Is Sky News shifting Australian politics to the right? Not yet, but there is cause for alarm



Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-ND

Denis Muller, The University of Melbourne

In his submission to the current Senate inquiry into media diversity in Australia, former prime minister Kevin Rudd warns that Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News Australia is following the template laid down by Murdoch’s Fox News in the United States to radicalise Australian politics. In a decade’s time, Rudd argues, we will see its full impact.

Given the destructive effect of Fox News on the functioning of American democracy, Rudd’s is an alarming prediction.

Whether it comes to pass, however, is another matter. Certainly there are several danger signs that it might, but there are also a few factors pointing the other way.




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There are three big danger signs.

One is the unconstrained peddling of extreme right-wing propaganda, lies, disinformation, crude distortion of fact and baseless assertions that occurs each night on Sky News.

Here is a brief sample: Rowan Dean’s and Alan Jones’s repeated ravings about the “stolen” US election; Peta Credlin’s false claim that Rudd’s petition for a Murdoch royal commission was an exercise in data-harvesting, for which she had to apologise as part of a confidential defamation settlement; Jones’s disinformation about mask-wearing; James Morrow calling the Trump impeachment trial a “sinister plot by Democrats against the American people”.

Former PM Kevin Rudd is calling for a royal commission into the Murdoch media empire.
Glenn Hunt/AAP

The second big danger sign is the way Sky News has been able to extend its reach from a niche pay-TV base to free-to-air television via 30 WIN regional stations across Australia, and then through social media to the world.

After seeing its audience grow in the first half of 2020, Sky’s pay-TV audience ended the year shrinking. But being on free-to-air TV in regional Australia represents an opportunity for growth.

Data on current regional viewing levels are patchy and incomplete. However, prime-time viewing is reported to have grown 36% in 2020, and is claimed to reach 2.9 million unique viewers.

Sky’s non-TV platform is social media. YouTube, owned by Google, is a very important social media outlet for Sky, and that is where the viewer data reported here come from.

Facebook is also an important outlet. When Facebook blacked out Australian news on February 18, there were roughly 260,000 views of Sky’s announcement of its last appearance there.

If Facebook persists in its blackout, it will clearly damage Sky’s online reach.

The patterns of Sky News viewership on YouTube are revealing.

The big picture is that Sky’s Australian stories get tiny audiences, but stories about the United States get vastly bigger ones, suggesting Sky has developed a following in the US.

For instance, an Alan Jones piece, “Trump’s impeachment charge is ‘more Pelosi rubbish’ ” got 130,000 views.

And the right-wing US journalist Megyn Kelly’s piece, “Trump exposed hidden media bias”, got 467,926 views.




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Contrast these with Paul Murray’s local story, “Daniel Andrews still playing us v them with quarantine”: about 30,000 views, and Peta Credlin’s “Net zero by 2050 is the ‘economic suicide note for workers’”: about 2000 views.

This tells us Sky is not only playing to a US as well as Australian audience, but is tailoring its programming in ways that have worked for Fox News. At the same time, it is siphoning into Australia the kind of content that has been so divisive in the US.

The growth profile of Fox News shows Murdoch plays a long game.

Fox News started in 1996. Pew Research Center data show it straight-lined near the bottom of the cable ratings in the US for five years, took a jump at about the time of the September 11 attacks, another at the time of the Iraq war in 2003 and thereafter cleared away from its main cable news rivals, CNN and MSNBC.

Rupert Murdoch, owner of Sky News and Fox News, plays a long game.
Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Until the end of the Trump presidency, Fox News was never headed – then after Trump lost, it took a dive. In January 2021, it suffered its worst ratings in 20 years, coming third behind CNN and MSNBC.

This symbiotic connection between an incumbent government and the Murdoch organisation brings us to the third big danger: the relationship between News Corporation in Australia and the Morrison government.

Morrison is not Trump. Yes, he swaggered around in a baseball cap during the 2019 election campaign and, yes, he talks in slogans and sound bites. However, the danger comes not from Morrison’s political persona but from the relationship he and his government have built with News Corporation.

