November 9, 2013

Australian Centre for Independent Journalism

Green Army: Research and Development

Kim Carr (1955) [Minister for Science, 2013]:
We don't have to accord superstition and wishful thinking with the same status as science.
This is much more than fairness requires, and much more than reason permits.
(Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, 2010)

Philip Chubb [Associate Professor of Journalism, Monash University]:
… I'm accusing The Australian of ideological bias.
All the evidence is there.
It's absolutely clear.
It has ceased to function as a news outlet according to the ordinary meaning of that term.
(George Munster Award Forum, Big Ideas, ABC Television, University of Technology, Sydney, 2 December 2010)

Wendy Bacon (1946):
The underpinning of journalism is the pursuit of the truth. …
(Climate Change Policy, A Sceptical Climate, 2011, p 19)

James Painter [Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University]:
Australia had the most articles, and the highest percentage of articles with sceptics in them, ahead of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Norway and India.
This finding tallied with a previous report we had published which strongly suggested that climate scepticism was common in the English-speaking media in countries like the UK, USA and Australia.
It is nothing like as common in the media in developing countries, such as Brazil, India and China, and in France.
(Climate Change in the Media: Reporting Risk and Uncertainty, I B Taurus, Oxford)

Wendy Bacon (1946)

Professorial Fellow, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism

Climate Science in Australian Newspapers

[No] reports that could be called exaggerated or alarmist were found in this sample [Feb-Apr 2011 and Feb-Apr 2012].
(p 213)

An Australian Purge

[Mike] Steketee examined the [climate change] sceptic claims and found them wanting in evidence and logic.
He then investigated the issue of what interests might be behind them.
This is exactly what a independent and professional journalist might be expected to do.
Some time later, Steketee was told the paper no longer wished to publish his column.
Not long after that he left News Corp. …

Other journalists who had written strong reports on climate science had also left.
One of these was rural reporter Asa Wahquist who left the paper in 2010.
Crikey later reported that she had told a journalism education conference that it was “torture” trying to report climate change at The Australian.

In addition … Leigh Dayton a well respected science reporter who had written many reports on climate science left the paper in 2012.

The Australian’s coverage of climate change has come at a cost.
It has [been forced to sacrifice] some of its best reporters [in order] to pursue its political agenda on climate change.
(p 171-2)

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News Corp Australia vs Fairfax Media in Melbourne and Sydney

The newspaper that most actively promotes climate scepticism is also the biggest selling newspaper in Australia, the Herald Sun. …
The next most sceptical publication is The Daily Telegraph
(p 91

[Audiences] of The Age and the SMH are more likely to read news about climate science and reports of peer reviewed research and features quoting a range of sources with competing perspectives.
They rarely receive climate sceptic material and are more likely to have read investigations of the economic interests underpinning climate scepticism. …

[On the other hand, climate] science reporting in the News Corp tabloids [the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph,] is dominated by [sceptical commentary and scathing attacks] on journalists and scientists who research and publish material that accepts the climate consensus position. …
Apart from occasional news stories based on press releases from climate research organisations, readers receive almost no information that would enable them to understand the complexities or likely impacts of the impact of climate change domestically or internationally.
The research findings of climate scientists are largely rendered invisible for News Corp audiences [and there is] no critique of the sceptic position.
(p 133)

[In other states,] Hobart’s The Mercury and Brisbane’s The Courier Mail did not promote scepticism [during the study period (Feb-Apr 2011 and Feb-Apr 2012).]
[However, since] Brisbane editorial director David Fagan left News Corp in June 2013, The Courier Mail has begun to publish Andrew Bolt’s columns including a number of sceptic ones about climate change.
(p 211)

Australia Leads the Way

  • Australia … emits more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than any other country in the OECD.
  • Australia may have the highest concentration of [climate change] scepticism in its media in the world.

(pp 5 & 20)

The Australian

  • Publications targeting high-income readers, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian, provide more coverage of climate science than those targeting lower income readers [ie the tabloids.] …
  • The Australian … is Australia’s only national newspaper targeted at a general audience {[and] casts itself as a national agenda setter.}

(p 11)

  • [Out of 602 articles making a significant mention of climate science published across two three month periods in 2011 and 2012, The Australian] produced 24% … compared to 15% in the Sydney Morning Herald, which had the second highest number of articles. …
  • Nearly half (47%) of the articles and 50% of the words in The Australian’s coverage did not accept the consensus position. …
  • While only 5% of articles [rejected] the scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change [45%] of articles [questioned] the scientific consensus [or asserted] that its validity was a matter of debate.

