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,, on ABC websites, the 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.

Now you see it …

Comment and compilation

Barry Tucker                   27 March, 2014

In a foolish and ultimately self-incriminating move, Murdoch’s Sunday Telegraph has tried to protect federal government leader Tony Abbott from humiliation.

Mr Abbott is quite capable of humiliating himself. In fact, he usually does it on a daily basis, making protecting him a full-time, even futile, job.

In short, The Sunday Telegraph pulled a page from 22 December, 2013, containing a story in which Abbott ruled out the reintroduction of knights and dames. Following a commotion on social media, the page was restored to the online edition the following day.

The original story was written by Samantha Maiden, National Political Editor for Rupert Murdoch’s major metropolitan newspapers. It was not major news. It mainly quoted Abbott as saying he would not be following New Zealand’s lead by amending Australia’s top honour, the Order of Australia, to a knighthood or a dame.

However, the 22 December story suddenly became big news on the night of Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, when Abbott announced the reintroduction of knight and dame honours for “pre-eminent” Australians. They would apply automatically to Governors-General, to some who accepted public office, but probably not to those who sought public office, such as politicians.

Yesterday afternoon tweeters, myself included, began researching, found the 22 December article and began tweeting the link to our followers. Abbott’s back-flip, secrecy and obfuscation created quite a stir — although we should be accustomed to it by now. A few hours later, when I wanted to re-read certain parts, the story had disappeared from the web.

When Maiden was asked if she had an explanation, she replied there was no conspiracy. The following morning, she said the removal of the page had been “inadvertent”. There is no suggestion Maiden removed the web page. That would require online editing skills and probably a log-on password by an authorised online editor.

This is where the story becomes interesting and relevant (unlike almost any Opposition Point of Order during Question Time in the federal House of Representatives). It is not unusual for a politician to change their position on something. They generally have one position during an election campaign and a different one after the campaign, depending on whether or not their party won. It is not unusual for Abbott to change his position on everything. As I wrote earlier, he keeps his minders busy.

However, The Sunday Telegraph is not, or should not be, Abbott’s minder. The fact that it has taken this role upon itself is instructive.

It would have been better to leave the page in place and not draw attention to Abbott’s flip-flop by making the page disappear. It was a foolish move because anything that appears on the web is copied and cached in many other places. The fact that the page has reappeared after a storm of social media fuss proves that removing it was recognised as a mistake.

I say “removed” and I mean to imply deliberately removed because there is no way the page removal could have been “inadvertent”. It disappeared soon after tweeters began referring to Abbott’s obfuscation. It was deliberately removed in what turned out to be a futile bid to save Abbott embarrassment.

Abbott has been severely embarrassed by his reintroduction, without consulting his cabinet or the Australian people, of these imperial honours, which have been described by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, and others, as “anachronistic”. I have a list of seven Liberal MPs, so far, who are annoyed or bemused by Abbott’s honours.

On the day following Abbott’s announcement, Question Time was reduced to a farce, with several Opposition MPs kicked out for what Madam Speaker Bronwyn Bishop referred to as “… a new tactic of an outburst of infectious laughter”. Abbott lost his temper at one point, leaning over the despatch box, glaring and yelling at Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, who had been humming Rule Britannia.

Abbott’s behaviour was the first evidence we have seen of the underlying bullying nature he exhibited through his university days. It was the proof I’d been expecting to see that he is, as I’ve written here before, probably not mature enough to responsibly exercise power.

He has now made at least three captain’s calls since 1 December, 2009 and they have all ended in near disaster for him. The first was his challenge to then Liberal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. He won that spill by a single vote. The second was his expensive Paid Parental Leave scheme, which offers new working mothers six months leave at full salary — partly paid for with a 1.5% tax on big employers. There is opposition in his party to the plan. The third and most recent was his reintroduction of some imperial honours, the last of which were abandoned in 1982.

Either Abbott has not accepted an Australian honour, such as the Order of Australia (AO), or not enough of his friends or staff have taken the trouble to prepare an application for one.

Here are some of the relevant tweets:

Sam tweet 1

Sam tweet 3


The following day:

Sam tweet 2


Sam tweet 4

Pandys tweet

One of the results of following the original link:

Page gone missing

And if it inadvertently disappears again, read this cached copy.

Unexpectedly,’s National Political Editor Malcolm Farr reported on Abbott’s humiliation.

And The Guardian Aus Political Editor Lenore Taylor did some straight reporting of the facts.



Row over climate change reporting


By Barry Tucker                    10 November, 2013

How do you report on the issue of climate change? A dispute has broken out between journalism professor Wendy Bacon and News Corp.

For those who don’t know, Ms Bacon is a progressive, former employee of Fairfax Media who accepts climate change, while Rupert Murdoch (majority owner of News Corp) is a climate change denier. In a tweet during the last quarter of 2012, Mr Murdoch advocated investment in non-renewable resources (oil and coal). His employees understand his feelings on the subject.

