Campaign for bias audits in commercial news media

By Barry Tucker                    25 August, 2014

Should the news media be audited for bias? The taxpayer-funded ABC was recently audited by at least two individuals, in separate inquiries, both of which found little cause for concern.

These inquires were ordered following persistent complaints, from the Conservative Right wing of political opinion, about bias. These complaints were part of the long-running campaign of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to have the ABC broken up and sold to private enterprise. Rather than putting forward a thoroughly researched economic case for selling the ABC, News Corp relied upon a biased and dishonest campaign. The company did not argue for more control of bias by politically oriented radio shock jocks or commercial TV programs.

This attitude and behaviour of News Corp is itself a case for audits of the bias in political news and commentary in newspapers. In a democracy like ours, the public should expect that it is being honestly and accurately informed, without bias. If the ABC can be audited for bias, then why not audit newspapers and commercially owned radio and TV? To audit one and not the others is bias itself.

The ABC audits received a broad coverage before and after the events. You will find the results reported in mUmBRELLA, Crikey.com, on ABC websites, the NoFibs.com website and elsewhere.

Former teacher, single mother and business manager Margaret Sinclair has produced a petition calling on the federal Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, to institute audits of bias in political news reporting in commercial newspapers, radio and TV.

Attempts to reform newspaper reporting, in particular, are generally unsuccessful because the newspaper proprietors, editors and journalists fight so hard against it — scaring governments into backing down. We saw an excellent example of this in Australia early last year. The ball was fumbled by a boofheaded Communications Minister who tossed the Bills on the table with a “take it or leave it” attitude.

In that case the newspapers howled “Freedom of the Press” and one group, News Corp, characterised the minister as a dictator. The minister wanted to appoint an overseer to ensure the newspapers adhered to regulations they had already agree to. No major matter, but the papers really beat that up that aspect.

What they (News Corp in particular) were really objecting to was one of the five Bills that provided for the appointment of a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA). This person would rule on the wisdom or otherwise of further consolidation and mergers of news media interests. It has since been revealed that the ultra Right-wing Conservative government elected in September last year is likely to loosen media ownership rules. It is thought this is designed to allow Rupert Murdoch in particular to prop up his loss-making Australian newspaper interests with new cross-media ownership (radio and TV).

Murdoch’s political activity in Australia is far from transparent. His newspapers are far more obviously biased than they accuse the ABC of being. Their opinion that the ABC is biased against the Right is not honestly held — it is part of a campaign that has the support of the Liberal party’s policy formation unit, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

The situation makes Margaret Sinclair’s petition a long-overdue and worthwhile endeavour.

You will find more on biased reporting, Rupert Murdoch and News Corp on my other website: The Sniper

Follow me, @btckr, on Twitter, if you want to.

Advertisements