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



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Refusing to change with the times, Australia’s tabloids now cater to an aged, monocultural and alienated constituency.
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Rodney Tiffen, University of Sydney

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The columnist as outrage machine

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

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

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

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

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

Christchurch: Do the Greens have blood on their hands?

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

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

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

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

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


GuerillaWire

You’re either with us or against us

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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According to new research, the ABC stands to lose A$783 million in total funding by 2022, unless steps are taken to reverse budget cuts.
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Alexandra Wake, RMIT University and Michael Ward, University of Sydney

Despite some reprieve in the 2019 federal budget, the ABC is still in dire financial straits. More job losses and a reduction in services remain on the agenda.

The Coalition government has provided another three years of tied funding of A$43.7 million specifically for the national broadcaster’s “enhanced news-gathering” program. This program supports local news (particularly regional and outer-suburban news gathering), national reporting teams and state-based digital news.

But this funding doesn’t address the broadcaster’s need for more stability in its operational funding.

In July, the ABC will start to feel the full impact of a three-year, A$83.8 million indexation freeze on its funding, which was contained in the 2018 budget. So devastating is the size of that cut – and the ones prior to that – that ABC managers are almost completely focused on money, undermining their capacity to be strategic about the future.

There is no provision in the 2019 budget to restore the funding lost over the past six years and certainly no boost to cater for the dynamic and changing media environment.

Audiences who value what the ABC does now – and what it needs to be doing to support Australian democracy into the future – should take a closer look at the numbers, the way the money has been allocated and the impact of that.




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Accumulated losses to ABC are staggering

To illustrate the need for more secure operational funding for the ABC, one of the authors of this article, Michael Ward, conducted research on just how much the broadcaster stands to lose in the aggregate over the course of an eight-year period. Ward used a number of public financial sources to build the table below, including ABC portfolio budget statements and ABC answers to Senate Questions on Notice

One of the difficulties in looking at budgets is the way forward estimates work. As the figures in the table show, the past six budgets have included measures to reduce, remove or freeze (indexation) ABC funding, without adding any new funding initiatives.

This has resulted in an accumulated reduction in available funding of A$393 million over a five-year period, starting from May 2014. According to current budget forecasts, this also means the ABC stands to lose A$783 million in funding by 2022, unless steps are taken to remedy the situation.

The Coalition government and others would argue, however, the ABC actually received a reprieve in this year’s budget with committed funding for “enhanced news gathering” because it treats as “new” the renewal of tied fixed-term funding as it expires.

The “enhanced news gathering” and digital delivery funding was first enacted by the former Labor government in 2013. Although “enhanced news gathering” funding has been renewed twice by the Coalition government since then, including in this year’s budget, the amount allocated for the program was slashed in 2016.

So, while it appears that the current budget announcement is good news for the ABC, the reality is, it is simply a continuation of what should be seen as core business.




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One way governments of all ilks have tried to control the ABC – and to win voters over – is by providing tied funding to specific programs like this. One of the earliest examples of tied funding was a National Interest Initiative by the Howard government in 2001, and later the Rudd government’s Children’s Channel and Drama Funding Initiative of 2009. These were seen as core to the ABC’s work, and were eventually made part of the ABC’s ongoing budget.

The problem, of course, is that voters do not understand the impact of the cessation of limited-term, tied funding programs.

We argue that tied funding is also contrary to the principles of independent public broadcasting because it effectively forces the broadcaster to prioritise its activities and programs at the current government’s whim. It also inhibits longer-term effective financial planning by the ABC.

Tied funding used by all parties

If elected, the ALP has committed to restore the A$83.8 million indexation freeze for the ABC included in last year’s budget. It has also promised an additional A$15 million for specific projects to restore short wave radio to the Northern Territory and add more local and regional content, emergency broadcasting and a news literacy program aimed at combating misinformation campaigns online.

Labor has also pledged “funding stability for the ABC over the next budget cycle”, though this has not come with a guaranteed boost in funding.

These commitments are important, but the freeze is just the tip of a funding iceberg that the ABC has been dealing with for the past six years. The continuation of a tied funding approach doesn’t address the underlying budget problem. More needs to be done.