(p 23)

  • While scientists overwhelmingly agree on anthropogenic climate change, The Australian represents climate science as matter of opinion or debate …
  • The Australian was more sceptical in 2012 than 2011 …
    [In 2012,] 59% of the words allocated to climate change coverage either suggest[ed] doubt or reject[ed] the scientific consensus …
    {[In particular, commentary] about climate science … increased in 2012 and was more sceptical [than in 2011.]}
  • A substantial proportion of the articles that [accepted] the consensus position were written in ways that undermined the credibility of climate scientists and those that support climate change policies opposed by The Australian.
    [Articles which ostensibly] accepted the scientific consensus position or specific scientific findings … underplayed their seriousness [and the] need for urgent action. …
    {[Findings] that suggested climate change impacts [might] be less than previously reported [were highlighted. …]}
  • News articles published by The Australian were less sceptical than commentary
    [That being said, the] news articles that questioned the scientific consensus position [were, on average,] 51% longer than [those] that accepted it. …

    {News selection tends to favour angles that are negative towards climate science organisations and climate scientists.
    [Coverage focuses on] scientific findings that suggest less urgency or cast doubt on the reliability of climate scientists and advocates for action.
    (p 145)}

  • Commentary about climate science published by The Australian was almost equally divided between [that which accepted] the consensus position [and that which] did not. …

(p 24, emphasis added)

  • The Australian attacks journalists at Fairfax Media and the ABC who [accept] the scientific consensus position …
  • The Australian promotes … the work of climate sceptics without critiquing their work or the interests they promote. …
  • The Australian frames the climate science in terms of an ideological battle and its critics as dogmatists who threaten free speech and rationality.

(p 25, emphasis added)

(Climate Science in Australian Newspapers, A Sceptical Climate: Media coverage of climate change in Australia, Part 2, 31 October 2013)

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Market Share by Readership

(Adapted from Figure 1, p 23)
News Limited3,707,00065%
Seven West Media547,00010%

Climate Policy: The Australian Information Oligopoly

[Conservative / neoliberal newspapers control 75% of the media market including 65% by a single owner.]
News Ltd [the Australian subsidiary of News Corporation,] dominates the newspaper market and in four state capital cities owns the only metropolitan newspaper.
Fairfax controls one national business paper and three metropolitan newspapers, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. …
(p 61)

The two biggest News tabloids — The Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph [combined readership 2,282,000 or 40% of the market] — have been so biased in their coverage that it is fair to say they ‘campaigned’ against the [Clean Energy Future package] rather than covered it.
[Furthermore,] The Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph columnists are syndicated across News Ltd mastheads including some regional ones.
They also publish blogs, which carry a large amount of material in similar vein to print material and regularly appear on television and radio, supported by corporate marketing techniques designed to amplify their impact. …

Bias is an editorial accomplishment achieved through a variety of journalistic techniques including
  • headlining,
  • the selection and prominence of topics and sources,
  • [the] structuring and editing of stories, [and]
  • [the] selection and promotion of commentators, editorials and cartoons or other visuals.
(p 62)

The issue is not one of free speech or the right of a few individuals to push their ideas but the market power of a dominant company to build support for particular policies and ideas. …
Particularly important is the media’s role in determining the visibility or invisibility of groups and sources and the ways in which different audiences are told (or not) what interests are at stake.
[Business] sources were afforded far more access than those of civil society …
Little space was given to sources, including business sources, which argued that the carbon policy would bring economic and environmental benefits.
The fossil fuel business lobby were featured prominently, often with little scrutiny of their claims. …

[That] 31% of news and feature articles [relied on] no more than one source indicates that many sources [were] not held to account. …
[This] opens up possibilities for well-resourced interests to gain high visibility for their views through press releases including commissioned research and consultants reports tailored to the news cycle.
Private power as well as government power needs to consistently scrutinised by journalists.
[The] success of big business sources is certainly aided by their interconnected advertising, public relations and lobbying activities.
(p 63)

The Australian:
For a newspaper to censor or deliberately avoid points of view, such as these, because they conflict with or undermine its own position would be a fundamental breach of trust.
Fairfax editors must hold their readers in such low esteem that they will only share with them information that will help shape pre-determined opinions.
What a deceptive manipulation of public discourse and an insult to the readers.
What disregard for the essence of news and journalism. …
(Editorial, June 2011)

[The] results of this study [indicate] that both the SMH and The Age [are] more likely to be neutral and [evenly balanced] than The Australian. …

It is clear that The Age is a more progressive than The Australian but there is no evidence in this study that The Age engages in censorship.
Indeed it appears to be considerably more balanced than any News Ltd paper. …

To be positive or negative towards a policy does not imply that a journalist loses impartiality, fairness or a critical approach.
Columnists such as the News Ltd’s Mike Steketee, Fairfax’s Ian Verrender and Peter Hartcher wrote a range of incisive pieces making critical points about both sides of the carbon policy debate.
The SMH’s Lenore Taylor held Abbott’s policy and the claims of industry up to scrutiny more consistently than nearly all other journalists.
(p 65)

