Mixed media: how Australia’s newspapers became locked in a war of left versus right



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The Australian media’s lack of diversity puts significant strain on our democracy.
http://www.allworldnewspapers.com

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

We are living through a period of fragmentation and polarisation in public discourse on a scale mankind has not before experienced. By far the greatest fragmenting and polarising force is social media.

An increasing proportion of the population, especially those under 40, get their news from social media, overwhelmingly from Facebook. The algorithms that tailor what Facebook prioritises for each individual allow users to choose only those topics or opinions that they want to hear. This has led to the formation of echo chambers or information cocoons.

So we have the paradox of the internet: the technology that provides a global village square also provides the means by which people in the square can block their ears and shut their eyes to things they don’t want to hear or see.

This places great strain on democracy. In the words of William Butler Yeats, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

In Australia, the effects of this phenomenon are made worse by the increased polarisation of the country’s two main newspaper companies, News Corporation and Fairfax Media.

Australia has very little diversity in its traditional media sector, especially its newspapers. News Corp controls roughly 70% of daily circulation and Fairfax roughly 20%. And for all their cutbacks in journalistic capacity, it is still the newspapers that inject the most new material into the 24/7 news cycle.

So when these two companies become polarised to the extent they have, there is a void at the centre. Notably, this is where The Guardian Australia has positioned itself (in reporting, at least – its opinions still lean to the left).

Sharp differences in political outlook among newspapers are nothing new, of course.

In Melbourne, The Argus was conservative, the paper of the squattocracy and the merchant class. It opposed land reform and favoured free trade, while The Age was progressive, supportive of the miners at Eureka, in favour of land reform and a crusader for protectionist trade policy.

In Sydney, The Sydney Morning Herald was profoundly conservative. The paper was opposed to democracy (which it called mobocracy) and supportive of a property franchise for the New South Wales Parliament. By contrast, The Empire, founded and edited by Henry Parkes, was guided by the principle that, in a colonial society, the working classes were the nucleus and makers of a democratic nation.

So there has never been a golden age when newspapers were heroically detached from interests and ideologies.

However, in the post-war period, the ideal of impartiality in news coverage gained a strong hold on the journalistic mind. American newspapers were the exemplars of this ideal. They were heavily influenced by the 1947 report of the US Commission on the Freedom of the Press, which had been set up to try to rebuild public confidence in the media after a period of corrosive sensationalism and propagandising in the early 20th century.

Appointed and paid for by the media itself, the commission consisted of intelligent and high-minded people from the media, government and academia. Its intellectual leader was a Harvard philosopher, William Ernest Hocking.

The commission’s report laid a solemn duty on the media to render a reliable account of the events of the day: factual, impartial and accurate. Comment was to play no part in news reporting, and was to be confined to pages set aside for it.

Generations of journalists in Western democracies – including me – were trained in this ideal.

Over time, however, it reduced news stories to a desiccated collection of unexplained facts, devoid of context and analysis. And anyway, the idea of a completely impartial and detached reporter came to be seen as fanciful, not to say fraudulent.

Gradually, news stories became more analytical, which introduced an overt element of subjectivity. Comment began to infiltrate news pages, so that now we have reached a point where news reportage, analysis and comment are commonly woven together.

Alongside these developments, ideological fissures were opening up in Australian society. The period of post-war social unity around a white Australia, opposition to communism, and other components of the Australian Settlement, such as wage arbitration and industry protection, began to crack.

Newspaper ownership also became more concentrated. In 1983, the Syme family sold The Age to Fairfax. In 1987, changes to media ownership laws introduced by Paul Keating enabled Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to swallow up the huge but ailing Herald and Weekly Times.

Meanwhile, in Britain, Murdoch was getting a taste of what it was like to wield power over governments. Margaret Thatcher in particular was in thrall to him, as scholars such as David McKnight and Rod Tiffen have shown in their biographies of Murdoch.

His stable of newspapers in Britain included populist tabloids appealing to conservative blue-collar voters and influential broadsheets such as The Times and Sunday Times. These became increasingly conservative under his control, as the distinguished editor of those papers, Harold Evans, pointed out in his memoirs.

It seems Murdoch wanted to replicate this model in Australia. He had already started out with populist tabloids, yet his national broadsheet, The Australian, had begun life in 1964 as a vibrant small-l liberal newspaper.

