What’s in the ‘public interest’? Why the ABC is right to cover allegations of inappropriate ministerial conduct



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Alexandra Wake, RMIT University

Immediately after ABC’s Four Corners aired allegations about the conduct of government ministers Alan Tudge and Christian Porter, questions were raised about whether the report was in the “public interest”.

The Australian’s editor-at-large, Paul Kelly, said on Q&A that Porter was “trashed” by the program, adding

What the ABC has done tonight is that it’s crashed through some media barriers and created new media barriers. How far do we go in terms of our definition of the public interest?

We need to be very careful about the damage we do to people’s reputations here and ask ourselves is that an accurate portrait or was it a caricature?

Asked about the story in a Senate committee before the story aired, ABC managing director David Anderson defended it as “absolutely” being in the public interest.

It goes to conduct of ministers, ministers of the Crown, to be held to the highest standard in society. That’s the nature of the story.

Porter has denied the claims made against against him. He had earlier discussed considering legal options against the ABC, but played that down in an interview yesterday.




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Even tawdry stories are in the public interest

Despite Porter’s protestations, the ABC clearly had an obligation to air a story that contained allegations of ministerial misconduct (however tawdry).

News reports about politicians, sex and booze are as old as time and have brought shame to many a politician, from the former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to Deputy Labor Leader Gareth Evans and the UK Secretary of War John Profumo.

The one clear duty of journalism is to hold those in power to account, and that appears to have been lost on those members of government as they reportedly attempted to pressure the ABC, its managers and journalists, over the broadcast.

Barnaby Joyce became embroiled in a scandal over his affair with his former media adviser.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Standards for those in government

Many ethical issues arise from the broadcast, the attempt to pressure the ABC and the legal threats that have followed.

Even before the program had made it to air, the ABC’s management found themselves under attack, with an excruciating Senate Estimates Committee hearing a couple of hours before the broadcast.

But it certainly wasn’t a quick piece of “gotcha” journalism with a blurry photo at its centre. The Four Corners team have an exacting process to their work. For this story, the ABC said they interviewed 200 people over several months. They also contextualised the story beyond the two central politicians to raise real concerns about the place and safety of women who work in Parliament House.

Anderson also said the allegations had been thoroughly sourced and checked legally. Those named in the story were given “ample” opportunity to respond.

Moreover, while the so-called “bonk ban” on ministers having sexual relations with their staff was only introduced by Prime Minister Malcolom Turnbull in 2018, Cabinet ministers have had rules governing their behaviour since John Howard first established a public ministerial code in 1996.

Turnbull says he warned Porter about ‘unacceptable’ behaviour with a young female staffer.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Members of the Morrison Cabinet now sign up to a code of conduct which says they will “act with integrity” and be “open to public scrutiny and explanation”.

Specifically, there is no grey area in these ministerial standards on the point of sexual relationships with staff:

2.24. Ministers must not engage in sexual relations with their staff. Doing so will constitute a breach of this code.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison pointedly said this week that neither Porter nor Tudge were in breach of his code of conduct.

But allegations of sexual misconduct and power imbalances, even historic ones, are still clearly a cause for community concern, and cannot not be ignored by journalists or political leaders. Such matters are no longer private affairs between consenting adults.

Just ask the complainants at AMP, the former CEO of Seven in WA, or even former US president Bill Clinton.




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Action should be taken

Regardless of the salacious allegations made on the Four Corners program, there is also a point to be made about the hypocrisy of politicians who market themselves as having “family values” and demand others follow “Australian values”.

Certainly, it is not edifying to watch details of alleged impropriety by politicians broadcast on television, and it’s uncomfortable that such stories inevitably impact those who are innocently caught up in the furore (particularly partners and children).

Tudge did issue a statement saying he regretted his actions “and the hurt it has caused my family”.




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But with this story, Four Corners has not only produced a program that has interest from the public, it is also in the public’s interest.

There are many questions to be answered from the ministers named in the story and also those who knew about the allegations and did nothing (or even worse, promoted them).

The real outcome of this program should not be a defamation case, but rather action from Morrison. Questions over ministerial conduct are important. This is certainly a matter of public interest.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University

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

Calls for an ABC-run social network to replace Facebook and Google are misguided. With what money?



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Fiona R Martin, University of Sydney

If Facebook prevented Australian news from being shared on its platform, could the ABC start its own social media service to compensate? While this proposal from the Australia Institute is a worthy one, it’s an impossible ask in the current political climate.

The suggestion is one pillar of the think tank’s new Tech-xit report.

The report canvasses what the Australian government should do if Facebook and Google withdraw their news-related services from Australia, in reaction to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s draft news media bargaining code.

Tech-xit rightly notes the ABC is capable of building social media that doesn’t harvest Australians’ personal data. However, it overlooks the costs and challenges of running a social media service — factors raised in debate over the new code.

Platforms react (badly) to the code

The ACCC’s code is a result of years of research into the effects of platform power on Australian media.

It requires Facebook and Google to negotiate with Australian news businesses about licensing payments for hosting news excerpts, providing access to news user data and information on pending news feed algorithm changes.

Predictably, the tech companies are not happy. They argue they make far less from news than the ACCC estimates, have greater costs and return more benefit to the media.

If the code becomes law, Facebook has threatened to stop Australian users from sharing local or international news. Google notified Australians its free services would become “at risk”, although it later said it would negotiate if the draft law was changed in its favour.