On one reading, it has become a commercial relationship between the government as client and News Corporation as provider of publicity services for a fee.

The fee has taken the form of two payments to Foxtel, one of A$30 million in 2017 and one of A$10 million in 2020, ostensibly for TV coverage of under-represented women’s sport.

No tender process, no publicly available information about the terms, no way of knowing how this public money is being spent. Then recent technical glitches in the televising of W League matches prompted the Greens to ask the auditor-general to investigate.

Against these dangers are some mitigating factors.

One is that Australia’s compulsory voting system makes it very difficult for anyone to win an election with a primary vote that is not at least near the 40th percentile. A Trump-like “base” of 32% or so will not cut it here.

A second is that the religious right in Australia does not have the political clout it does in the US. Issues that excite the religious right, such as abortion, have been long settled here by the courts. The strong vote for marriage equality was another example of the broadly secular nature of our politics.

A third is that the Australian temperament is not, on the whole, excitable. While this means Australians are often excoriated as apathetic, it also means they are not easily outraged.

A fourth is that Australia’s conservatism is of a largely materialistic kind. Franking credits matter. It is also a conservatism that does not like extremism. Morrison seems at last to have realised that outside their Facebook echo chambers, the likes of Craig Kelly and George Christensen may be liabilities.

This pragmatic outlook among voters may prove to be a psychological bulwark against the firebrand reactionary politics promoted by Fox and Sky.

Having said that, there are plenty of emotion-charged issues that give Sky the opportunity to drive wedges into the Australian body politic: asylum-seekers, Muslims, Aboriginal recognition, African gangs, Asians, white supremacy, the pandemic and above all climate change. Sky is into them all.

If anything concrete is to be done to head off the threat seen by Rudd, it is going to involve public policy concerning media accountability, of which a fit-and-proper-person test for television licensees would be an essential part.

However, every attempt so far to exert meaningful accountability on the Australian media has come to nothing in the face of threats from the big media companies, including News Corporation.

Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, as prime ministers, were in a position to do something about this. Instead, Rudd developed a friendship with the then editor-in-chief of The Australian, and Turnbull made changes to the media ownership laws that empowered Murdoch even more.

It is futile to hope that the Morrison government, engaged as it is in a highly questionable relationship with News Corporation, will do anything about it. As for Labor leader Anthony Albanese, when asked about a Murdoch royal commission, he reached for the barge pole.

If this form of politics-as-usual persists, then Rudd’s prediction cannot be discounted.

Then the nation would be relying on those qualities of the Australian character already mentioned. The question will be whether it will be enough.


Correction: this article originally stated “In February 2021, it suffered its worst ratings in 20 years…”. The month has been corrected to January.The Conversation

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

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

Foreign Policy White Paper finally acknowledges world power is shifting



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China’s rise in power has changed Australia’s foreign policy outlook.
Reuters/pool

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper released today cannot be accused of understatement.

Navigating the decade ahead will be hard, because as China’s power grows, our region is changing in ways without precedent in Australia’s modern history.

That’s the point. What we are witnessing is “without precedent” in Australian post-second world war history, during the various tremors that have unsettled the region from Korea to Vietnam and beyond.

Despite all of that, there has been nothing in our experience like China’s rise in all its dimensions.

The changing of the guard?

The much-used word “disruption” hardly does justice to the impact a modern China is having on age-old assumptions about a regional power balance in which US military superiority would prevail, come what may.

Starting with the above declaration, the white paper – a year in the making and more than a decade since the last such effort – does a reasonable job in laying out Australia’s choices in a new and challenging environment.

In this regard, we are spared an impression that policymakers are seeking to cling to the old order in which the US was paramount and suggestions to the contrary smacked of agnosticism about American power and influence – even an incipient anti-Americanism.

Those days – described in a 2003 white paper that underestimated the velocity of China’s rise and sought to adhere to age-old certainties about US paramountcy – are over.

