A new academic report found that coverage of the carbon price legislation in Australian newspapers was overwhelming negative, with only 15% of the article viewing the policy in a positive light.

Tabloids Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph were so biased in their coverage against the carbon tax “it is fair to say they ‘campaigned’ against the policy rather than covered it,” says the report from that the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, led by director Wendy Bacon.

The report examined all the major daily newspapers in Australia; News Limited’s The AustralianHerald SunThe Daily TelegraphThe Courier-MailAdelaide Advertiser; Fairfax’sThe Age and The Sydney Morning Herald and Seven Media’s The West Australian to examine its coverage of climate change policy (specifically the carbon tax).

It found that News Limited papers were far more likely to run articles or opinion pieces against the tax than Fairfax, with 82% of News Limited’s articles deemed negative, compared to Fairfax’s 43%.

The Daily Telegraph was deemed the worst offender, with 58% of negative articles, 35% neutral and 7% positive. When the neutral stories were removed, the negative coverage was a whopping 89%. The Herald Sun was not far behind with its coverage, with 85% of its carbon tax stories deemed negative once the neutral stories were removed.

The ACIJ team analysed 3971 articles –including comment pieces, editorials, features and news stories to reach their findings.

Some key findings directly quoted from the report:

  • Overall, negative coverage of the Gillard government’s carbon policy across ten newspapers outweighed positive coverage across ten Australian newspapers by 73% to 27%. (Note: After neutral items were discounted).
  • All papers contained some positive and a substantial amount of neutral material. The highest level of neutral articles was found in The Age and The Hobart Mercury, the lowest level was found in The Northern Territory News and The Daily Telegraph.
  • After neutral items were discounted, negative coverage (82%) across News Ltd newspapers far outweighed positive (18%) articles. This indicates a very strong stance against the carbon policy adopted by the company that controls most Australian metropolitan newspapers, and the only general national daily.
  • By comparison, Fairfax was far more balanced in its coverage of the policy than News Ltd publications with 57% positive articles outweighing 43% negative articles.
  • The Age was more positive (67%) rather than negative towards the policy than any other newspaper. The Daily Telegraph was the most negative (89%) rather than positive of newspapers.
  • Headlines were less balanced than the actual content of articles.
  • Neutral articles were more likely to be headlined negative (41%) than positive (19%).
  • Readers relying on metropolitan newspapers living in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane received more coverage of carbon policy issues than readers in Perth, Adelaide and Darwin.
  • The Australian gave far more space to the coverage of climate change than any other newspaper. Its articles were coded 47% negative, 44% neutral and 9% positive. When neutrals were discounted, there were 84% negative articles compared to 17% positive.

How did the papers involved cover the ACIJ investigation? A fairly straight report appeared in Fairfax papers, although it clearly pointed out that the report had found its coverage much more balanced compared to its News Limited competition:

“An academic review of coverage of the federal government’s climate change policy has found it was overwhelmingly negative — particularly in News Limited publications.”

And News Limited? In an article in The Australian today Nick Leys refers to Bacon as a “former Fairfax journalist undertaking research funded by the Australian Conservation Foundation.”

It also included a quote from editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell with a personal attack against Bacon: “I cannot take anything that Wendy Bacon does seriously.” This echoed comments made by Greg Baxter, News Limited’s director of corporate affairs, to The Conversation (which first published the ACIJ report).

“Wendy Bacon has absolutely no credibility with this company,” said Baxter. “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.

Bacon is a Walkley-award winning investigate journalist. You can read more about her over at Crikey‘s quality journalism project.

A second ACIJ report (to launch in coming weeks) will cover climate science coverage in the Australian media.

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