emergency” suspension of content quotas in 2020, which could extend longer.

Announcing the measures, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the media were sharing the pain of the virus crisis and the government was responding with short term support.

The virus crisis has seen drastic cutbacks in regional media as advertising has collapsed.

This week Australian Community Media announced it would “temporarily cease some of our publications and temporarily close our printing sites in Canberra, Murray Bridge, Wodonga and Tamworth from April 20 until June 29.” The publications hit are non-dailies.

Last month, the Barrier Daily Truth, in Broken Hill, and the Sunraysia Daily, at Mildura, suspended printing. The ABC on Wednesday reported both “are inching towards resurrection, helped by enormous community support.”

Fletcher said the $50 million Public Interest News Gathering Program (PING) would support public interest journalism delivered by commercial TV, radio and newspaper businesses in the regions. It includes $13.4 million new money as well as repurposed funds from the government’s Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package.

Fletcher said the coronavirus had effectively halted production of Australian screen content, so free-to-air and subscription TV could not meet their Australian content requirements.

“As an emergency red tape reduction measure, I have suspended Australian drama, children’s and documentary content obligations on free-to-air and subscription television for 2020. A decision will be taken before the end of this year as to whether this suspension should continue in 2021,” he said.

“It remains critically important that we have Australian voices on Australian TV, so there will be no change to the requirement for broadcasters to meet an overall 55% Australian content obligation”.

Fletcher said the government meanwhile was speeding up work on the future extent of Australian content obligations on free-to-air television, and whether these should apply to streaming services.

“This work is critical to the future of the culturally and economically important Australian film and television production sector,” he said.

To guide discussions, Fletcher released an options paper from Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Consultation with stakeholders, including ministerial roundtables, will take place over the coming two months.

“Regulated free-to-air broadcasters are competing with unregulated digital platforms and video streaming services. It has been evident for some time – and the COVID-19 crisis has made it even more obvious – that this is not sustainable,” Fletcher said.

“These arrangements threaten the sustainability of television broadcasters – and in turn the sustainability of the film and television content production sector.

“That is why I want to seek industry feedback on the options put forward by ACMA and Screen Australia, and work with industry on a plan for the future, including how to best secure the market opportunity created by the explosion of streaming services”, he said.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) welcomed the government’s assistance for regional media and called on Australian Community Media to “press pause on plans to close publications”.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.

During the Great Depression, many newspapers betrayed their readers. Some are doing it again now



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Sally Young, University of Melbourne

Many newspapers betrayed their readers during the Great Depression and now some are doing so again during the coronavirus pandemic.

During the Depression, Australia’s major daily newspapers loudly resisted calls for economic stimulus to revive the economy. Even the tabloids – whose working class audiences were feeling the full brunt of unemployment – campaigned instead for government spending cuts that hit their readers hard.

Self-interest was behind this. The companies and individuals behind Australia’s most popular daily newspapers in the early 1930s were bondholders who had lent enormous sums of money to Australian governments before the Depression. So had banks, trustee and life insurance companies that were allied with newspaper owners, and also major newspaper advertisers. If Australian governments had not made severe cuts to spending and instead injected money into the economy through welfare and job creation projects, they would not have been able to pay back their debts. Domestic bondholders would have lost millions in interest payments.

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Now, we see some news outlets again betraying their readers by prioritising business over public health.

In the Murdoch News Corp/Fox Corporation stable in the US, Fox News downplayed the spread of the virus for as long as it could. Its presenters ridiculed predictions about its impact as coming from “panic pushers” and liberals out to damage Trump, while the Wall Street Journal editorialised that shutdowns might be safeguarding public health but “at the cost of its economic health”. Trump jumped on cue and began spouting the same shameful rhetoric that the cure might be worse than the disease because of its economic impact. He wanted Americans back to work by Easter.


The Sun newspaper

Murdoch’s Sun in the UK represented shutdowns there with a bleak front page calling them “HOUSE ARREST” and showing a padlock over the Union Jack.

In the Murdoch outlets in Australia, these views are being faithfully reproduced by Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun and Sky News. Bolt’s column on March 30 was headed “Aussies should be back at work in two weeks”.

During the Great Depression, the mainstream press strongly reflected the economic conservatism of bankers, economists and business leaders. The most vehement outlets were the Argus and the Herald in Melbourne, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, the Mercury in Hobart, and the Brisbane Telegraph and Brisbane Courier. They attacked the Scullin Labor government’s plan to reflate the economy through government stimulus as “economic insanity”, “a dangerous experiment”, “grotesque and menacing”.

But in a turn of phrase that even those papers might have found too hysterical, Bolt recently described economic stimulus packages during coronavirus as “Marxism”. This is despite the fact that economic stimulus is now so widely accepted as part of a mainstream economic toolkit that conservative politicians are using it in Australia, the UK and the US.

Sky News host Alan Jones has also downplayed the virus, saying “we are living in the age of hysteria” and that he wants to see the emphasis placed on protecting people “in nursing homes and hospitals instead of schools and football stadiums”.

Right-wing commentators – presumably working from home themselves – are keen to get everyone back to work in the midst of a pandemic, even though the medical advice says otherwise.

The usual pretence that they are on the side of their audience falls away at a time of crisis. They are representing the interests of business – particularly their own.