Here’s the 2017 white paper on the end of the age of certainty for Australian foreign policy:

Powerful drivers are converging in a way that is reshaping the international order and challenging Australia’s interests. The United States has been the dominant power in our region throughout Australia’s post-World War II history. Today, China is challenging America’s position.

There is nothing profound in the above observation. It’s simply a statement of fact.

What is clear is that policymakers in Canberra are hedging their bets. They cannot be sure the US will remain invested in a wider security role in the Indo-Pacific, and one that will be long-lasting.

This prompts observations like the following:

The government recognises there is great debate and uncertainty in the United States about the costs and benefits of its leadership of the international system.

US alliance remains strong

However, for the foreseeable future the US will remain the “bedrock” of Australia’s security.

Interestingly, Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, addressed alliance issues on the eve of the white paper’s release.

In an important speech, at a moment when Labor itself is debating how to frame its adherence to the alliance, Wong was at pains to encourage a sense of realism about what America might – or might not – be prepared to do in the event that Australia’s security was challenged.

She spoke at length about mutual obligations under the ANZUS Treaty that are misinterpreted as a blanket requirement for the US to come to Australia’s assistance in extremis. Put simply, what is required under Articles III and IV of the ANZUS Treaty is a commitment to consult.

In the final analysis, the 2017 white paper cannot be read separately from the 2016 Defence White Paper. This laid down a reinvigorated commitment to Australia’s ability to assert power in the Indo-Pacific via a significant investment in its maritime capabilities.

Leaving aside whether you agree with spending upwards of A$50 billion on 12 new French-sourced submarines rather than less expensive alternatives that could have been bought off the shelf, the defence paper foreshadowed an Australian foreign policy that recognised a more challenging environment, and thus the need for a more robust approach.

In this regard, the foreign policy paper speaks of “shifting power balances” in an era of “greater rivalry”, and calls on the US to remain “strongly engaged in the economic and security affairs of the region to help shape its institutions and norms”.

The paper also acknowledges challenges inherent in Australia’s policy of maintaining a balance between its alliance relationship and its management of relations with China if both the US and China cannot be persuaded their own interests would be served by preserving regional harmony. The paper adds that “this is not assured”.

In the decades ahead we expect further contestation over ideas and influence, directly affecting Australia. It is imperative that Australia prepare for the long term.“

Our place in the region

The white paper’s emphasis on the need to bolster regional friendships and alliances is a clear reference to moves by the Turnbull government to resuscitate a quadrilateral security dialogue with the US, Japan and India. The Rudd government shelved this on the grounds that it would appear to be a grouping whose aim was to contain China.

In its latest incarnation, the “Quad”, as it is known, clearly has a hedging purpose. But whether it develops past an agreement to consult and perhaps conduct joint military-to-military exchanges will depend on circumstance.

In other words, China’s regional assertiveness will dictate the extent to which Australia and its like-minded partners collaborate in seeking to balance China’s inexorable rise.

The Quad’s critics regard it as an unhelpful diversion, unnecessarily antagonistic to China. Its supporters see it as a prudent step to bring together functioning democracies intent on preserving regional security.

What would seem to be more productive would be a consensus involving the US, China, Russia, the ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand in an East Asia Summit agreement on regional security arrangements, much like the Helsinki Accords.

An encouraging aspect of the unclassified version of the white paper (a classified version will use starker language) is that within the constraints of bureaucratic language it provides a fairly direct challenge to China to live up to its commitment to a rules-based order.

So it encourages China to “exercise its power in a way that enhances stability, reinforces international law and respects the interests of smaller countries”.

This implies that China’s recent behaviour does not meet this standard.

Finally, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Australia’s policymakers have more or less come to the view – reluctantly – that US leadership in Asia is on a downward trajectory, and there is little point in pretending otherwise. The question is how fast, and to what extent will China continue to assert itself.

In his introduction, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sets the tone for the next phase of Australian policy in a way that recognises these realities. “Australia,” he writes, “must be sovereign not reliant.”

The ConversationIf that’s not an acknowledgement of a disrupted security environment in which power relationships are shifting, I’m not sure what is. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper makes progress in coming to terms with that reality.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

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

PEW FORUM SURVEY: ‘IS CHRISTIANITY THE ONE TRUE RELIGION?’


