Eight in 10 Australians concerned about commercial influence in news | radioinfo

Eight in 10 Australians concerned about commercial influence in news

Friday 17 January, 2020

More than 8 in 10 Australian adults are concerned about large advertisers influencing the news, according to new research from the ACMA.

The research was released today in conjunction with an ACMA discussion paper, 'Impartiality and commercial influence in broadcast news'.

ACMA research found that in 2019, 59 per cent of Australian adults listen to radio news at least weekly and 71 per cent watch television news or current affairs at least weekly.
By comparison, 67 per cent access news online or via social media at least weekly.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the ACMA is looking at how the commercial broadcast news industry had changed due to digital disruption and whether current regulatory arrangements are fit for purpose.

“There is ongoing debate about the credibility of news delivered online. But TV and radio remain an important source of news for the majority of Australians. If audiences have concerns about the credibility of news on TV and radio, then these need to be addressed by industry,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

The ACMA research highlights a range of concerns from Australians about the impartiality of, and commercial influence in, news:

  • 88 per cent are concerned news is made more dramatic or sensational to attract more readers or viewers.
  • 85 per cent are concerned news is reported from a particular point of view rather than being balanced or impartial. 
  • 79 per cent were concerned that there was difficulty in telling when a journalist is expressing an opinion rather than reporting the facts.
  • 77 per cent are concerned about commercial businesses paying to have their products or services featured in the news, but not disclosing the payment.
  • 97 per cent reported noticing commercial influence in at least one news source.
  • 58 per cent consider that there is now more commercial influence in Australian news today, compared with three years ago.

“As Australia’s broadcasting regulator, we want to make sure that current regulatory arrangements still do the job they were designed to do in the contemporary broadcasting news environment. For example, we are interested in whether the move from half-hour news bulletins towards hour-long hybrid news and current affairs programs has impacted the impartiality of news reporting,” O’Loughlin said.

“It’s also an opportunity to look at principles relating to impartiality and commercial influence that might usefully apply to the delivery of news on online platforms.” 

The ACMA is seeking comments on the discussion paper from industry stakeholders and news audiences by Friday 28 February. IN the discussion paper, a range of views were reported, with variations between news and current affairs noted and comparisons made between radio and tv.:

Some participants felt that some sources were more impartial than others, while others perceived bias across all sources, particularly around election time. Some stated that they could achieve balance by accessing content from different sources; others chose to access news that aligned with their own views to avoid bias more objectionable to them.

A lack of impartiality was seen as more commonplace in current affairs programming than in news broadcasts. This was particularly mentioned with respect to current affairs programming on commercial television stations. Some suggested that radio news bulletins were the most straightforward, fact-based, and impartial form of news. Most participants indicated that it is important for audiences to be able to distinguish factual news from a journalist’s or presenter’s opinion.

In the discussion paper, television fares worse than radio in being singled out for unacknowledged commercial agreements:

In free-to-air television, recent changes include a move away from short news bulletins towards hour-long programs that contain a mixture of traditional news reading, interviews, news analysis and commentary. News bulletins are also regularly integrated into other factual programming, including current affairs programs or magazine-style programs that may also feature light entertainment and in-program promotions or advertorial segments.

On subscription television, Sky News, a 24-hour news channel, has since 2013 increasingly featured discrete news analysis and commentary programs in addition to rolling news bulletins.

Shifts in radio news programming over recent years do not appear to be as pronounced, with news content continuing to be delivered primarily through brief bulletins at the top of each hour. Depending on the format of the station, these stories are then sometimes discussed in depth through extended interviews or talkback programs.

In addition, the modern media environment is an integrated ecosystem in which news media businesses seek to engage audiences across different media platforms. Video or audio produced for broadcast is often published on the online services of the same media group or via its social media channels, while content from digital platforms is also appearing on broadcast news.

Journalistic content—from hard news to lifestyle and entertainment—is traditionally produced and packaged as a bundle by a single media business. However, in the ‘atomised’ online environment, algorithms curate content from an array of disparate sources. In this environment, where news content competes on a story-by-story basis, traditional media may feel the pressure to alter their news content or programming to attract online audiences.

From June 2019, the ACMA undertook a monitoring program focused on the issue of potential commercial influence in broadcast news and current affairs. The purpose of the exercise is to observe broad trends in news programming practices and to identify the extent to which these trends may have the potential to create perceptions of commercial influence on news and other journalistic content. Some of the regulator's observations included:

  • Nine News Now included a report on Big W’s Toy Mania sale and an interview with a toy buyer for Big W. The story featured Big W products and prices and no other retailers, and no disclosure of an arrangement was made.
  • A story on Sunrise featuring Tag Heuer watches revealed that the presenters’ questions to the celebrity spokesperson had to be vetted by Tag Heuer, but no disclosure was made for a similar story on Today.
  • A former AFL Swans player and current director of business development at Six Park appeared on both Nine’s Today and on Seven’s Sunrise. Six Park is a new online and AI-based investment platform. Both segments were framed as general financial segments but included promotions of the Six Park platform. No disclosures were made, and it was difficult to determine if a commercial arrangement existed.
  • News segments featuring commercial products followed by an advertisement for the product during an ad break. For example, Seven News ran a story about Samsung’s new 98-inch 8K QLED TV available at Harvey Norman. In the commercial break immediately following this story, a commercial for Samsung QLED televisions at Harvey Norman was aired.
  • Reporters going on trips to the headquarters of businesses to report on the release of their new products. In some cases, it appears the trips were paid for by the businesses, but this was not disclosed. For example:
  • Today was the only program with a reporter present at the US launch event for Uber Air despite wide coverage of the launch. There was no disclosure and therefore it was unclear if there was any arrangement between Uber and Nine.
  • In another case, Today had a reporter present at the Samsung Note 10 launch in New York. Before crossing to the reporter, the host stated that the reporter ‘travelled with Samsung to New York’ but the disclosure may not have been sufficiently clear for viewers to understand the nature of the commercial arrangement.
  • market data on Nine News. Domain, as a major digital real estate business, benefits from positive news about the property market.
  • The promotion on news programs of sales campaigns in which the broadcaster has a financial interest. For instance, Nine News promoted 9Saver, a customer aggregation service, for which Nine may receive a fee or commission for the subscription of new clients.
  • Current affairs television presenters live-reading advertising copy over promotional imagery, both with and without end-show disclosure. Seven and Ten both include end-show ‘banner’ disclosures at the close of their breakfast/morning programming (Sunrise/The Morning Show and Studio 10). However, no comparable disclosure practice was observed in Nine’s programming (Today/Today Extra).
  • News programs broadcasting a story about commercial entities or industries using information primarily from press releases. For example, during a Canberra 6.00 pm bulletin, WIN ran a story on the benefits of Australian beer and brewing for the economy. The report was overwhelmingly positive and closely followed information provided in a press release issued by the Brewers Association of Australia.


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