The genesis of the "Sources of News and Current Affairs" project lies in the Broadcasting Services Act. Traditionally, courts have ignored the intention of legislators, and looked at the plain words of a statute. Now the Broadcasting
Services Act, 1992 actually spells out the intention of Parliament:
"The Parliament intends that different levels of regulatory control be applied across the range of broadcasting services according to the degree of influence that different types of broadcasting services are able to exert in shaping
community views in Australia." (Sub-section 4(1)).
This project raises several issues. In particular, which medium is the most influential? Can we even assume that one medium is more influential than another? And of course, if one medium is the more influential, we must ask ourselves what form
of regulation should be imposed.
The project report speaks for itself. I will restrict myself to making a few observations – my own, not Professor Pearson's nor Professor Brand's and certainly not the Authority's – on certain aspects of the report.
The News Cycle
What is most interesting is what journalists themselves rely on to set the agenda, that is determine what is news and how it should be presented.
Newspapers are the first major influence in the journalist's day. Among the newspapers The Australian clearly dominates; obviously for local news the journalists will look to the relevant capital
city or local newspaper. (I would think that The Australian Financial Review would also be a significant source for finance and government). ABC’s AM is another
influence, but I suspect not as important as in the early days, probably because of the greater coverage in the newspapers today, and the advent of other new sources.
Our journalist has a long and no doubt exhausting day. Watching Sky, reading AAP on the Internet, in the evening he or she watches the news, certainly on NINE and probably all the others. This seems to be
more to know what the consumers are seeing. Then there's the 7.30 Report and once upon a time, in those masochistic days, Media Watch.
So what of the public? The survey suggests that well more than 1 in 2 Australians spend an hour or more in watching, reading or listening to the news and current affairs. Free-to-air television is the most used source for news and current
affairs (88%), followed by radio (76%) and newspapers , including those who read only Sunday newspapers (76%). It seems 49.5% use newspapers daily, compared with 66% using television and 79.5% using radio on a daily basis.
Nearly all Australians believe that their preferred source of news and current affairs has at least some influence on public opinion. About half attributed their preferred source with a moderate to high level of influence.
According to the survey, most Australians believe the news and current affairs media are credible. However, many feel they are not as credible as they should be. This seems a milder criticism than the surveys on integrity and honesty of
selected professions undertaken by Morgan Gallop.
Public TV and radio were thought most credible. The most credible programme, column or internet site being ABC TV News, A Current Affair, the 7.30 Report, National Nine News and SBS TV News - in that order. (One of these also appears in the
top five least credible sources.)
This is an edited extract from a speech given to the ABA Conference, Radio Television and the New Media at the Hyatt Hotel, Canberra, 3-4 MAY 2001. Click here for the full transcript.
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