Free TV lashes out at ACMA for ‘flawed research’ over broadcast news commercial influence paper

Free-to-air (FTA) industry body Free TV has responded to the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) discussion paper on the impartiality and commercial influence in broadcast news, slamming the “flawed research” used in the paper.

The authority “failed to put forward any evidence of a problem”, according to Free TV CEO Bridget Fair, and didn’t appropriately distinguish between sources of news.

Fair says the ACMA’s research was flawed and doesn’t display evidence of a problem in broadcast news reporting

Commercial television news programs are overwhelmingly free from commercial influence, and viewers know that, argued Fair.

“ACMA relied on inherently flawed research to determine whether viewers are concerned about impartiality in television news reporting. At the end of the day, the Discussion Paper failed to put forward any evidence of a problem,” said Fair.

The comments come as part of Free TV’s response to the ongoing ACMA investigation into commercial influence over broadcast news, with the authority saying “quality news is essential for effective participation in democracy and civil society”.

The consultation period for the research ran from mid-January to the end of February. The responses were to three research projects conducted by the authority on news in Australia. A 32-page discussion paper was released in January, which claimed Australians are losing faith in news sources, citing research conducted for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry.

The report stated 88% of Australians surveyed were concerned that news was made ‘more dramatic or sensational’ to attract viewers, 85% were concerned news was being reported ‘from a particular point of view rather than being balanced or impartial’ and 79% could not tell when a journalist was ‘expressing opinion rather than reporting the facts’.

The ACMA recommends a review of the current regulatory arrangements for broadcast practice.

“The research also did not distinguish between the different roles of news, current affairs and other factual programs and many questions posed to viewers could best be described as “leading” rather than in response to unprompted questions. A best practice approach to regulation demands an evidence based approach,” said Fair.

“In an environment where the ACCC has recently recommended a platform-neutral regulatory framework, it is perplexing that ACMA has singled out commercial broadcast news for attention. We are already subject to extensive requirements under our Code of Practice. ACMA already has the tools to deal with this issue but the fact is that commercial television news is trusted by the millions of Australians that watch it every day.”

Free TV reports that FTA broadcasters deliver over 486 hours of news and current affairs programming to Australian households every week, yet over the past four and a half years, there has been only one instance of a breach of impartiality provisions by a commercial television licensee and no instances of breaches of disclosure requirements.

That breach was on February 14, 2017, committed by Nine News over a story about Ku-ring-gai Council’s opposition to the NSW government’s council amalgamation plans, which was found to have breached clause 3.4.1 – present news fairly and impartially – of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice.

The responses to ACMA are currently under review.


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