Facebook’s withdrawal, which the Tech-xit report sees as being likely if the law passes, would reduce Australians’ capacity to share vital news about their communities, activities and businesses.




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ABC to the rescue?

Cue the ABC then, says Jordan Guiao, the report’s author. Guiao is the former head of social media for both the ABC and SBS, and now works at the institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

He argues that, if given the funding, ABC Online could reinvent itself to become a “national social platform connecting everyday Australians”. He says all the service would have to do is add

distinct user profiles, user publishing and content features, group connection features, chat, commenting and interactive discussion capabilities.

As a trusted information source, he proposes the ABC could enable “genuine exchange and influence on decision making” and “provide real value to local communities starved of civic engagement”.

Financial reality check

It’s a bold move to suggest the ABC could start yet another major network when it has just had to cut A$84 million from its budget and lose more than 200 staff.

The institute’s idea is very likely an effort to persuade the Morrison government it should redirect some of that funding back to Aunty, which has a history of digital innovation with ABC Online, iView, Q&A and the like.

However, the government has repeatedly denied it has cut funding to the national broadcaster. It hasn’t provided
catch-up emergency broadcasting funds since the ABC covered our worst ever fire season. This doesn’t bode well for a change of mind on future allocations.

The government also excluded the ABC and SBS as beneficiaries of the news media bargaining code negotiations.

The ABC doesn’t even have access to start-up venture capital the way most social media companies do. According to Crunchbase, Twitter and Reddit — the two most popular news-sharing platforms after Facebook — have raised roughly US$1.5 billion and US$550 million respectively in investment rounds, allowing them to constantly innovate in service delivery.

Operational challenges

In contrast, over the past decade, ABC Online has had to reduce many of the “social” services it once offered. This is largely due to the cost of moderating online communities and managing user participation.

Illustration of person removing a social media post.
Social media content moderation requires an abundance of time, money and human resources.
Shutterstock

First news comments sections were canned, and online communities such as the Four Corners forums and The Drum website were closed.

Last year, the ABC’s flagship site for regional and rural user-created stories, ABC Open, was also shut down.

Even if the government were to inject millions into an “ABC Social”, it’s unlikely the ABC could deal with the problems of finding and removing illegal content at scale.

It’s an issue that still defeats social media platforms and the ABC does not have machine learning expertise or funds for an army of outsourced moderators.

The move would also expose the ABC to accusations it was crowding out private innovation in the platform space.

A future without Facebook

It’s unclear whether Facebook will go ahead with its threat of preventing Australian users from sharing news on its platform, given the difficulties with working out exactly who an Australian user is.

For instance, the Australian public includes dual citizens, temporary residents, international students and business people, and expatriates.

If it does, why burden the ABC with the duty to recreate social media? Facebook’s withdrawal could be a boon for Twitter, Reddit and whatever may come next.

In the meantime, if we restored the ABC’s funding, it could develop more inventive ways to share local news online that can’t be threatened by Facebook and Google.




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The Conversation


Fiona R Martin, Associate Professor in Convergent and Online Media, University of Sydney

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

How COVID caused chaos for cricket – and may force a rethink of all sport broadcasting deals


Jack Anderson, University of Melbourne

Cricket Australia faces a summer of discontent.

The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed financial and governance tensions and mistrust involving its players’ and state associations. However, those issues are a distant second to the current dissatisfaction and distrust that one of the sport’s broadcasting partners has with the quality and scheduling of the upcoming domestic playing season.

Channel Seven’s A$450 million concern with the restricted number of Australian international cricketers who might appear in this year’s BBL tournament now threatens to destabilise the sport’s principal source of revenue – the combined Foxtel and Seven six-year broadcasting deal signed in 2018 and worth A$1.18 billion over its six-year term.

COVID causes chaos

In March, it had all looked so different. On International Women’s Day 2020, the MCG hosted the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup Final. Played in front of 86,000 people, Australia’s victory over India was a suitable end to a highly successful tournament. Within a week sport in Melbourne – including the first Formula 1 race of the year – and indeed globally had to shut down due to the pandemic.

Of all the major sports in Australia, cricket seemed the best equipped to survive the coronavirus lockdown. By then, 90% of the season had been completed. The men’s T20 World Cup tournament, to be hosted by Australia, was not scheduled until October, a month that marked the second anniversary of the appointment of the then CEO of Cricket Australia (CA), Kevin Roberts.

And yet the following month 80% of staff at Cricket Australia were stood down. The CEO was indicating that by August cricket would, to the amazement of many within the sport, have severe cashflow problems.




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By June it was clear the men’s T20 World Cup would have to be postponed and Roberts was gone. He was replaced on an interim basis by Nick Hockley, then the CEO of the T20 World Cup local organising committee who had overseen the successful women’s T20 World Cup earlier in the year.

The previous Cricket Australia CEO, James Sutherland, had been in the job for 17 years. In contrast, 2020 was a precarious year to be a CEO in Australian sport – the CEOs of both Rugby Australia (RA) and the National Rugby League (NRL) also departed their jobs in April.

A scrum during an NRL match between the Melbourne Storm and Manly Sea Eagles
2020 has been a precarious year for many sporting codes, including NRL.
Dan Peled/AAP

Reflecting on the year’s instability, Sutherland commented empathetically that when you’re a sports administrator, you can deal with anything but uncertainty.