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The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia, a group that represents journalism academics in Australia, drew on Ward’s research at the recent Senate hearing into allegations of political interference of the ABC to call for more secure operational funding for the broadcaster.

JERAA argued that the ABC has been cowed by repeated parliamentary inquiries, funding cuts and efficiency reviews. These have had a severe impact on the broadcaster’s ability to perform its important role for the Australian people, which includes production of excellent public affairs reporting, local programming, international news, children’s programming and services on a range of current and emerging platforms.

Tied funding stops the ABC from meeting the core components of its legislated obligations, particularly digital content delivery, where the cost of success – increased take up of services – carries an extra financial burden, unlike analogue broadcasting.

Unless the ABC has ongoing stability of funding and ideally an increase that allows it to keep innovating, it won’t be able to maintain relevance in this fast-moving, globalised media world, nor will it be able to continue as a watchdog on people in power, particularly governments.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.

Christchurch attacks provide a new ethics lesson for professional media


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

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

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

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

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

The television channels were particularly culpable.

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermit kingdom, nuclear nation … If the media keep calling North Korea names, it will only prolong conflict


Bronwen Dalton, University of Technology Sydney

As US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet at a summit in Vietnam, we are again seeing the same kind of language used in relation to North Korea. The country is constantly described as the “hermit kingdom” and words like “nuclear threat” enter the headlines.

The US president himself called Kim “Rocket Man”, delegitimising the country and its leader. This kind of language demonises North Korea and closes off possibilities for more constructive engagement.

Past research has identified that the media regularly engage in “conflict-priming” during times of international conflict. An example was the dehumanisation of Arab citizens during the Bush-labelled “war on terror”. The authors noted the language “took the form of animal imagery” that equated human actions with subhuman behaviours.

Our research into Australia’s coverage of North Korea showed the news media often uncritically reproduced metaphors that framed North Korea as dangerous, provocative, irrational, secretive, impoverished and totalitarian.

The wider public picks up cues about the national interest, and how it might influence their own, from the media. A widespread group-think on North Korea’s impulsiveness and aggression could quickly and dramatically escalate tensions.




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The hermit kingdom and other metaphors

We analysed coverage on North Korea in three major Australian media outlets: The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and transcripts of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) over three years – from January 1 2010 to December 31 2012.

The word ‘nuclear’ often accompanies ‘North Korea’.
Washington Post Screenshot

We found North Korea was rarely referred to as a country or its rulers as a government. Instead it was described as: an impoverished rogue state; a secretive state; the world’s most isolated state; a totalitarian regime; an evil regime; and Asia’s worst regime. The country’s leader was often referred to a ruthless psychopath or demonic big brother.

Several dominant metaphors appeared in the coverage. These framed North Korea as

  • a military threat (conflict metaphor)
  • unpredictable, irrational and ruthless (psychopathology metaphor)
  • isolated and secretive (pariah metaphor)
  • a cruel dystopia (Orwellian metaphor)
  • impoverished (basket-case metaphor).

These metaphors help shape public perceptions of North Korea, giving the country a negative, often adversarial orientation. Without a change to the North Korean frame, resourced and evidence-based intervention is more likely to fail due to donor disengagement.

We also run the risk of dehumanising the North Korean people. In the event of conflict, such dehumanising can mean humanitarian imperatives are pushed aside in favour of attack.

North Korea – nuclear and narcissistic

The conflict metaphor was the most frequent across the three news sites, particularly referring to the country’s “nuclear” capabilities. Typing “North Korea” into Google News today elicits much of the same:


The word ‘nuclear’ appears frequently in coverage on North Korea.
Google News screenshot

While the extent of North Korea’s nuclear capability is not categorically known, it is often assumed, with references to a possible “nuclear holocaust” and fears a North Korean rocket carrying a nuclear warhead could reach Australia.

Another common theme in our research was that North Korea was covered as if suffering from a pathological, narcissistic disorder. North Korea was often portrayed as seeking attention or exploiting the threat of nuclear retaliation to extricate more aid.