However, as Murdoch’s vehicle for exerting influence on policymakers, it became increasingly conservative. By 1975 it had become so biased to the right in its political coverage that its own journalists went on strike in protest.

Murdoch makes no bones about his right to control what goes in his papers, and his editorial staff have to accommodate themselves to this – or exercise the privilege of resignation.

At Fairfax, the internal culture has been entirely different. In 1988, journalists at The Age persuaded Fairfax management to sign a charter of editorial independence guaranteeing no improper interference in editorial decision-making. Over the following three or four years, the company’s other titles adopted this charter.

These contrasting cultures are reflected in the editorial values of the companies’ newspapers. As the News Corp papers have become more stridently conservative, the Fairfax journalists seem to have taken it on themselves to provide at least some ideological counterweight.

It can be seen any day in the choice of stories given prominence and in the contrasting angles taken on political stories.

A good example was the treatment given to the controversy last year and early this year over the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Australian was campaigning vigorously to have the commission president, Professor Gillian Triggs, removed. The Fairfax newspapers focused on sustaining her position, particularly in respect of refugees and asylum seekers.

Similarly, with climate change, deniers get a prominence in News Corp papers that they never get in Fairfax.

This polarisation also reflects the deep divisions in the composition of the federal parliament, which in turn reflect deep divisions in the community over issues such as climate change and asylum seekers.

The fragmentation of political discourse brought about by social media only serves to heighten these divisions.

The ConversationIn these circumstances, the body politic would benefit from a renewed commitment by journalists to the qualities that underpinned the ideal of impartiality: accuracy, fairness, open-mindedness and above all balance, which follows the weight of evidence, not the bias of ideology.

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

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Four ways social media companies and security agencies can tackle terrorism


Robyn Torok, Edith Cowan University

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has joined Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May in calling on social media companies to crack down on extremist material being published by users.

It comes in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Australia and Britain.

Facebook is considered a hotbed for terrorist recruitment, incitement, propaganda and the spreading of radical thinking. Twitter, YouTube and encrypted services such WhatsApp and Telegram are also implicated.

Addressing the extent of such content on social media requires international cooperation from large social media platforms themselves and encrypted services.

Some of that work is already underway by many social media operators, with Facebook’s rules on this leaked only last month. Twitter says that in one six-month period it has suspended 376,890 accounts related to the promotion of terrorism.

While these measures are a good start, more can be done. A focus on disruption, encryption, recruitment and creating counter-narratives is recommended.

Disruption: remove content, break flow-on

Disruption of terrorists on social media involves reporting and taking down of radical elements and acts of violence, whether that be radical accounts or posted content that breaches community safety and standards.

This is critical both in timing and eradication.

Disruption is vital for removing extreme content and breaking the flow-on effect while someone is in the process of being recruited by extremists.

Taking down accounts and content is difficult as there is often a large volume of content to remove. Sometimes it is not removed as quickly as needed. In addition, extremists typically have multiple accounts and can operate under various aliases at the same time.

Encryption: security authorities need access

When Islamic extremists use encrypted channels, it makes the fight against terrorism much harder. Extremists readily shift from public forums to encrypted areas, and often work in both simultaneously.

Encrypted networks are fast becoming a problem because of the “burn time” (destruction of messages) and the fact that extremists can communicate mostly undetected.

Operations to attack and kill members of the public in the West have been propagated on these encrypted networks.

The extremists set up a unique way of communicating within encrypted channels to offer advice. That way a terrorist can directly communicate with the Islamic State group and receive directives to undertake an attack in a specific country, including operational methods and procedures.

This is extremely concerning, and authorities – including intelligence agencies and federal police – require access to encrypted networks to do their work more effectively. They need the ability to access servers to obtain vital information to help thwart possible attacks on home soil.

This access will need to be granted in consultation with the companies that offer these services. But such access could be challenging and there could also be a backlash from privacy groups.

Recruitment: find and follow key words

It was once thought that the process of recruitment occurred over extended periods of time. This is true in some instances, and it depends on a multitude of individual experiences, personality types, one’s perception of identity, and the types of strategies and techniques used in the recruitment process.

There is no one path toward violent extremism, but what makes the process of recruitment quicker is the neurolinguistic programming (NLP) method used by terrorists.

Extremists use NLP across multiple platforms and are quick to usher their recruits into encrypted chats.