A 2008 Pew Forum survey found that 65 percent of Americans believe many religions lead to eternal life — and that 52 percent of American Christians believe salvation can be found in at least some non-Christian religions, reports Baptist Press.

At a time when American belief is shifting toward religious pluralism — the idea that all religions are equal in offering truth — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum addressed the question: “Is Christianity the one true religion?”

“The topic is very important given the politically correct, tolerance-laden culture we find ourselves living in today,” said Robert Stewart, director of the Greer-Heard Forum and associate professor of philosophy and theology at NOBTS. “Ultimately we need to take a stand on the clear teaching of God’s Word, which teaches us that Jesus is the only Savior of the world.”

Evangelical Christians as a whole are not embracing pluralism, Stewart said, but some are drifting away from an exclusive view of salvation.

“Some Christians are probably more inclusivistic in their theology than pluralistic,” he said. “The recent Pew Forum survey found that a majority of American Christians believe that some non-Christian faiths lead to eternal life and that 37 percent of those Christians were evangelical Christians.”

The keynote speakers for the March 27-28 forum, Harold Netland of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Paul Knitter of Union Theological Seminary, presented divergent answers to the question of pluralism.

Citing the often-conflicting and contradictory views of various religions, Netland rejected pluralism as a viable option. He argued in favor of the evangelical position that Christianity is the one true religion. Knitter, who identifies himself as a Christian and disciple of Jesus Christ, argued that Jesus “is a way open to other ways.”

Netland opened the forum by acknowledging, “The assertion that Christianity is the one true religion for all people strikes many as hopelessly out of touch with current realities.” Such a claim, he said, “seems to display generous amounts of both intellectual naivety and arrogance.”

“Nevertheless, with proper qualification, I do believe that the Christian faith as defined by the Christian scriptures is true and that this sets the Christian faith apart from other religious traditions,” Netland said.

Affirming the truth of Christianity does not deem all aspects of other religions false; Netland said other religious traditions do contain beauty and goodness — often in the area of moral and ethical teachings. However, beliefs that are incompatible with essential Christian teachings must be rejected, Netland said.

Netland said he rejects pluralism in part because the major world religions tend to make often-exclusive truth claims. Religious adherents from most traditions are expected to regard the claims of their religion as true, he said. These truth assertions are not meant to be taken as personal or mythological.

“Each religion regards its own assertions as correct or superior to those of its rivals,” Netland said. “When we consider carefully what the religions have to say about the religious ultimate and the nature of, and conditions for salvation …, there is significant disagreement.”

Netland suggested focusing on the essential or defining beliefs of a religion in determining its truth; a religion is true only if these essential beliefs are true.

“For Christianity to be true, the defining beliefs of Christianity, namely certain affirmations about God, Jesus of Nazareth and salvation must be true,” Netland said. “If they are true, Christianity is true.”

Netland said that some argue for “epistemic parity” among religions. Epistemic parity holds that no religion can claim rational superiority over another religion because the data is insufficient to prove one claim over another. Netland, however, sees epistemic parity as an argument for agnosticism rather than pluralism.

“For if there are not good reasons for accepting any single religious tradition as true, why should we suppose that all of them collectively are equally true?” Netland said.

On the other hand, Knitter claimed that true Christianity would never make an exclusive claim to truth. He offered a case for pluralism based on four categories: history, ethics, theology and Scripture.

“If we look at our history, there has been a change in Christian beliefs about this question,” Knitter said. “Although at one time, almost all the churches held firmly that Christianity is the only true religion, today many Christian churches do not.”

Knitter cited the 2008 Pew Forum study as evidence that many Christians are moving away from a belief in Christianity as the one true religion.

“The fact that our question has already been answered by a broad group of Christians … we have to take [this] into consideration,” he said. “Our job as theologians is to work with what people are actually believing.”