The row began when the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ) published Sceptical Climate Part 2, a report on news media coverage of climate change, authored by Ms Bacon, last Thursday, 29 October. Ms Bacon wrote an article on the report for The Conversation, published on 1 November.

The ACIJ report found that Australia’s biggest publications The Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun (both News Corp publications) are misleading and confusing their readers about scientific findings on climate science. A report I read several months ago said the News Corp media (including TV interests) was more biased than other news media when reporting on climate change.

News media (the bulk of which is commercially owned) appears to be mainly sceptical about climate change or determined to muddy the picture. It is as if industry and commerce does not want to acknowledge the science of climate change or pay the cost of addressing it.

On 5 November, 2013, News Corp’s The Australian responded to Ms Bacon’s article in The Conversation, with a mocking and derogatory article in its Cut & Paste column.

Ms Bacon responded to the Cut & Paste article by writing a letter to the editor, which The Australian did not use. She followed that up with an article in NewMatilda, which dealt with her case on how the climate change debate should be reported by the news media.

The matter is unresolved.

News Corp’s role in Labor’s defeat

News Corp newspapers played a significant role in the defeat of Labor in the 2013 federal election, according to a Kevin Rudd (former PM) insider.

In a book to be released on 4 November, 2013, Bruce Hawker, one of Rudd’s closest advisers, describes the efforts that were made to regain the support of News Corp in the lead-up to the election campaign.

Hawker says News Corp’s anti-Rudd, anti-Labor campaign (some of which appears on this website) did Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s dirty work, which meant Abbott could appear to be playing a positive role.

“News Corp is easily the most powerful political force in Australia – bigger than the major parties or the combined weight of the unions … I saw how, on a daily basis, the storm of negative stories that emanated from News Corp papers blew our campaign off course,” Hawker writes.

Murdoch supported Rudd as Opposition Leader during the election campaign that won government for Labor in 2007 but withdrew this support as Labor went down in opinion polls during 2010. Abbott was elected Liberal Parliamentary Party leader on December 1, 2009.

You can read more about the book, The Rudd Rebellion: The Campaign to Save Labor, in an article in the Guardian by Lenore Taylor.

Follow Hawker on Twitter @brucehawker2010

Abbott’s a media control freak


By Barry Tucker                   3 October, 2013

In his first overseas diplomatic mission as head of the Murdoch Government of Australia, Anthony (Tony) Abbott barred Indonesian journalists from attending a key news conference.

The presser was held in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on the morning after talks with Indonesian leaders that encompassed Abbott’s plans to stop the flow of refugee-seeker boats and trade, especially the live cattle trade.

Indonesian journalists were told the ban was imposed at the request of the Office of the Prime Minister. Australian journalists who have since sought a reason for the ban have not received a reply.

The head of the Jakarta chapter of the Alliance for Independent Journalists, Umar Idris, said: “We cannot accept whatever reason Australia gave for limiting access to information for Indonesian journalists.”

Mr Umar said the ban was not just discourteous, but criminal.

“The press law in Indonesia says it is a crime to limit journalists to get access to information. The penalty for that is two years’ imprisonment,” Mr Umar said.

Abbott, who studied Law, Economics, Politics and Philosophy (but not Media) worked as a journalist for The Bulletin and The Australian. He, or his minders, carefully chooses which radio and tv outlets he appears on for interviews. His preference is for the Sydney radio shock jocks (eg: Alan Jones) or the part Murdoch owned Sky News while severely limiting his appearances on ABC tv shows like Insiders, the 7.30 Report and Q&A.

The Age’s Michael Bachelard reported on the Jakarta media ban.

After Abbott returned to Australia, he held a news conference with visiting New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, on Wednesday, 2 October. During the presser Abbott controlled questioners turn about: one from Australia, one from NZ. When Abbott tried to end the presser, Mr Key said he wanted to take more questions.

Here is a list of stories on Mr Key’s visit.

And there was this Tweet:

The look on PM Key’s face when Abbott turned to run from their presser was priceless. Guess that’s not how a PM behaves across the Tasman.

Citizen alleges ABC censorship

13 September, 2013

A citizen has lodged a complaint on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Facebook page, alleging censorship of her Tweets to ABC accounts.

The procedure for complaining to or about the ABC is to write to the body’s “independent” complaints department. See on this site for details.

@stephrice88‘s Facebook page post is duplicated below, with Ms Rice’s permission.

My Post on ABC FB page asking “Should public servants be able to criticize public policy on social media?”