Media companies that were already financially fragile are extremely worried about coronavirus. The sudden halt to business has meant the loss of advertising revenue, possibly for a long period, but also the loss of reader income. This means people have less to spend on media and on buying advertisers’ products.

Combined with this is the dramatic loss of sport (of vital importance to the struggling Foxtel, Kayo Sports and tabloid newspapers) and also the end of house auctions when real estate sections and real estate websites were one of the few remaining bright spots for the newspaper groups. The bread-and-butter events that newspapers cover, from entertainment and leisure to restaurant and movies, have stopped, and nobody knows for how long.




Read more:
A matter of trust: coronavirus shows again why we value expertise when it comes to our health


These are unprecedented and menacing threats to commercial media groups. At News Corp, there is the added pressure of a transition in leadership from the 89-year-old Rupert Murdoch to his son, Lachlan Murdoch, a less tested – and less trusted – leader who is unlikely to have the business nous of his father or even his grandfather, Keith Murdoch.

As a journalist and editor, Keith Murdoch was one of those who promoted business interests during the Depression. Rupert’s father was also a vehement conscriptionist during the first and second world wars. Although Keith never signed up for military service himself, he propagandised, almost obsessively, for conscription and called on other men to make a sacrifice for a greater cause.

We need to beware the media commentators of today, anti-science and anti-expertise armchair generals, who likewise call on their fellow citizens to do things they won’t do themselves.The Conversation

Sally Young, Professor, University of Melbourne

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

Coronavirus: 5 ways to manage your news consumption in times of crisis



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Mark Pearson, Griffith University

Thousands of employees internationally are already working from home in COVID-19 self-isolation because of their recent travel, related symptoms or immune system vulnerability.

But to do so while habitually checking the news on devices – and allowing 24/7 news channels to play non-stop in the background – might erode your productivity and increase stress and anxiety.

A foundational element of media literacy in the digital era is striking an appropriate balance between news consumption and other activities. Even before the current crises, Australian research demonstrated news avoidance had risen among news consumers from 57% in 2017 to 62% in 2019, driven by a sense of news fatigue.

Self-help expert Rolf Dobelli implores us to stop reading the news. While he advocates going cold turkey and abandoning all packaged news consumption, Dobelli makes exceptions for long-form journalism and documentaries.

So too does philosopher Alain de Botton in The News – A User’s Manual, while proposing more positive news and journalism’s examination of life’s deeper issues, emotions and aesthetics.

In journalism education there has been a move towards “peace journalism”, “mindful journalism”, “constructive journalism” and “solutions journalism”, where the news should not merely report what is wrong but suggest ways to fix it.




Read more:
How peace journalism can help the media cover elections in Africa


Of course, it would be a mistake to abstain from all news during the COVID-19 pandemic and its unpredictable economic and social consequences.

Often it is best to navigate a middle path, so here are five suggestions on how you can stay in the loop at home while you get your work done – and help maintain your mental health.

1. Switch off

Avoid the 24/7 news channels and feeds unless it is your business to do so, or unless the information is likely to impact you directly.

Try to develop a routine of checking in on the main headlines once, twice or three times a day so you stay informed about the most important events without being sucked into the vortex of click bait and news of incremental changes in the number of coronavirus cases or the ups and downs of the stock markets.

2. Dive deep

Look for long-form journalism and in-depth commentary on the topics that most interest you. Articles by experts (Editor’s note: like those in The Conversation!) include the most important facts you need to know, and are likely to have a constructive angle presenting incisive analysis and a pathway to a solution or best practice.

Spend your time engaging with well-researched and accurate stories.
Eugene Zhyvchik/Unsplash

On radio and television, look for big picture current affairs programs like the ABC’s AM and 7.30 – or on a lighter and more positive note Ten’s The Project – so you don’t have to be assaulted by a disturbing litany of petrol station hold-ups, motorway chases and celebrity gossip in the packaged morning and evening news.

3. Connect

Use social media wisely – for communicating with family and friends when you might be physically isolated and by following authoritative sources if something in the news is affecting your life directly, such as emergency services during cyclones, fires and floods.

But avoid the suggested and sponsored news feeds with dubious and unfiltered information (often shared as spam by social media illiterates).

Keep your social media commentary civil, empathetic and supportive – mindful of everyone’s mental health during a crisis.

4. Interrogate

Ask the key question: “What is the best source of the information I absolutely need to know?”

Go to primary sources where possible. Subscribe to official and authoritative information feeds – for example, daily summaries from the World Health Organisation) and the Commonwealth Department of Health on COVID-19 and your preferred bank’s summary reports on the sharemarket and economic indicators.

5. Be mindful

Bear in mind the well being of any children in your household with the timing and selection of your hard/live news consumption. International research has shown more constructive news stories have fewer negative mental health impacts on children, particularly when combined with the opportunity to discuss the contents with their peers.

It’s important to think about where your children get their news, too.
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Finally, you might also use these crises to build your own media literacy – by pausing to reflect carefully upon what news you really need in your family’s life. This might vary markedly according to your work, interests and passions.

For many of us it will mean a much more critical diet of what we call “traditional hard news” – allowing us the time to read and view material that better contributes to the quality of our own lives and to our varied roles as informed citizens.The Conversation

Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism and Social Media, Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research, Griffith University, Griffith University

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