And for all Australian sports, 2020 has brought nothing but uncertainty to their finances, competition scheduling and administration.

Too much riding on broadcast deals

However, one point that has been constant in the operation of elite professional sport in Australia and elsewhere is how dependent their revenues are on TV broadcasting deals. The AFL’s revenue in 2019 was just shy of A$800 million, half of which related to broadcasting and media. Broadcasting accounted for 61% of the NRL’s total revenue last year.

The lengths to which the AFL and the NRL have gone to ensure their seasons go ahead – from biosecurity hubs and lobbying state and federal governments for border exemptions, to pay cuts for players and staff – must be seen in the context of their dependency on TV money.

In April, the equation for the AFL and NRL, as it was for Rugby Australia and the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) whose schedules were also affected, was simple: in the absence of games, there would be no obligation on broadcasters to honour their TV rights deals. This meant up to two-thirds of the sport’s revenue would disappear overnight.

In terms of contract law, broadcasters hinted at provisions in the agreements with sports such as force majeure clauses (unforeseeable circumstances), acts of God and other principles of contract law, such as the doctrine of frustration.

Broadcasters argued these would allow them to walk away from existing deals given that, for reasons outside both parties’ control, the playing season could not go ahead as scheduled, if at all.

Even as sports bodies desperately gave them assurances a season would go ahead, broadcasters remained adamant that the product they had originally paid for was now of such a different variety that the original broadcasting deal would have to be stood down and terms and conditions renegotiated.

Clearly, it was in the interest of the above sports bodies to enter into such negotiations. They did so with alacrity and some success. It must also be noted that an absence of live TV would likely have had an impact on what has fast become the second-most-important source of review for Australian sport – gambling.

For the broadcasters, as the playing seasons in the AFL, NRL and other codes were about to begin, they were acutely aware that without sport a significant advertising hole would be left in their schedules for the next six months. Moreover, given the pandemic had halted production of other advertising-rich programs such as reality TV, and the postponement of key international events such as the Olympics would exacerbate the scarcity of live sport on the schedules, it was also in the interest of broadcasters not to walk away from such deals.

The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics added further pain for broadcasters.
Eugene Hoshiko/AP/AAP

Lessons from a difficult year

The lessons from all of this are that, despite its protestations, it seems inevitable Cricket Australia will also have to renegotiate its broadcasting deal with Seven. The reality for modern sports organisations is that, while they rightly lament the absence of spectators, a dearth of subscribers does much greater commercial damage.

Cricket Australia faces a slightly trickier situation than the AFL, NRL and others faced earlier in the year. A key concern for the domestic broadcasters is that CA has been frustratingly slow in confirming its summer schedule.

Moreover, in renegotiating with other sports, there was never an issue that the best players available domestically in those sports would not play. Given the international demands and scheduling in cricket – notably Test matches against India and Afghanistan – it seems CA cannot guarantee the availability of the quality of player in competitions such as the BBL that the broadcasters feel their money deserves.

While matters now seem tense between CA and its broadcasting partners, the current standoff is probably all just part of the preening process. Already, CA has responded by indicating it will be more aggressive in its recruitment of marquee international players for the BBL. It has also raised the salary cap for those on BBL rosters. A “relaunched” BBL in its tenth year and over the summer holiday period would be an attractive proposition.

A relaunched Big Bash League (BBL) this coming summer could be an attractive proposition.
Scott Barbour/AAP

As the interim chief of CA, who is in an unenviable position, contemplates the inevitable phone call with the broadcaster, it might be advisable for him first to call the CEOs of the other sports organisation that have been recently through this process. The sport’s former, long-time boss Sutherland, recently installed as the CEO of Golf Australia, would also be worth talking to. Their experience could be invaluable for cricket in the weeks ahead.




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Finally, an interesting subtext to all of this is the emerging view that sports rights are overvalued and the future of such deals lies elsewhere in streaming services and on other digital, even in-house platforms.

But that is a matter for the future. For now, cricket powerbrokers should heed the advice of one of sport’s most colourful dealmakers, the boxing promoter Don King, who once said that, in sports contracts, you never get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.The Conversation

Jack Anderson, Professor of Sports Law, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

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

ABC has for too long been unwilling to push back against interference – at its journalists’ expense



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

For those who watch the affairs of the ABC through the eyes of a critical friend, the removal of Emma Alberici, made public on August 21, is deeply disturbing.

It is the climax to a destructive series of events that began more than two years ago and once again draws attention to two serious weaknesses in the ABC’s management arrangements.

One is structural: the editor-in-chief is fatally compromised in that role by also being managing director. The managing director has corporate responsibilities that conflict with his or her editorial responsibilities every time the government tightens the financial screws.

That is not a reflection on David Anderson’s character or probity; it is the inevitable consequence of having the one person in both roles.

It also happens that Anderson – like his ill-fated predecessor Michelle Guthrie – is not a journalist. This makes it hard for him to give the kind of editorial leadership the ABC requires.




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The second weakness is cultural. This long pre-dates Anderson’s term and is the product of sustained hostility from successive Coalition governments going back to the start of the Howard prime ministership in 1996.

The preceding 12 years of the Hawke-Keating governments had hardly been a golden age for the ABC, but it generally got year-on-year funding increases.

And in the tough-minded minister for communications, Michael Duffy, it had a defender in cabinet who was prepared to confront Hawke and other ministers infuriated by some of the ABC’s reporting.