Knitter said the shift away from an exclusive belief in Christianity has not diminished the commitment or discipleship of individual Christians. He argued that a further shift could be made — a complete shift to religious pluralism.

Knitter noted that viewing Christianity as the one true religion carries the danger of hindering dialogue among the religions.

“The religions of the world have a moral obligation to engage each other in a peacemaking dialogue,” Knitter said. “Dialogue is the mutual exchange to which all sides seek to help each other grow in the knowing and the doing of what is true and what is right.”

Dialogue is impossible, however, if one side makes an exclusive claim to religious truth, Knitter argued, saying it is a grievous error to hinder dialogue.

If dialogue is “a moral imperative,” he said, “what impedes a moral imperative looks to be immoral itself.”

Exclusive claims to truth not only impede dialogue, but such claims can foster violence, Knitter said. While rarely the cause of violence, he said exclusive truth claims can rally followers to a leader’s cause.

In his theological case for pluralism, Knitter appealed to God’s love. He said that “the God of Jesus is a power of pure unbounded love” and that the New Testament’s teachings show God’s desire to see all people saved.

“As my teacher back in Germany, Karl Rahner, insisted, ‘if God wants to save all people then God will act in a sure way as to make this a real possibility for all people,'” Knitter said. “Rahner went on to claim that the religions are among the most available and ready at hand ways in which God will make this offer of His saving grace. A God who loves all will offer that love to all.”

For his scriptural argument, Knitter claimed that the exclusive language of the New Testament is confessional language, or love language that was intended to be superlative, not exclusive. Statements such as “no other name,” “one mediator,” and “no one comes to the Father except by me” are meant to communicate something positive about Jesus, not something negative about other religions, Knitter said.

“I must confess my faith that Jesus is indeed the way that is open to other ways and that in order to be a faithful follower of this Jesus I must recognize and engage the truth that the Spirit may be offering me in my Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Native American and Shinto brothers and sisters,” Knitter said.

Knitter closed with the famous quote from Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.”

During the response time, Netland sought clarification on a number of points from Knitter in areas such as application of Scripture, the meaning of truth in religion and the religious ultimate.

“How exactly is the New Testament … normative for us today?” Netland asked. “How does Paul Knitter understand the concept of truth in religion?”

Netland also asked Knitter to explain his view of the religious ultimate (God).

Knitter did not directly address Netland’s questions but was content to present a further argument on the nature of religious language. Appealing to the mystery of God, Knitter said all of human language about God is symbolic, poetic and metaphoric.

This religious language, Knitter said, calls people to action. For him, right practice should be emphasized over right belief.

“Orthopraxis has a certain primacy over orthodoxy. The two are essentially related and you can’t have one without the other,” Knitter said. “The truth of a symbol will be in its ability to affect our life. Religious truth is truth for me when it enables me to find a context in which I find meaning and purpose.”

After the event, Greer-Heard director Robert Stewart said he hopes students learn to be “both properly charitable and properly critical in evaluating claims with which they disagree.” While he disagrees with the position of Knitter and other pluralists, Stewart sees value in engaging their ideas. He hopes exposure to scholars such as Knitter will help NOBTS students better defend the truth of Christianity.

“As a philosopher I don’t find the hermeneutical arguments that pluralists make on this point strong enough to overcome the case for the traditional reading of passages like John 14:6 and Acts 4:12,” Stewart said. “The purpose of the Greer-Heard Forum, however, is that we are training Christians for ministry in today’s world and must thus trust that we have given them what they need to interact critically with the wide range of opinions that they will encounter in real-world ministry.”

Begun in 2005, the Greer-Heard Forum provides a platform for dialogue between a noted evangelical scholar and a non-evangelical academic on matters of faith and culture. The event is designed to teach students, ministers and laypeople how to interact with a person from an opposing view.

The 2010 Greer-Heard Point-Counterpoint Forum will focus on “The Message of Jesus.” The keynote speakers will be Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, and John Dominic Crossan, professor emeritus at DePaul University. Other presenters will include Amy-Jill Levine, Alan Segal, Darrell Bock and Craig Evans.

Report from the Christian Telegraph