More than 8 in 10 Australian adults are concerned about large advertisers influencing the news, according to new research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The research has been released in conjunction with an ACMA discussion paper, Impartiality and commercial influence in broadcast news.
The report noted as advertising revenues shift from media businesses to digital platforms, the need to access a shrinking revenue pool may reduce incentives for media companies to invest in public-interest journalism.
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,” O’Loughlin said.
The ACMA said the 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 added.
“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.