As for the three years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd interlude, Labor was too busy tearing itself to pieces to bother with the ABC.

Former Prime Minister John Howard
Concerted government attacks on the ABC began under John Howard.
Mark Graham/AAP

Now, according to Anderson, after six years of cumulative budget cuts by the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison administrations, the total effective reduction in ABC funding will amount to A$105.9 million per year by 2022.

And as for defenders in cabinet, the present communications minister, Paul Fletcher, is as mute as a swan.

Clearly all this has sapped morale.

In September 2018, a dossier compiled by Michelle Guthrie was leaked, revealing an email in which Justin Milne, as chair of the ABC, told her to get rid of Alberici, declaring the government “hate her”.

Over the preceding months, the government had repeatedly criticised stories Alberici had done in her role as chief economics correspondent.

Guthrie’s dossier came to light in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald at a time when the ABC had decided to sack her. In the ensuing “firestorm” – Milne’s word – he was consumed as well.




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Milne had been concerned also with the work of political editor Andrew Probyn. He wanted Guthrie to “shoot” Probyn because the government hated him too and his continued presence was putting at risk half-a-billion dollars in funding for the ABC.

Assuming Milne and Guthrie were telling the truth, there could not be a clearer instance of how the government was using funding to undermine the ABC’s editorial independence.

The effects of this sustained intimidation are felt a long way down the ABC’s editorial food chain.

In May 2018, Barnaby Joyce accepted a reported $150,000 fee to appear with his lover on Channel Seven and talk about the affair that ended Joyce’s marriage and was a breach of the ministerial code of conduct. The ABC asked me to write a commentary on it.

I filed an article saying Joyce’s decision to take money for telling a story that concerned his public duties called into question his fitness for public office.

There was an awkward response from within the ABC indicating some disquiet further up the line. Would I mind not saying that about Joyce?

The rest of that exchange was off the record, but suffice to say I minded very much and withdrew the article. It later appeared unchanged in The Conversation and The Age.

That incident – small in itself but large in principle – revealed a malaise in editorial leadership at several levels.

Four months later came the revelations in Guthrie’s dossier about Milne’s attempts to have Probyn and Alberici sacked. It seems reasonable to infer word was filtering down from the top that if the ABC wanted to avoid yet more trouble from the government, it had better mind its manners.

Former ABC chair Justin Milne and former managing director Michelle Guthrie
Justin Milne told Michelle Guthrie to sack Emma Alberici and Andrew Probyn because the government hated them.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Alberici is now gone anyway, part of a wave of 200 redundancies announced by Anderson in June in response to the latest round of budget cuts.

It is clear from a leak of correspondence between her lawyer and the ABC the parting was anything but amicable, having finished up in the Fair Work Commission.

Her position as chief economics correspondent had been abolished and she was offered positions as a presenter. Alberici tweeted she wanted a reporting job.

So the ghosts of Justin Milne, Malcolm Turnbull and Michelle Guthrie continue to haunt the ABC.

The board that presided over the Milne-Guthrie implosion is still largely intact, despite having come out badly from a Senate inquiry into that debacle.

The committee of inquiry said:

This catalogue of events may give rise to the perception that the ABC Board had not been sufficiently active in protecting either the ABC’s independence from political interference or its own integrity.

And the structural and cultural weaknesses laid bare by the saga remain.

The strategy the Howard government developed for dealing with the ABC – funding cuts, pointless inquiries and cultural warfare – is being followed to the letter by the present government.

2017 was a vintage year, and sums up the problems:

  • Abbott’s cuts from three years earlier were working their way through the system

  • Pauline Hanson, smarting from a Four Corners investigation, secured a promise from the government to hold an inquiry into whether the ABC and SBS operated on a “level playing field” (Answer: yes they did)

One of history’s many lessons is that appeasement does not work. Editorial executives have one over-riding responsibility: to provide a safe environment in which their staff can do independent journalism, regardless of corporate, political or economic interests.




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Part of that is having the professional experience to understand what is involved, which includes absorbing the bullying that comes from powerful people and, where necessary, hitting back.

There has been no sign the ABC’s journalists have been getting that kind of protection, least of all from the board.

Instead, they are at the mercy of a vindictive government, urged on by its mates in News Corporation, which has a vested interest in weakening the ABC and shamelessly campaigns for exactly that.

The original version of this article contained a reference to an email concerning the coverage of marriage equality on the ABC. The author has subsequently learnt more about the origins and context of that email and acknowledges that the context as presented in the original article was wrong. That passage has been removed.The Conversation

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

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

Whether a ratings chase or ideological war, News Corp’s coronavirus coverage is dangerous



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Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, in significant parts of its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, has become a clear and present danger to the welfare of Australian society.

Aping the worst of the American media – notably Murdoch’s Fox News – it rails against science, ridicules the measures being taken to suppress the outbreak, and tries to politicise a germ.

It also propagates hate speech, vilifying ethnic and religious minorities in whose suburbs, schools and housing towers clusters have broken out.

In all these ways, it drives divisions in Australian society and sows doubt in the minds of an anxious population about the need for lockdowns and other precautions.




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This critique is directed primarily at its opinion articles and television commentaries, rather than at its news coverage.

The news coverage has been extensive, has included many voices, and has kept its audiences up to date with what is going on. It has also been vigorous in holding governments to account for their mistakes, which is exactly what the media should do.