We can still see this today. An article in The Australian this week
noted that Kim Jong-un was a master of “deceptive statecraft” as practised by his father. The author wrote:

Pyongyang is a master at getting something meaningful from the US and giving up something less meaningful or even meaningless in return… In the schoolyard, this is like the bully promising not to punch you in the face tomorrow in return for your pocket money today.

Another piece in Fox News used similar language, talking about the country as if a narcissist stringing along a romantic interest with manipulation and deceit.

Kim’s father and grandfather – who ruled North Korea before him – have a history of stringing along past US presidents of both parties with assurances of cooperative behavior and then breaking their promises.

So, North Korea is depicted as an isolated and backward country run by a tyrant with comically eccentric, excessive tastes. And its leader is perceived as a liar and a cheat.

This unbalanced consideration of North Korean motives makes us virtually oblivious to the country’s point of view. A failure to understand North Korea’s interests has serious implications for how Australia (and its allies) respond to North Korea.

Why it matters

Research shows recognising others’ concerns as valid is key to resolving long-term conflicts. But, by reinforcing a negative, often adversarial stance towards North Korea, the media effectively demonise North Korea’s interests and close off the possibility of engagement.

This locks North Korea and the “civilised” West into a mutually antagonistic relationship that precludes any solution other than the enemy being eliminated through conversion or destruction.




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The Australian media would be substantially enlivened by more stories illustrating individual and community life. This would give North Koreans a human face and offer the Australian public a less singular, monotonous depiction of a country so often written about with such a limited lexicon.

Access into North Korea can be tricky for journalists. But our analysis found even where human stories of refugees exist, they are often tied to negative metaphors.
For the sake of balance, the media should resist common, creative descriptions and let North Korean refugees speak for themselves.

Such journalism would alter the way we view North Korea and soften the tendency to see it as an adversarial, irrational, rogue state populated by brainwashed citizens devoted to the cult of the Kims. It also should seek to better capture some of the complexities and differences of opinion that make the North Korean problem so difficult to resolve.The Conversation

Bronwen Dalton, Associate professor, Management Discipline Group UTS Business School, University of Technology Sydney

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

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



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

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Rudd says Murdoch media is a “political party”


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Attention economy: Facebook delivers traffic but no money for news media



File 20181031 76387 1asvvtp.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A lawsuit has been filed against Facebook, because it allegedly overstated its video statistics for years.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Merja Myllylahti, Auckland University of Technology

Facebook and quality journalism are uneasy companions. Recent headlines suggest the platform’s “lies” about video metrics “smashed” journalism and the platform “crashed and burned” news companies’ referral traffic after it changed its algorithm in January.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is currently holding a digital platform inquiry to investigate what kind of impact social media platforms, search engines and other content aggregators have on the local media market. In the United Kingdom, the Cairncross review is assessing similar issues, looking for ways of sustaining high-quality journalism in a changing market.

My research suggests these enquiries should pay attention to the impact of Facebook and the lessons we’ve already learned about the social platform.




Read more:
Class action against Facebook over facial recognition could pave the way for further lawsuits


Lesson one: overstated metrics

You should not trust all the metrics platform companies offer.

A recent article in The Atlantic revealed that a lawsuit has been filed against Facebook, because it allegedly overstated its video statistics for years, “exaggerating the time spent watching them by as much as 900% percent.”

The article asserts that “hundreds of journalists” lost their job after Facebook lured news companies to invest in video. However, Facebook has denied these claims.

The Spinoff, a digital native media company in New Zealand, recently posted a story with a similar analysis of the platform’s impact, saying that Facebook’s fake video statistics “smashed New Zealand journalism” because when it encouraged news companies to invest in online video production, they followed.

New Zealand media were collateral damage in Facebook’s obsessive desire to grow at all costs.




Read more:
How to stop haemorrhaging data on Facebook


Lesson two: traffic dependency

You should not rely on Facebook traffic.

A recent report by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism shows that in the United States, news companies have a substantial presence on Facebook. The report found that roughly 80% of the local news outlets are using the social platform.

Additionally, two recent studies demonstrates how news companies rely on Facebook to drive their traffic. My own research of four New Zealand news companies shows that 24% of their traffic came from social media, and most of that came from Facebook. Together social and search drove 47% of New Zealand news sites’ traffic.