Updated Sep 11, 2013
As a civilian operating under my own name my tweets are being censored by twitter and/or ABC as my comments don’t show up under ANY hash tag categories or conversations. The blocking started when I was vocal about Tony Abbott’s sexist remarks & Paul Sheehan condoning his remarks as acceptable toward women on national TV.
I know ABC can see my tweets on the reels as some are taken & used for display on TV, yet the public cannot see or engage with my tweets. I have informed #TheDrum today that I will be writing an academic paper on twitter censorship.
I also wrote to twitter advising them of my intention to go public on unfair censorship & my letters are being ignored.
I am amazed that ABC is now asking for opinions on censorship for Public Servants when they are censoring private citizens themselves for no explainable reason.
If you prefer to discuss this subject with me now ABC I am happy to hear an explanation. Customer Service would be good for a change or do you just censor people with no explanation?
If you delete this post, I will presume ABC has something to hide & that they really don’t believe in Free Speech at all.
This post will be cc’d as part of my collection of evidence as to whether I get a response or not & will be included in my papers to publish.
Attached is a letter I wrote to Twitter on this issue which consequently is being ignored. No apology, no explanation, no help, nothing.
Surprise me ABC, do the right thing & contact me, or pass my complaint on to appropriate personnel to have this matter dealt with FAIRLY.
Read Ms Rice’s ABC Facebook post and any comments. Scroll down to last entry August 29, added to September 3.
If the ABC or Twitter replies to Ms Rice’s complaint, it will be added below.

Pressure builds against news media bias

Comment By Barry Tucker                    28 August, 2013

Official action to correct unbalanced and biased political reporting in Australian news media has begun. It may be too little, too late to save the federal Labor government, with an election 10 days away.

The move gained weight when Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd protested against the front pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph that have appeared since the election campaign began.

Tele front page, day 1.

Tele front page, day 1.

The Daily Telegraph and Murdoch’s Brisbane paper, The Courier-Mail, have since ridiculed Labor MPs, once depicting them as Hogan’s Heroes characters, some wearing Nazi uniforms.


Col Allan, mastermind of tabloid covers. NY Times pic

Col Allan, mastermind of tabloid covers.
NY Times pic

On day 1 of the campaign, PM Rudd claimed Murdoch had told his journalists “to go hard on Rudd and don’t back off“. Here’s an ABC radio follow-up. The original story is hard to find in the mainstream Press, but follow-ups are plentiful — telling in itself. Back in May, Murdoch tweeted that “polls show nothing can save this miserable government. People decided and tuned out months ago”. The Liberal National Party Opposition has stated that the government’s claims of news media bias are false.


In an interview in The Australian (Murdoch’s flagship national broadsheet), the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, said Mr Rudd got the media coverage he deserved.

On August 12, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Communications*, Anthony Albanese, said News Corp journalists had told him they were “embarrassed” by the effects of the reporting and front pages since the election campaign began. (*Communications includes broadband, ABC and media generally).

Visiting British MP Tom Watson (@Tom_Watson) told Fairfax’s The Australian Financial Review Murdoch’s tabloids had become propaganda sheets that abuse their monopoly position.

Mr Watson has appeared on numerous radio and tv programs during his visit (he sat on the UK parliamentary committee that investigated allegations of phone hacking by Murdoch and other UK journalists). He is here to observe the conduct of the Murdoch news media during the election campaign, not to conduct an exposé of Murdoch newspapers as it was originally reported.

Early on Tuesday (August 27), PM Rudd said all Australians should view Monday night’s episode of the ABC’s Media Watch, which provided evidence of biased political coverage by News Corp. Graphs used in that program demonstrated the extent of the negative coverage of the government and the favourable coverage of the Opposition. The Daily Telegraph and Ms Gemma Jones, a Telegraph reporter named in the Media Watch program, have stated they will complain to the ABC and the Australian Communications and Media Authority over the episode.

On Tuesday, the Australian Press Council’s chairman Julian Disney wrote to all major newspapers’ editors, pointing out that guidelines require their papers to distinguish between news and opinion. AAP produced a report on the APC chairman’s lettter, reproduced in Fairfax’s The Sydney Morning Herald. Read the Reuters version of the story.

Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer, convenor of the Palmer United Party (PUP), with candidates standing in every federal seat, has been critical of Murdoch, of news media coverage and the political Duopoly — the dominance of two major and opposing political parties. Mr Palmer has said the news media is operating to maintain this dominance at the expense of minor parties. He recently clashed with controversial ABC radio presenter Jon Faine over allegations of sexual misconduct against two PUP candidates.

Mr Palmer hung up on Mr Faine — terminating a brief and shouty interview. Before hanging up, Mr Palmer suggested the presentation of unproven allegations was typical of the unethical practices of some news media.

Mr Faine has been “spoken to” by ABC management over a interview in which he aggressively sought proof of journalists’ allegations of professional misconduct by former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard during her time as a lawyer with the Australian Workers Union (AWU). The allegations have not been presented before a court and remain unproven.

It is increasingly clear that the connection between the news media and opinion polls needs to be broken. ABC management must be free of political allegiances. Journalists have guidelines designed to assure impartiality and they are easy to work with. The Labor government’s attempt to introduce changes to the structure of the APC were amateurish and inadequate and would have done nothing to improve the situation, beyond limiting the amalgamation of news media ownership. Ultimately, the journalists themselves have the power to continue or to end the present unsatisfactory and unfair situation which is clearly not in the best interests of Australia’s democracy.