But the racism, ridiculing of science and ideological warfare that has disfigured much of the commentary have nothing to do with holding governments to account or providing the community with essential information.

On Sky, Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, launched an attack on Muslims and South Sudanese people over Melbourne’s second wave of COVID-19 that was a toxic mixture of vitriol and ignorance.

She blamed South Sudanese people living in Coburg for a cluster of 14 new infections, which she said were triggered by a feast to mark the end of Ramadan, the Muslim season of abstinence.

The Society of South Sudanese Professionals pointed out to her that more than 90% of South Sudanese in Victoria are Christian, not Muslim. Moreover, very few of them live in Coburg and the cluster did not consist of South Sudanese people.

For those errors of fact, Credlin apologised. But her fairmindedness did not extend to an apology for a nasty rhetorical question about the character of South Sudanese immigrants in general, linking well-worn tropes about gangs, unemployment and alleged inability to speak “Australia’s national language”.

Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph was onto the same immigrant-bashing exercise. He noted that three of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in Melbourne were the Flemington towers, the Islamic Al-Taqwa College and the Cedar Meats abattoir.

Here was a trifecta for divisiveness: African immigrants, Muslims and a meatworks that, according to Bolt, employs many immigrants and donates money to the Labor Party.

Most recently, as mask-wearing was made compulsory in Victoria, Bolt and Alan Jones turned their attacks against that too. That represented a significant change and was based on new data.

In June, The Lancet, one of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world, published an article based on a meta-analysis of 172 observational studies and 44 comparative studies into the efficacy of physical distancing, mask-wearing and eye protection as ways of reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.

It found face mask use could greatly reduce risk of infection.

The breadth and authoritativeness of the study persuaded health experts in Australia and elsewhere that mask-wearing was now a more important part of the armoury against COVID-19 than had been previously thought.

Bolt likened this to a kind of political backflip. Jones called it “alarmism”.

They might do well to recall the remark of economist John Maynard Keynes:

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Jones proclaimed on Sky (July 20) that he had a pile of medical data stating that mask-wearing was ineffectual. He said he had done some research of his own over the weekend to support this proposition.

He went on to declare that government responses to the pandemic were shafting ordinary hard-working Australians.

Bolt stated he no longer trusted what Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said about coronavirus. Like Jones, Bolt questioned the medical basis for the decision to make mask-wearing compulsory.

There has also been a party-political dimension to the News Corp coverage.

This has been evident in the contrast between The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the Ruby Princess debacle (Coalition government in New South Wales) and the Herald Sun’s coverage of the hotel quarantine debacle (Labor government in Victoria).

My analysis of 464 articles in the Telegraph on the Ruby Princess showed the coverage was extensive, quoting many voices trenchantly critical of the way the government handled the case. However, the newspaper itself made no direct personal attack on Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

A similar analysis I undertook of 411 articles in the Herald Sun about hotel quarantine and subsequent second wave likewise showed extensive coverage quoting many voices trenchantly critical of the government. But there was an additional dimension: direct personal attacks on Daniel Andrews, which has become a speciality of Credlin’s.

While the Murdoch organisation’s approach stands out as systematic and sustained, Channel Nine has also made episodic contributions to this dark side of Australia’s media performance.

Its Today program has twice disgraced itself. First it gave Senator Pauline Hanson a platform from which to make a racist attack on the people in Melbourne’s public housing towers. Then Today hosted an extreme right-winger, DeAnne Lorraine, from the United States, who says COVID-19 is a conspiracy to change the world.

Her stream of consciousness in support of this proposition included a reference to the Caduceus, symbol of medicine since time immemorial.

Fake science. And look at the snake. The snake is their logo. That should tell you everything you need to know, right there.

Whether the motive is to chase ratings, as with Nine, or to prosecute ideological and cultural warfare, as with Murdoch’s News Corporation, the consequences for Australian society are dire.

The coronavirus pandemic has created well-founded anxiety in people for their health and economic well-being. In times like these, there is always a tendency in human nature to look for scapegoats or to deny reality.




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Media coverage of the kind described here exploits that anxiety and feeds those natural human impulses, leading to social division and resistance to medical advice.

Both these consequences work against suppression of the virus. That is why it represents a clear and present danger to society.The Conversation

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

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

When The Today Show gave Pauline Hanson a megaphone, it diminished Australia’s social capital



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

In the early 1990s, Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam embarked on a series of studies that were to make his name synonymous with the concept of what is now widely referred to as social capital.

He has written a few bestsellers about it, including Bowling Alone and Better Together.

The idea, basically, is that societies with lots of networks – sports clubs, churches, community organisations – have higher social capital than do societies in which people are not joined in these ways. Putnam assembled a large body of evidence to support his case.




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High social capital brought with it norms of reciprocity: people looked out for each other and acted in ways that enhanced the common good. It was especially valuable in times of trouble.

On television on the evening of July 5 2020 we saw social capital being accumulated: ordinary Melburnians bringing carloads of food and other essentials for the 3,000 people locked down in the residential tower blocks of Flemington and Kensington.

On television that same morning, we had seen social capital being destroyed: Senator Pauline Hanson delivering a divisive and ignorant rant, with racist overtones, excoriating those same 3,000 people.

They couldn’t speak English, said Hanson. They were drug addicts who were now having their habits fed at public expense.