{[Thirty years ago,] the Norris inquiry into Victorian print media had also found dangerous levels of concentration but no definite evidence of bias.}

[Twenty] years ago, a Parliamentary Select Inquiry investigated the Australian print media and found that while the media was highly concentrated and this had an impact on diversity, the Inquiry could find no evidence that the media, in particular News Ltd was biased. …

Is it in the public interest for a media organisation that dominates the market to ‘campaign’ as The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun have done, on an issue which a huge majority of the world's scientists have found threatens the lives of millions?
In what circumstances does a lack of diversity and balance, represent a threat to democracy?
(p 66)

[The evidence] suggests that many Australians did not receive fair, accurate and impartial reporting … in relation to the carbon policy in 2011.
This suggests that rather an open and competitive market that can be trusted to deliver quality media, we may have a case of market failure.

(Climate Change Policy, A Sceptical Climate: Media coverage of climate change in Australia, Part 1, 1 December 2011)

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Climate Change Science

Climate Change Policy

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Australian Centre for Independent Journalism

  • Climate Change Policy, A Sceptical Climate: Media coverage of climate change in Australia, Part 1, 1 December 2011.
    Wendy Bacon (1946): Professorial Fellow, Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
    On February 24 … Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that there would be a price imposed on carbon emissions in Australia from July 1, 2012.
    On July 10, she announced details of the ‘Clean Energy Future package’ including information about the price of carbon, tax cuts, compensation and industry assistance. …
    The Australian Parliament enacted the package of Clean Energy Future bills on November 8, 2011.

    [The] Federal Opposition [has vowed] to repeal it if elected.
    (p 17)

    Negative or Critical?

    There is a difference however between negativity and critical scrutiny.
    It is possible to be supportive of the carbon policy and adopt a critical and questioning approach, remaining alert to flaws in the claims of government and vested interests.
    It is also possible to promote claims by supporters of the tax uncritically. …

    In pursuing truth, journalists [should] aim to be ‘fair and accurate’.
    This does not mean that in every article a reporter needs to canvas a range of opinions in every article but it does mean that editors have a responsibility to ensure readers get a good range of views and accurate information from which to make up their minds on critical issues.
    Promoting sources with vested interests without testing them against credible sources provides opportunities for misinformation and scare campaigns.
    (p 19)

    Newspaper Coverage of Climate Change Policy in Australia

    {[In] the period February to July 2011} there were 3971 articles that dealt with climate change policy. …
    (p 24)

    [Of these 51% were negative, 29% neutral and 20% positive.]
    (p 29)


    [With neutral items removed:]
    • [The overall negative coverage of the Gillard government’s carbon policy [outweighed the positive] by 73% to 27%. …

    • [Across] News Limited newspapers [(with monopoly positions in 5 out of 7 state capital cities and the only national daily) negative coverage (82%)] far outweighed positive (18%) [coverage. …]
      {The Daily Telegraph was the most negative (89%) …
      The Australian gave far more space to the coverage of climate change than any other newspaper.
      Its articles were [84% negative] compared to 17% positive.}

    • By comparison, Fairfax was far more balanced in its coverage … with 57% positive articles outweighing 43% negative articles.
      The Age [Fairfax] was [the most] positive (67%) [of all the newspapers.]
    (p 11-12)


    Fossil fuel lobby and other big business sources opposed to the policy were very strongly represented [—] often without any critique or second source. …

    Although they played a key role in negotiations, the Australian Greens received low coverage (5% of all sources). …

    Business sources (23%) receive more coverage than all [other] civil society sources [combined (17%), including:]
    • unions,
    • NGOS,
    • think tanks,
    • activists,
    • members of the public,
    • religious spokespeople,
    • scientists and academics


    [News Limited papers —] The Daily Telegraph, The Herald Sun, The Courier Mail [— and Seven West's] The West Australian were all clearly … opposed to the policy.

    [Fairfax's] The Age was the most positive …

    {The small number of editorials in The Hobart Mercury revealed a balanced approach towards the policy, perhaps reflecting the substantial Green constituency in Hobart.