Key terms are always used alongside NLP, such as “in the heart of green birds” (which is used in reference to martyrdom), “Istishhad” (operational heroism of loving death more than the West love life), “martyrdom” and “Shaheed” (becoming a martyr).

If social media companies know and understand these key terms, they can help by removing any reference to them on their platforms. This is being done by some platforms to a degree, but in many cases social media operaters still rely heavily on users reporting inappropriate material.

Create counter-narratives: banning alone won’t work

Since there are so many social media applications, each with a high volume of material that is both very dynamic and fluid, any attempts to deal with extremism must accept the limitations and challenges involved.

Attempts to shut down sites, channels, and web pages are just one approach. It is imperative that efforts are not limited to such strategies.

Counter-narratives are essential, as these deconstruct radical ideologies and expose their flaws in reasoning.

But these counter-narratives need to be more sophisticated given the ability of extremists to manipulate arguments and appeal to emotions, especially by using horrific images.

This is particularly important for those on the social fringe, who may feel a sense of alienation.

It is important for these individuals to realise that such feelings can be addressed within the context of mainstream Islam without resorting to radical ideologies that leave them open to exploitation by experienced recruiters. Such recruiters are well practised and know how to identify individuals who are struggling, and how to usher them along radical pathways.

Ultimately, there are ways around all procedures that attempt to tackle the problem of terrorist extremism on social media. But steps are slowly being taken to reduce the risk and spread of radical ideologies.

The ConversationThis must include counter-narratives as well as the timely eradication of extremist material based on keywords as well as any material from key radical preachers.

Robyn Torok, PhD, PhD – researcher and analyst, Edith Cowan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to escape the media’s obsession with Trump and filter him from the web



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Washington Post Making America Kittens Again.
Author/Washington Post

David Glance, University of Western Australia

The world’s media reached a new low last week with their incessant coverage of the US President Donald Trump and a tweet he sent out containing the word “covfefe” – a supposed mistyping of “coverage”.

This came on the heels of a report published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, which analyses the media’s obsession with all things Trump.

Looking at the first 100 days of his presidency, the report detailed that 41% of all news stories were about Trump. This was three times the amount of coverage of any previous US president. Even though Trump himself was the featured voice in 65% of these articles, 80% were negative.

The coverage has come at the cost of real reporting about what he has actually done in that time and what else is going on in the US and the rest of the world. The economy has only been discussed in 4% of the news coverage, and health care, despite attempts to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, managed a not much greater 12%.

It would be tempting to think that the media, especially US journalists, have been obsessed with Trump because of his self-declared war on the press as the “enemy of the people”. But it is likely to be far more prosaic than that. Trump has simply tapped into mainstream media’s evolving role as another form of reality-based entertainment. Articles on Trump become clickbait for those who can’t resist his latest gaff, hoping that this will be the definitive misstep that finally ends his political career.

Ultimately, however, covering Trump is all about driving clicks, and sites like the New York Times and Washington Post, CNN and others have all fallen prey to the single-minded pursuit of revenue-generating clicks.

Unfortunately for the public, this has done them a disservice and reading the Trump-laden news and commentary has become increasingly like stumbling into someone else’s personal and bitter family argument.

Take control with Trump Filters

Fortunately, there is a way that readers can take control of the situation without avoiding all news sites.

For Google Chrome, there is an extension called Trump Filter, written by developer Rob Spectre, which will remove article headlines and paragraphs of text that reference Donald Trump. On Apple iOS there are several blockers, but one that works reasonably well with Safari is “Trump Trump

The New York Times with Trump Filter and Trump Blocker.
New York Times

These blockers will remove most text that has a reference to Donald Trump but won’t remove images. The image above is the New York Times with several stories about Donald Trump filtered out.

For Google Chrome, there is another extension called “Make America Kittens Again” that replaces images of Trump with cute kittens (see the example below). This app will also replace other people’s images with kittens and allows you to add your own key words. So photos of Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen and Pauline Hanson can also be replaced with kittens.

The New York Times with Make America Kittens Again.
New York Times

What does this mean for the news?

Switching these extensions on does a number of things that have important consequences for the future of digital news.

The first is that it highlights why people are increasingly turning to social media to read their news because of those platforms’ ability to deliver news that users want to see, while filtering out the things they are simply not interested in.