A larger study of 12 newspapers and broadcasters in Europe, conducted by Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, notes:

… news organisations are making major investments in social media and report receiving significant amounts of traffic” from social media.

These studies confirm news companies’ Facebook dependency in terms of traffic, although the level of dependency differs between media outlets. The Reuters study found that Facebook’s algorithm changes in January had a severe impact on some of the news companies’ traffic. However, the severity of impact differed between media outlets. For example, Le Monde saw its interactions drop by almost a third, but for The Times these grew.

In New Zealand, The Spinoff suffered a substantial drop in its traffic after Facebook’s algorithm tweaks: its traffic from the platform dropped from 50% to 30%. We have seen similar drops in other markets, too.

The Nieman Lab, which reports on digital media innovation, found that following Facebook’s algorithm change, the drop in referral traffic was not universal. Some not-for-profit media organisations benefited.

Bottom line: The decline in referrals to publishers from Facebook is not universal, and in the face of those declines, other sources of traffic are more important than ever.

Indeed, it would be wise for all news outlets to grow their direct traffic which delivers better user engagement and monetisation.

Lesson three: don’t do it for the money

You don’t make much money on Facebook.

My research suggests if news companies abandoned Facebook, they would hardly lose any money. For the companies studied, social media traffic made up 0.03%–0.14% of their total revenue, and social shares 0.009%–0.2% of total revenue. These figures don’t take into account advertising income from platforms or subscription conversion.

The reason news companies continue to distribute their content on social media platforms is because they gain attention. News companies believe they can turn this attention into money, but so far with little success.

However, some news publishers have reported that they have gained digital subscriptions from the platforms. The Reuters study notes Facebook delivers news companies audience engagement that is “considered more cost effective at driving digital subscription sales.”

The bottom line is there is no data yet to verify how well news publishers manage to convert social media attention to digital subscriptions. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple are all offering, or are in the process of offering, digital subscription services to news publishers, but how well these will work for news companies remains to be seen.The Conversation

Merja Myllylahti, Research Fellow, Auckland University of Technology

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

View from The Hill: The uncivil Mr Jones


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Why the media needs to be more responsible for how it links Islam and Islamist terrorism



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Muslim protesters in India marching against the Islamic State after the 2015 terror attacks in Paris.
Divyakant Solanki/EPA

Audrey Courty, Griffith University and h.rane@griffith.edu.au, Griffith University

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US, Islam has become central to debates about social cohesion and national security in Australia.

Restrictions on Muslim immigration have been openly discussed – most recently by Senator Fraser Anning in his maiden speech to parliament – and many believe another terrorist attack in the name of “Islam” is inevitable.

Confronted with this reality, the media are playing an essential role in informing us about Islam and influencing how we respond. But, perhaps due to a limited understanding of Islam or a fear of antagonising Muslims, a fundamental point has largely been absent from reporting: the threat of terrorism does not stem from Islam. Rather, it stems from Islamism, a political ideology.

The two terms may sound similar, but Islam and Islamism are not the same thing. Islam is a faith observed by over 1.6 billion people, whereas Islamism is the political ideology of relatively small groups that borrow concepts like shariah and jihad from Islam and reinterpret them to gain legitimacy for their political goals.

How the media legitimises the aims of terrorists

Islamist groups like al Qaida and the Islamic State use violence against non-Muslims with the aim of establishing a political institution (“caliphate”) based on shariah law – neither of which have a basis in the Quran or hadith (Islamic prophetic traditions).

Part of the appeal of the Islamic State comes from its insidious ability to selectively use Islamic teachings and repackage them as legitimate religious obligations.

In particular, Islamists have appropriated the concept of jihad to legitimise an offensive “holy war” against non-Muslims. This interpretation, however, has been rejected by studies that have examined the Quran’s principles concerning war and peace.




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Defeated in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is rebuilding in countries like Indonesia


Islamic teachings, for instance, prohibit terrorism and the use of violence against civilians. Further, Muslim leaders and scholars around the world have repeatedly condemned terrorism, issuing fatwas (Islamic legal rulings).