Channel Nine’s Today show, on which this atrocity was broadcast, thought it was great sport. It put out a tweet promoting the rant and inviting people to say what they thought. Life, you understand, is measured in analytics – ratings, engagement and eyeballs.

This unleashed a social media backlash, so after studied reflection Channel Nine announced Hanson would no longer be a regular guest on the show. It also deleted the tweet mentioned above. Perhaps Hanson will just be an irregular one when an opportunity arises to ventilate hate speech.

Nine’s director of news and current affairs, Darren Wick, said in a statement:

We don’t shy away from diverse opinions and robust debate, but this morning’s accusations from Pauline Hanson were ill-informed and divisive. At a time of uncertainty in this national and global health crisis, Australians have to be united and supportive of one another.

By then, naturally, the analytics had been harvested.

Predictably, Hanson was then reported in The Australian as saying her right to free speech had been infringed.

No. She had exercised her right to free speech, and now she had to wear the consequences. That is the way it works in a democracy: speech that does unjustifiable harm brings consequences.

In this case there was an interesting sidelight to the free speech argument.

At 4.10pm on the afternoon of July 6 – roughly five hours after the story broke – a Google search yielded no link to any story on the issue in Nine’s two major metropolitan daily newspapers, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Two searches of their websites at that time yielded nothing either.

It was in The Australian – with reaction from Hanson; it was in the Guardian Australia; it was even in the Wauchope Gazette, perhaps the first time it has ever scooped the SMH on a national story.




Read more:
Coronavirus is a huge story, so journalists must apply the highest ethical standards in how they tell it


It finally appeared on the SMH and Age websites a little after 4.30pm.

Long before Hanson got into the act, the large number of Sudanese refugees who live in those towers had for years been stopped, searched and questioned repeatedly by Victoria Police.

Eventually, in 2010, the police were sued under the Racial Discrimination Act by a group of young Sudanese men, who alleged the police engaged in racial profiling. That is, the police took action against them based on their race rather than on anything they were reasonably suspected of having done.

On the basis of statistical evidence from the police force’s own data base, Professor Chris Cunneen, a criminologist from James Cook University who specialises in the policing of Aboriginal people, concluded that racial profiling was happening in Flemington.

In 2013, the case, Haile-Michael v Konstantinidis, was settled at the door of the court, with the police promising to introduce training programs designed to improve relations between the police and ethnic minorities, particularly African communities. However, the police always denied the charge of racial profiling.

It was a long and complex saga, an excellent summary of which can be found here.

Against this troubled background, the potential exists for tension in the towers to reach dangerous levels no matter how well the police on duty there perform now.

By giving rein to her ignorance and prejudice, Hanson has made their job, and the lives of the locked-down residents, even more difficult. She has diminished Australia’s social capital.

And Channel Nine gave her a megaphone to do it with.The Conversation

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

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

Latest $84 million cuts rip the heart out of the ABC, and our democracy



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

At the height of the coronavirus emergency, and on the back of devastating bushfires, Australia’s much awarded and trusted national broadcaster has again been forced to make major cuts to staff, services and programs. It is doing so to offset the latest $84 million budget shortfall as a result of successive cuts from the Coalition government.

In the latest cuts, wrapped up as part of the national broadcaster’s five-year plan,

  • 250 staff will lose their jobs

  • the major 7:45am news bulletin on local radio has been axed

  • ABC Life has lost staff but somehow expanded to become ABC Local

  • independent screen production has been cut by $5 million

  • ABC News Channel programming is still being reviewed.

Even the travel budget, which allows journalists and storytellers to get to places not accessible by others, has been cut by 25%.

These are just the latest in a long list of axed services, and come off the back of the federal government’s indexation freeze.

Announced in 2018, that freeze reduced the ABC budget by $84 million over three years and resulted in an ongoing reduction of $41 million per annum from 2022.




Read more:
The ABC didn’t receive a reprieve in the budget. It’s still facing staggering cuts


The indexation freeze is part of ongoing reductions to ABC funding that total $783 million since 2014. In an email to staff, Managing Director David Anderson said the cut to the ABC in real terms means operational funding will be more than 10% lower in 2021–22 than it was in 2013.

To be fair, the way in which the ABC executive has chosen to execute the latest cuts does make some sense, pivoting more towards digital and on-demand services. Right now, the commuting audience that has long listened to the 7:45am bulletin is clearly changing habits. However, with widespread closures of newspapers across the nation, the need for independent and trusted news in depth, that is not online has never been more important.

ABC Life is a particular loss. It has built an extremely diverse reporting team, reaching new audiences, and winning over many ABC supporters and others who were initially sceptical. The work they produced certainly wasn’t the type commercial operators would create.

Clearly the coronavirus pandemic has slashed Australia’s commercial media advertising revenues. But the problems in the media are a result of years of globalisation, platform convergence and audience fragmentation. In such a situation, Australia’s public broadcasters should be part of the solution for ensuring a diverse, vibrant media sector. Instead, it continues to be subject to ongoing budget cuts.

Moreover, at a time when the public really cannot afford to be getting their news from Facebook or other social media outlets, cutting 250 people who contribute to some of Australia’s most reliable and quality journalism and storytelling – and literally saving lives during the bushfires – appear to be hopelessly shortsighted.

The latest Digital News Report 2020 clearly showed the ABC is the media outlet Australians trust the most.