This may be seen as a negative in terms of being fed news that has a particular bias, but there is a positive side to it in enabling users to take control and avert a site’s particular agenda.

Of course, these technologies, along with ad blockers, are going to change how news organisations have to deliver news to their customers and are unlikely to be welcomed. Google itself is said to be building an ad blocker directly into Chrome that will be switched on by default.

News organisations have increasingly been battling between delivering content that they believe the public “should” read, and content that they know the public wants to read and so consequently will drive clicks and advertising revenue.

The ConversationIn the case of Donald Trump, it’s hard to justify the sheer volume of stories, including those that are based on every tweet he sends late at night. The media seems to have followed its own interests without considering those of the reader.

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘A government without newspapers’: why everyone should care about the cuts at Fairfax<



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Fairfax Media journalists are on a week-long strike in response to the company’s latest round of staff cuts.
AAP/Joe Castro

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. The Conversation

This is an oft-used quote by one of the Founding Fathers and the third US president, Thomas Jefferson. He penned it in 1787 in a letter to soldier and politician Edward Carrington – 230 years ago. That’s how long the concept of the need for independent scrutiny of power has been around.

And this is why we should care deeply about the suggested cuts of 125 editorial staff at Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian Financial Review.

These cuts are the latest in several redundancy rounds. Editorial staff reacted on Wednesday by going on a seven-day strike. The journalists are doing this at great risk: the strike is classified as unprotected industrial action, and they risk losing their jobs.

The journalists, though, have clearly had enough. The latest savings round is the last straw in creating an unsustainable workplace and journalistic environment.

Those left in the newsroom after the cuts will be asked to produce more content for more publishing platforms, further diluting the journalism created. This undermines the core Fairfax business model of providing quality and in-depth journalism – including investigative reporting – that can be summarised as public-interest journalism.

Imagine an Australia where clickbait and trivial content rules, and public-interest journalism has died due to lack of funding. The Australian public would likely be unaware of the following:

These examples are just from the last few years. A full inventory of the revelations by Australian investigative journalists in recent decades would create a list several pages long.

Many of the malpractices revealed in these stories should have been discovered and dealt with by government watchdogs. For various reasons, political or financial, they were not. But without in-depth journalism, these issues would still be unknown – and corrupt and dishonest individuals still in their jobs.

Is this really what Australians want?

Picture a world in which politicians are given free rein to communicate only their good news stories, and no proper scrutiny or accountability of them existed. And a world in which the corporate sector was not questioned about its lobbying efforts of government, and no-one independently monitored if their production polluted the environment.

Imagine, for a moment, if there were no independent journalists left to decipher PR spin.

Doesn’t sound too good, does it?

What for alternative funding models?

At the core of the current funding crisis for public-interest journalism in Australia and globally sits the collapse of the old advertising business model caused by digital disruption.

It is now clear that the so-called “rivers of gold” advertising revenue supporting the growth of large newsrooms from the 1950s until now is at an end. In retrospect, it seems this golden era of high-profit margin media companies based on journalism was a historical anomaly.

It is unclear what the new business model is. So, how do we fund public-interest journalism?

Clearly, the market cannot do it on its own. You could say the market model has failed, but that’s too harsh. We probably had unrealistic expectations.

The market model will, most likely, make up one part of the funding. But some other options worthy of serious discussion are:

  • Making sure we keep funding the ABC properly so it can carry public-interest journalism while market-funded journalism transitions.

  • Australian governments have to take the funding crisis in journalism seriously. In other parts of the world, like Scandinavia and France, governments have already acknowledged the importance of supporting public-interest journalism via tax breaks, subsidies and other measures. If Australian governments ignore this, they clearly disagree with Thomas Jefferson.

  • Altruistic funding. This is easier said than done in Australia, which does not have the US tradition that sees wealthy individuals and foundations backing entire legacy news organisations and funding start-up and established public interest journalism. It is time for Australia’s super wealthy to step up and fund public interest journalism.

The funding issue won’t go away. It is high time Australia had a serious discussion about the democratic consequences and what should be done to tackle the current situation.

Senator Nick Xenophon is trying to start this discussion. He should be commended. For the health of Australian democracy, his fellow elected representatives ought to listen.

The choice is quite clear: do we want cat video journalism only? Or do we want it mixed with the odd disclosure of corruption and malpractice, and in-depth journalism that explains society to itself?

Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

US president shoots the messengers. SAD!


Mark Beeson, University of Western Australia

Even those of us who didn’t have high hopes about what a Trump presidency might look like in practice have been astounded by his incompetence, ignorance and refusal or inability to confront reality.

As the old saw has it, you can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. Donald Trump clearly feels this is another idea that doesn’t apply to him or his administration.

Any doubts that the 45th president of the United States really is a thin-skinned blustering bonehead with appalling judgement and little understanding of the complexity of the job he is supposed to be doing were put to rest by his latest press conference. It’s not hard to see why he doesn’t like giving them.

It’s not just that his behaviour was “unpresidential” that was so striking – surely no one expects a man with his personal track record and “life experience” to be a role model for his country or anyone else’s – but that he refused to acknowledge even the most basic, well-documented claims about his administration and its operations.

The “fine-tuned machine” Trump claims to have created at the centre of America’s government is in reality chaotic, dysfunctional, and still populated with some deeply divisive, potentially dangerous individuals. A number are either the representatives of precisely the sorts of vested interests Trump promised to eliminate or – in the case of the Rasputin-like figure of Steve Bannon – ideologues with a Manichean worldview that sees chaos as necessary and potentially cleansing.

The demise of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was belatedly fired because of his close ties to Russia – not to mention lying to the vice-president, the FBI and the public-at-large – is emblematic of Trump’s poor judgement. This “captain’s pick” was a compromised figure who should never have been considered for such a crucial role.

Even more worrying, however, is that Bannon has been appointed as a key security advisor, too – over the heads of more seasoned and potentially appropriate choices with defence backgrounds.

It is important to remember that Bannon thinks – as does Trade Secretary Peter Navarro – that war with China is inevitable.

Given their respective positions and the influence they appear to exert over a president who appears to have little understanding of, or interest in, the complexities of global politics or even economics – his supposedly strong suit, let’s not forget – they have the capacity to make some of their fantasies reality.

Neither is Trump going to lose any sleep about possible conflicts of interest when his own family is the living embodiment of all that is wrong with his administration and his complete contempt for the idea of good, never mind principled government. His wife and daughter clearly see occupying the White House primarily as an opportunity to leverage their respective brands and earning potential.

His refusal to answer questions from the “lying media” about his business interests or release his tax returns as he promised is another telling illustration of his unaccountability and hostility to one of the few institutions that seems potentially able to hold his administration to account.

Although, when the Wall Street Journal’s own staff are collectively uneasy about the lack of scrutiny the paper is applying to a regime that is seen as close to Rupert Murdoch, even this is no certainty anymore.

Speaking of the Murdoch press, The Australian’s Greg Sheridan can be relied upon to take a Panglossian view of Australia’s alliance with the US under any circumstances. This week he didn’t disappoint his admirers. In customary form, Sheridan suggested:

The substantial signs on policy from Trump over the past week or more have been generally very reassuring and showed a fairly rapid move back to the centre of the centre-right continuum on foreign policy.

No doubt this was due to the efforts of the “Trumble government” and its enormous influence in the US.

Yes, that’s a cheap shot at Trump’s beleaguered press secretary, Sean Spicer, but not being able to remember the names of supposedly key allies in not a good look. At least it was an inadvertent slip of the tongue, rather than a deliberate attempt to muddy the waters and the collective public consciousness with “alternative facts”, which is another trait of team Trump.

The key question to ask about Trump is whether he knows he’s lying when he dismisses well-documented facts about domestic politics, foreign relations and his own extensive business interests, or whether he actually believes the patent nonsense and untruth he spouts.

It really is hard to know which is the more worrying: that he is a congenital liar with an absolute contempt for the truth, or that he is so removed from the reality the rest of us inhabit that he actually doesn’t recognise it or feel the need to engage with it. This is not just a world of alternative facts; it is an alternative world.

The key question to ask Australia’s policymakers and strategic elites is: do we really want to be associated with, never mind potentially hostage to, a regime that is immoral, dishonest and more dangerous by the day?

We’re only four weeks into a rapidly unfolding nightmare. We must hope those who believe Trump will be socialised by America’s political institutions are right. There is little indication of it so far to judge from his rapidly deteriorating relationship with the fourth estate.

The Conversation

Mark Beeson, Professor of International Politics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.