Australia’s digital news skews strongly to the left; ABC TV is favoured by left-wing viewers; and people with right-wing views tend to be stronger advocates for impartial, neutral and balanced news. These are among the many findings of a comprehensive report on news media consumption in Australia released last month.
In the report, 25 news brands were located along a left-to-right continuum according to the mean political views of their audience. Only two of those brands — SkyNews.com.au and HeraldSun.com.au — fell marginally to the right of the average ‘centrist’ Australian (the dotted line, circled in red, below). The other 23 brands were found to be left-of-centre.
Among the most left-wing sources were the Guardian Australia online, Crikey, The Conversation and The Sunday Paper online. The taxpayer-funded ABC News Online — which had the biggest audience of the websites included in the survey — ranked further left than CNN.com.
In measuring offline news brands, the spread was more even-handed, with 11 brands falling to the left and nine to the right of an average Australian news consumer. As noted in the study, “online news brands and public service broadcasters are more likely to have left-leaning audiences.”
The report was highlighted by Sky News presenter Jack Houghton last week. Houghton proposed that the Canberra-based study is a vindication for his network, following accusations by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd that Sky News encouraged “far-right extreme views”.
“Characterising our nearly two million subscribers as ‘far right extremists’ is a little unfair,” Houghton protested.
“And if you are one of those people Kevin has slandered over and over and over again as being a ‘radical’, ‘out of touch with mainstream views’ and ‘downright dangerous’, well I have some news for you: he’s wrong.”
Houghton explained that, “there is indeed, as Kevin suggests, a dramatic ideological over-saturation in digital media, but it certainly isn’t to the right, politically speaking.”
The study also revealed that viewers of the publicly-funded broadcasters SBS TV and ABC TV tend to be notably more left-wing than all other brands studied, including channels Seven, Nine, Ten, Sky and Fox. Around 40 percent of SBS and ABC viewers are left-wing, compared to just 23-30 percent for other networks.
This appears to be further evidence that the billion-dollar-a-year ABC is neglecting its charter which requires the broadcaster to “gather and present news and information with due impartiality”; “not unduly favour one perspective over another”; and “present a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented”.
The University of Canberra report also exposed a widening divide between left-wing and right-wing news consumers regarding the importance of impartiality, neutrality and balance in journalism.
Those with right-wing views were far more likely to say that news should be impartial, neutral and balanced than left-wing news consumers. According to the report:
Right-wing news consumers are more likely to say that news should reflect a range of views so people can make up their own mind (85%), than left-wing (72%).
Left-wing respondents (39%) are more likely to say there are some issues where it makes no sense for news outlets to try to be neutral, than right-wing (21%).
In relation to news outlets remaining neutral on every issue, right-wing news consumers (72%) are more supportive than left-wing (54%).
Even more markedly, 87% of right-wing news consumers agree that news outlets should give equal time to all sides, compared to only 69% of left-wing.
This data runs counter to the view, expressed by Mr Rudd, that politically conservative people — so-called “far-right extremists” — tend to be narrow-minded or in search of confirmation bias. Rather, it would suggest that in 2021, these qualities are much more likely to be found among the progressive-minded.
The full report can be found at the Analysis and Policy Observatory website.