These latest cuts join a long list of axed services in the past seven years. They include

While not everyone will miss every program or service that has gone, and even with its occasional missteps, there is no doubt the ABC is the envy of the liberal democracies that do not have publicly funded assets, particularly the United States.

Has the ABC’s budget been increased?

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has continued to suggest the funding cuts are not real, are sustainable without service reductions for Australians, and has claimed the ABC has received “increased funding”.

The minister’s comments are not consistent with data we published last year based on the government’s own annual budget statements and the reality of the ongoing situation for the ABC.




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


The government argues base or departmental funding is higher in 2020-21 than it was in 2013-14. The relevant budget papers do show that in 2013-14, the ABC was allocated $865 million for “general operational activities”. The most recent budget statement shows this has increased to $878 million in 2020-21.

So how can it be the ABC budget shows this increase when we have been arguing they are facing an overall cut?

First, we noted last year the complexity of the budget process, which means, for example, the reinstatement of short-term funding can be counted as extra funds, or the ending of such funds, while reducing an agency budget, will not appear as a reduction in allocation.

Second, the 2020-21 ABC budget reflects the inclusion of indexation for increases in CPI-related costs between 2013-14 and 2018-19. This is the funding that is being halted until at least 2021-22.

So despite statements to the contrary, nothing can change the fact the ABC has suffered massive cuts in recent years. The data published last year showed the reality of the ongoing situation for the ABC, with an annual cost to its budget in 2020-21 of $116 million. As the table below shows, taking into account actual budget allocations and adding the items cut, frozen or otherwise reduced, the ABC should have funding of approximately $1.181 billion in 2020-21, not the $1.065 billion it will receive.

It is against this background the latest funding freeze, due to a failure to meet the impact of inflation costs, occurs. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, the three year impact is $84 million, and has resulted in the cuts announced today.

But more importantly, these ongoing cuts represent an attack by the federal government on the broadcaster, its role in democracy, and in keeping Australians safe, informed and entertained.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.

Coronavirus TV ‘support’ package leaves screen writers and directors even less certain than before



Worst Year of My Life, Again!
IMDB

Kay Nankervis, Charles Sturt University

Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announced three measures last week to help commercial TV broadcasters deal with COVID-19 financial stress.

First, the spectrum tax broadcasters pay the government for access to audiences will be waived for 12 months.

Second, the government has released an options paper on how to make Australian storytelling on our screens fair across new and old platforms.

But it’s the third measure that is a shock: for the rest of 2020, all quotas requiring commercial TV networks to make Australian drama, documentary and children’s television have been shelved. Fletcher said networks can’t create the content because COVID-19 constraints have stalled most production.

But arts, screen directing and screenwriting bodies disagree. They say the quota pause across two financial years will cost jobs. And they’re worried this measure signals how the government will act on regulation options in the paper released at the same time.

4 ways forward

The paper from Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) explores two issues: firstly, how to promote Australian drama, documentary and children’s television across all home screen platforms; secondly, how to level the regulatory playing field across those platforms.

Commercial TV broadcasters have had to meet a 55% Australian content quota for decades – including sub-quotas of drama, documentary and children’s programs. Meanwhile, the global streaming services Australian audiences are flooding to, such as Netflix and Stan, do not have to meet any quotas. Nor do other digital platforms in Australia.

The Screen Australia/ACMA paper presents four possible ways forward:

  1. keep the status quo: leave commercial networks as the only platform bound to content quotas
  2. minimal change: ask streaming services to invest voluntarily in Australian content and revise what commercial networks have to produce (maybe axing children’s TV quotas)
  3. establish a “platform-neutral” system to compel and encourage Australian content-making across all of commercial television, digital platforms and global streaming services
  4. deregulation: no one – including commercial networks – would have to meet any content quota requirements.

There is still time for industry bodies to respond to these choices. But option 3, cross-platform incentives and Australian content rules for all, would appeal most to the arts sector. It is the only option of the four which genuinely promotes Australian storytelling on our screens and the jobs that go with it.

Streaming services such as Netflix and Stan will hate that proposition. They and other digital platforms will resist having to follow content rules.

Would hit kids’ show Bluey have been made without content quotas?
ABC

Levelling the field or throwing away the rules?

Commercial networks have long sought a level playing field – and the platform-neutral option offers that. But what they really want is the freedom the other platforms have now: to make and deliver whatever content they think audiences will watch. That’s option 4: total deregulation and all content obligations removed.

Deregulation would hurt Australian creative production jobs. A PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) study quoted in the Screen Australia/ACMA paper predicts that if quotas were dropped from commercial television, children’s TV production there would end, drama production would fall 90% and documentary making would halve.

Enter the government’s Relief for Australian media during COVID-19: commercial networks still have to broadcast 55% Australia content in 2020. But they don’t have to make drama, documentary or children’s content as part of that quota.

The Australian Writers Guild (AWG) – representing drama and documentary screen writers – has slammed the quotas pause. They say the government has abandoned creative workers to help a handful of media companies. They’re worried this trial deregulation will change the production landscape forever. And they accuse networks of using COVID-19 as “the excuse they need in their quest to end the quota system once and for all”.

The Directors Guild, Screen Producers Australia and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance are also anxious about screen jobs – and where the federal government will go on the quotas issue.

That’s understandable.