    Percentage of negative, positive and neutral opinion articles,
    across 10 Australian newspapers, from Feb to Jul 2011

    (Adapted from Figure 20, p 55)

    Newspaper (Ownership)

    Northern Territory News (News Limited)85%0%15%
    Herald Sun (News Limited)81%16%3%
    The Daily Telegraph (News Limited)76%11%13%
    The Australian (News Limited)71%17%12%
    The Courier Mail (News Limited)63%30%7%
    The Advertiser (News Limited)52%33%14%
    The West Australian (7 West Media)49%43%9%
    Hobart Mercury (News Limited)44%24%32%
    Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax)30%34%30%
    The Age (Fairfax)30%28%42%

    Percentage of negative opinion pieces versus positive opinion pieces
    — neutral articles removed

    (Adapted from Figure 21, p 55)


    News Limited

    Herald Sun96%4%
    The Courier Mail89%11%
    The Australian
    The Daily Telegraph
    The Northern Territory News
    The Advertiser79%21%
    Hobart Mercury58%42%

    Seven West Media

    The West Australian85%15%


    Sydney Morning Herald54%46%
    The Age41%59%


    59% of … commentary was negative, 23% neutral and 18% positive. …
    {[With neutral opinion pieces removed: 78% were] negative compared to 22% positive.} …

    Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann [— who both reject] the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change [—] published more opinion pieces on the carbon pricing policy than any other commentators.
    (p 15)

    [Along with] Tim Blair, Miranda Devine, Piers Akerman and Christopher Pearson [they] accounted for at least 21% of all words of commentary published … in the ten newspapers …
    Their columns are prominently featured online [and are] often accompanied by highly negative cartoons and illustrations. …

    Fairfax newspapers did not publish any opinion articles by climate [science rejectors] during this period.
    (p 16)

    In early July [2011] 50 businesses, including the global giant GE, AGL, the Body Shop and others signed a statement backing the price on carbon. …
    This story was taken up the ABC, which reported that in fact 100 businesses had joined the group.
    (p 51)

    [Several] days later The Australian reported:
    Industry remains opposed to carbon tax, following release of key details of the package.
    [Six industry sources were quoted] saying that the carbon tax was
    [Unnecessarily] punitive and fails to provide adequate compensation to impacted sectors.
    (p 52)

    Styles of commentary

    We identified four broad styles of commentary produced by journalists and regular newspaper columnists.
    Columnists often use[d] more than one of these styles.

    • The first is an older style of political commentary that seeks to judge performance and canvas political and economic options in an apparently ‘balanced’ way.
      These columns often focus on the on-going political struggle between leaders and parties.
      Channel Nine's political editor and News Ltd columnist Laurie Oakes and The Age’s Michelle Grattan [now at] are examples of such columnists.
      Their tone is measured and never strident.
      They do take positions but they usually write in a more detached and ‘neutral’ style.

    • A second style is also detached but more pointed and often ironic.
      These journalists often use their columns to produce empirical analysis that could also be part of a feature.
      The SMH’s Lenore Taylor, for example, published several columns in which she critiqued claims by interests opposed to the policy.

    • A third type of commentator is the specialist journalist.
      In this study, such specialists included the SMH Green Biz columnist Padding Manning who is supportive of action on climate change but investigative in his approach and regular The Hobart Mercury columnist Peter Boyer, a rare example of a pro-climate change action News Ltd columnist.

    • A fourth group of columnists was those who overtly promote a set of values and political positions that they apply to a range of policy issues.
      Some, but not all of these columnists overlay their core arguments with highly emotive language and attributions of blame that the first and second style of columnists rarely use.
      These include columnists such as The Daily Telegraph Piers Akerman.
      Columnists of this kind are usually conservative in political outlook.
      There are no equivalent examples of strident progressives found in the corporate … independent or alternative media.)

    (p 56)

    The person with the second highest number of columns [after Terry McCann] was Andrew Bolt, with 41 pieces.
    Bolt … was extremely hostile to the policy. …
    News Ltd claim that Bolt is its best-read blogger.
    The company heavily promotes his appearances on radio and television.
    His political arguments are heavily laced with climate skepticism and accusations of fraud and dishonesty.
    (p 57)

    We ranked the columnists according to the number of articles they published.
    Following [Terry] McCrann and [Andrew] Bolt, the top ten included:
    • News Ltd columnist Laurie Oakes who was usually neutral,
    • The Australian’s Denis Shanahan who was usually negative,
    • The Daily Telegraph’s Miranda Devine who was negative,
    • The Daily Telegraph’s Piers Akerman who was negative and
    • The Daily Telegraph’s David Penberthy who was usually negative.
    • The Australian’s Paul Kelly [who] tended to be neutral.

    Frequently published Fairfax commentators included:
    • The Age’s senior political reporter Michelle Grattan, whose columns were coded neutral or positive,
    • the SMH business reporter Paddy Manning [who] regularly covered the issue from the perspective of investigating vested interests opposing the policy and
    • SMH political reporter Lenore Taylor who was one of the few journalists to presented a solid critique of Abbott’s policy and claims about the impact of the carbon policy on power prices.
    (p 59)

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