UTS study accuse News Limited of bias in carbon tax coverage

climate change reportAn academic study has accused News Limited of biased coverage against the Government’s policy on climate change, while Fairfax titles have leaned in favour of the carbon tax.

According to the report – A Sceptical Change – from Sydney’s University of Technology, News Limited’s tabloids and its national broadsheet The Australian have both campaigned against the policy rather than merely reporting it.

Report author Wendy Bacon, who leads UTS’ Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, said in a press release: “The results for News Ltd, particularly it two biggest tabloids – The Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph – indicate a very strong stance against the carbon policy adopted by a company that controls most Australian metropolitan newspapers and the only general national daily.”

Bacon is a former investigative journalist who has previously worked for the Nine Network, Fairfax and SBS. News Limited has accused Bacon of publishing a biased report.

The report examined 3971 articles about climate change in ten newspapers from February to July this year. It found negative coverage of the carbon policy outweighed positive coverage by 73% to 27%.

However, in News Limited publications, the articles were 82% negative versus 18% positive, while Fairfax titles had a “a more balanced result” of 57% positive to 43% negative, said Bacon.

The papers featured in the study were: News Limited’s The Australian, The Daily Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Advertiser, Courier Mail/Sunday Mail, The Northern Territory News and The Mercury; Fairfax Media’s The Age/Sunday Age and The Sydney Morning Herald/Sun Herald and Seven West’s The West Australian.

Bacon said: “While the impact of columnists is considerable, negative coverage cannot be attributed merely to several well-published conservative personalities. Bias is an editorial accomplishment achieved through a variety of journalistic techniques included headlining, the selection and prominence of topics and sources, structuring and editing of stories, selection and promotion of commentators, editorials and cartoons or other visuals.”

She claimed: “The response of media companies to the government’s Independent Media Inquiry has been that the market, if left to itself, can be trusted to deliver a quality media outcome for Australia. As I have already argued in a submission to the inquiry, the quality of reporting on the critical issue of climate change provides a litmus test in seeking answers to the inquiry’s terms of reference. The evidence provided in this report suggests we may have a case of market failure.”

According to the report, The Age had the highest proportion of positive stories at 67%, while Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph was the most negative, at 89%. The Australian gave the most space to coverage of the issue. According to the report: “Its articles were coded 47 per cent negative, 44 per cent neutral and nine per cent positive. When neutrals were discounted, there were 84 per cent negative articles compared to 17 per cent positive.”

The second part of the report, examining media reporting of climate science, will be released next week.

In comments given to The Conversation website, Greg Baxter, director of corporate affairs at News Limited, attacked Bacon’s credibility. He said: “Wendy Bacon has absolutely no credibility with this company. It is a matter of great regret that she teaches young people in this country who aspire to be journalists. The fact that Wendy Bacon produces a piece of research that is negative about this company is no surprise to anybody – she’s been doing it for 25 years.

“Every now and again this kind of research comes out and it masquerades as some kind of definitive analysis, and usually it’s got more flaws in it does the insights it purports to have about what it’s studying. We see this all the time. Most research about journalism is atrocious. Most of it purports to unveil or uncover some kind of systemic problem and yet it’s generally guilty of the same sins that it’s trying to identify in others: the way the questions are framed, the kind of methodology that’s used. It’s all usually skewed to achieve a particular outcome.


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