By reporting on this misleading interpretation of jihad and under-reporting Muslim condemnations, the Western news media reinforce the perceived connection between Islam and terrorism.

In some cases, media pundits explicitly make this link, pointing to the fact terrorists specifically refer to “Islam” as the basis for their actions.

This uncritical acceptance of terrorists’ claims and misrepresenting of Islam legitimises and unwittingly promotes the Islamist agenda.

In other words, the media plays into the hands of terrorists by allowing them to become the representatives for Islam and Muslims in general.

Islamic State recruiting tool

Islamist terrorists have a strategic interest in propagating the belief that Islam and the West are engaged in a civilisational war.

As the Islamic State outlined in its online magazine in February 2015:

Muslims in the West will soon find themselves between one of two choices.

The group explained that, as the threat of further terrorist attacks looms, Western Muslims will be treated with increased suspicion and distrust, forcing them to:

…either apostatize [convert] … or [migrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.

The Islamic State’s divide-and-conquer strategy is crucial to its ability to replenish its ranks with foreign recruits. The group targets disaffected and marginalised Western Muslims and invokes an Islamist narrative with promises of brotherhood, security and belonging.

In turn, the Western news media indirectly advance the group’s interests by repeatedly linking Muslim communities to terrorism and failing to meaningfully distinguish the Islamic faith from Islamist political ideology.




Read more:
Explainer: ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State or Da’esh?


For example, as the first wave of Syrian refugees arrived in the UK in 2015, The Daily Mail warned of “the deadly threat of Britain’s enemy within” and associated refugees with the threat of “Muslim extremists”.

In the midst of the 2014 Sydney siege, The Daily Telegraph prematurely linked the Muslim hostage-taker with the Islamic State – a claim that was later dispelled by terrorism experts.

The impact of careless reporting

This kind of overly simplistic and sensationalist media coverage serves the Islamic State’s objective to pit Muslims and non-Muslims against one another.

As a study conducted at the University of Vienna in 2017 confirmed, media coverage that does not explicitly distinguish between Muslims and Islamist terrorists fuels hostile attitudes toward the general Muslim population.




Read more:
Islamic State wants Australians to attack Muslims: terror expert


With growing awareness of the impact this kind of reporting, some media outlets like CNN have tried to distinguish between “moderate Islam” and “radical Islam”, “Islam” and “Islamic extremism”. But this, too, is misleading because it focuses on presumed religious motivations and overlooks the central role of Islamist political ideology.

A survey of almost 1,200 foreigner fighters by the Combating Terrorism Center revealed that over 85% had no formal religious education and were not lifelong, strict adherents to Islam. The report suggests the Islamic State may prefer such recruits because they are:

less capable of critically scrutinising the jihadi narrative and ideology.

Islamism masquerades as religion, but is much more a post-colonial expression of political grievances than a manifestation of the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. While the establishment of a caliphate or shariah-based order is the expressed agenda of Islamist terrorists, this is not a religious obligation for Muslims.

And it is not an assault on Islam for non-Muslims to say so.

Political correctness, or a more nuanced discussion?

In an effort to strip the Islamic State of its legitimacy, some governments have advised news outlets in the UK and France to use the derogatory acronym “Da’esh” to refer to the group, although this is not always practised.

Malcolm Turnbull, also adopted the term “Islamist terrorism” in order to differentiate between those subscribing to the Islamist ideology and Muslim communities.

But many politicians, such as Donald Trump continue to blur the distinction by using rhetoric like “radical Islamic terrorism” instead.

Some argue that our “political correctness” inhibits us from tackling the problem head on.

But those who say the problem stems from Islam are are mistaken. We should be able to have a constructive conversation about the central concepts of Islam, including whether establishing a “caliphate” and committing violence against non-Muslims are indeed religious obligations or have legitimacy in Islam.

Given the extent to which concerns about Islam have impacted on our society, there is an ethical obligation to differentiate between Islam and Islamism – or at least present a counter to the Islamist perspective.The Conversation

Audrey Courty, PhD candidate, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University and h.rane@griffith.edu.au, , Griffith University

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