We’ve just seen the government dismiss Australian content quotas as “red tape”. We can only guess where its sympathy for corona-stressed TV networks will take us next.The Conversation

Kay Nankervis, Lecturer in Theatre, Media and Creative Practice., Charles Sturt University

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

Media chiefs unite on press freedom, but will it result in any action?



News Corp Executive Chariman Michael Miller (left), Nine Chief Executive Officer Hugh Marks (centre) and ABC Managing Director David Anderson (right) stressed unity in their fight for press freedom.
Rohan Thomson/AAP

Colleen Murrell, Swinburne University of Technology

In a rare show of unity, the heads of Australia’s biggest news organisations – the ABC, Nine and News Corp – have called for stronger legal protections for press freedom in the wake of this month’s police raids on journalists.

Sharing a panel at the National Press Club in Canberra, the media chiefs outlined several key demands:

  • search warrants to be contestable before the arrival of police
  • better protection for whistleblowers
  • a limitation on the number of documents being marked secret by various government bodies
  • a review of freedom of information laws
  • an exemption for journalists from being prosecuted under national security laws

First to address the lunchtime crowd was the ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, who called the fact that he was seated alongside News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller and Nine chief executive Hugh Marks “an unlikely coalition of the willing.”

But he underlined that unity was imperative because “the stakes are so high.”




Read more:
Explainer: what are the media companies’ challenges to the AFP raids about?


Anderson made a passionate speech that stressed the ABC’s record of “speaking the truth to the community”. He listed the many investigative reports by ABC journalists that led to royal commissions, from Chris Masters’ 1987 “Moonlight State” report on corruption in Queensland’s police force to more recent ones in banking and aged care.

He also referred to the work of ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark on a series of stories called the Afghan Files, the reporting that led to the AFP raid on the ABC’s Ultimo headquarters in Sydney.

Anderson argued that it was difficult for the media to do its job with the “patchwork of laws” in place and whistleblowers running the risk of “being cowed out of existence”. Most importantly, he stressed that

decriminalising journalism is a mandatory first step.

‘Balance too weighted towards secrecy’

Marks claimed that press freedom had been eroded in Australia due to a mix of technological change, bad legislation and over-zealous officials. He said it was now

more risky and it’s more expensive to do journalism that makes a real difference in this country than ever before.

Like Anderson, Marks also emphasised the important investigative public interest journalism carried out by Fairfax and Nine journalists in recent years, including work by Laurie Oakes, Adele Ferguson, Joanne McCarthy and Chris O’Keefe.




Read more:
Four laws that need urgent reform to protect both national security and press freedom


He argued that media freedom was under threat because “governments and institutions are becoming more secretive” and that national security was sometimes invoked to shut down debate on spurious grounds. He believed

the balance is too weighted towards secrecy.

Marks took issue with various current laws, arguing that defamation laws didn’t achieve what they were meant to and the huge rise in suppression orders and complexity of Freedom of Information laws led to an “obstacle course of legal hazards”. Bearing this in mind he said:

This would be the stuff of pantomine were it not so serious.

Miller drew attention to Australia’s slide down the 2019 World Press Freedom Index to number 21 – below Suriname and just ahead of Samoa – and commented that Australia should instead be “leading by example”. He believed that two AFP raids in two days, plus “strong information that other raids were planned” equalled “intimidation not investigation”.

Miller said News Corp had called on Attorney-General Christian Porter to make sure that its journalist, Annika Smethurst, doesn’t face criminal charges after the raid on her home.

He said many of the faults in our laws could be “easily corrected to reset the balance between security and the right to know”.

But there is a deeper problem – the culture of secrecy. Too many people who frame policy, write laws, control information, and conduct court hearings, have stopped believing that the public’s right to know comes first.

More action, fewer promises

The most interesting part of the discussion came when ABC’s Matthew Doran asked the panellists if they thought the public would get behind changing laws to suit a group of privileged journalists. Marks said it was a start.

Freedom of speech feels very personal to me. We have to make it feel personal for the public.

But there were some in the room who appeared less reassured by the rhetoric on display. The Guardian’s Katherine Murphy pointed out that when these laws were passed “tranche by tranche” in recent years, there was not much media focus on these changes.




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


Sky’s David Speers also seemed unimpressed that the media chiefs weren’t calling for a parliamentary inquiry, asking to whom they were speaking in regard to change. Miller’s reply was that they were releasing a document outlining their key demands and that the three of them being there together indicated the importance of the issue.

At the end of the day, perhaps the presence of all three media chiefs united together was singular. Immediately following the event, press freedom campaigner and University of Queensland Professor Peter Greste said “that rare show of unity is hard to understate” and that the AFP raids had

created a rare moment of opportunity that we need to seize.

Nonetheless, he thought it

deeply concerning that none of them seemed to have had any meaningful commitments to action from the government.

News Corp is taking its battle to the high court as it believes that the search warrant on Smethurst’s house was vague and incomplete.

The ABC, likewise, is challenging the police raid on its premises in federal court. Anderson would like the ABC’s downloaded data returned and wants there to be a “threshold test” regarding the justification for when the police can enter media premises.

The publicity from this unified initiative is no doubt positive, but it is entirely possible that a newly elected government could sit back and wait for these legal cases from News Corp and the ABC to pass through the courts before taking any action.

There is little pressure on governments to make concessions to an unpopular press in an era of suspicion of the media, whipped up by populist movements around the world.

The Conversation

Colleen Murrell, Associate Professor, Journalism, Swinburne University of Technology

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