Reporting Diversity
Television News 2007 Study

Gail Phillips, Murdoch University;
May 2008



Content Analysis

The news environment 30 April – 13 May 2007

On the international front protests erupted in Turkey amidst public concern over the threat that the upcoming election might lead to increased Islamisation. The French election campaign was well underway, elections were also being held in East Timor, while in Israel there were calls for the Prime Minster to resign. The so-called War on Terror continued to dominate the headlines with news of Australian troops coming under fire in Iraq, a 40% rise in the global death toll from terrorism, the death of an al Qaeda leader, and a summit meeting between the US and Iran on Iraq. The UK experienced a domestic terror threat and Prime Minister Tony Blair announced his resignation. Prince Harry was posted to Iraq as part of his military training while his grandmother the Queen made a state visit to the US. Also in the US a prominent Washington ‘Madame’ was threatening to name names amongst her illustrious clientele. Disasters included a yacht capsizing near South Africa as a result of which an Australian lost his life, while the US experienced a violent tornado

On the national front terror was in the news with the arrest of two Melbourne men charged with fundraising for the Tamil Tigers. The Federal and State budgets were brought down. Prime Minster John Howard bowed to public and political pressure and softened the Work Choices laws. Meanwhile Opposition leader Kevin Rudd was trying to put his stamp on the Labor Party leadership by making his stance clear on both industrial relations and climate change. Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan attracted opprobrium for describing Deputy Opposition leader Julia Gillard as ‘barren’. ACTU secretary Greg Combet announced his decision to run for federal parliament.

Qantas was fighting off a takeover bid, and in Sydney the inquest on the deaths of the Balibo Five was in full swing. There was controversy over whether the proposed cricket tour of Zimbabwe should be abandoned in protest over the government of Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, Ben Cousins apologised for his drug-taking and Tony Bullimore set sail on yet another solo circumnavigation attempt.

Bulletin overview

The news services vary in length and time of broadcast. Channels Seven and Nine have a half hour bulletin at 1800 produced in the state capitals (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth in this case). Townsville precedes the half-hour 1800 metropolitan Brisbane-based service with a half-hour local regional bulletin. In Shepparton and Townsville Nine’s news occupies a one hour slot which incorporates a half hour WIN News regional bulletin followed by Melbourne’s 1800 news. Channel Ten has a one hour local bulletin from 1700 to 1800 tailored to each state. The ABC has a half hour local evening bulletin at 1900 broadcast from each state capital. SBS’s evening news has been expanded to one hour from 1830-1930 and this service is the only one networked from Sydney without alteration around the nation.

Quantitative Data

The following tables pull together data from all three surveys to allow a comparison across the full six-year period. The data has been adjusted to cover a standard two-week period for each, excluding weekends. The data relates to content as percentages of total bulletin time which accommodates the variations in bulletin length across the stations.

Tables 1a-1c show levels of content by location (local/national/international) per service for each city. What stands out is the formulaic nature of the bulletin composition; this is especially pronounced with the ABC. Looking at Perth on its own (the only centre where we have data for three years) it is clear that the ABC is least affected by the news agenda in the proportion of news included from local/national and international sources. It demonstrates, as has been noted elsewhere (Phillips and Tapsall 2007a:11), a preference for the national over the local and the international. Again predictably, international news continues to dominate the agenda for SBS, though proportions in 2007 are back to the 2001 levels compared to 2005 where the domestic terror threat resulted in a comparatively higher proportion of domestic news.

The commercial broadcasters are the services that devote most time to local news, with the least amount of time provided for international stories. The appended half hours of WIN regional news inflate these figures even further for Nine in the regional centres of Townsville and Shepparton. Hence in 2005 Shepparton’s Nine service leads the pack in local content (70.33% of total news) and has the network’s highest concentration of local news (compared to Sydney Nine 57.09% and Perth Nine 45.04%). It is interesting to compare Nine and Seven in each market, where, with the exception of Nine in Shepparton, local competition appears to keep their levels roughly the same. In the 2007 survey Townsville Seven (which, like Nine, has an appended regional half hour news) has the highest local content levels on that network, slightly ahead even of Townsville Nine. In all surveys Ten appears to provide much less local content in Perth compared to its service to other centres and compared to the other commercial networks.

Table 1a: 2001 Location content percentages of Station News.
Network Local National International

Perth ABC

37.70%

40.80%

21.50%

Perth Nine

50.30%

26.80%

22.80%

Perth Seven

50.80%

28.40%

20.70%

Perth Ten

35.40%

40.60%

24.00%

SBS

 

26.20%

73.80%

Table 1b: 2005 Location content percentages of Station News
Network Local National International

Perth ABC

34.41%

44.82%

20.77%

Perth Nine

45.04%

40.15%

14.81%

Perth Seven

48.42%

38.31%

13.27%

Perth Ten

37.75%

42.09%

20.16%

SBS

 

35.84%

64.16%

Shepparton ABC

30.21%

46.39%

23.40%

Shepparton Nine

70.33%

21.15%

8.52%

Shepparton Seven

59.34%

28.18%

12.48%

Shepparton Ten

45.29%

35.46%

19.25%

Sydney ABC

41.08%

35.40%

23.52%

Sydney Nine

57.09%

21.28%

21.63%

Sydney Seven

65.23%

19.41%

15.36%

Sydney Ten

55.31%

27.36%

17.33%

Table 1c: 2007 Location content percentages of Station News
Network Local National International

Perth ABC

35.28%

43.25%

21.47%

Perth Nine

51.25%

34.35%

14.40%

Perth Seven

52.88%

31.48%

15.64%

Perth Ten

40.86%

36.10%

23.05%

SBS

 

29.76%

70.24%

Shepparton ABC

24.73%

47.46%

27.81%

Shepparton Nine

72.71%

20.32%

6.97%

Shepparton Seven

60.38%

25.70%

13.92%

Shepparton Ten

48.66%

30.16%

21.18%

Sydney ABC

30.33%

41.37%

28.31%

Sydney Nine

56.85%

34.03%

9.12%

Sydney Seven

55.73%

27.99%

16.28%

Sydney Ten

47.47%

32.61%

19.92%

Townsville ABC

21.88%

52.64%

25.48%

Townsville Nine

68.69%

24.73%

6.58%

Townsville Seven

70.66%

21.71%

7.62%

Townsville Ten

48.59%

32.33%

19.08%

The Top Ten of international news stories (Tables 2a, 2b,2c) appears to have reverted to the patterns noted in the original 2001 Perth survey with the US and the UK far and away the most dominant sources for international news. This contrasts with the composition of the 2005 Top Ten at the height of domestic hysteria over home grown terrorism threats. In addition to stories resulting from the US involvement in world politics and specifically the ‘War on Terror’, the US is a popular source for lighter stories which traditionally pad out the Australian bulletins (Phillips and Tapsall 2007a:13). Thus in this survey we heard about a melting bridge and a killer tornado, in addition to a state visit by the Queen. The prominence of the UK in the Top Ten this time can be explained by the coverage in the second week of the survey of the announcement by Prime Minister Tony Blair of his intention to resign and to pass the baton to his deputy Gordon Brown. East Timor is in third place in 2007 because it was in the throes of a tumultuous election campaign climaxing in the election itself in the second week of the survey. The involvement of Australian troops may account for the entry of Afghanistan into the Top Ten for the first time. By the same token Australia’s involvement in Iraq and the fact that Australian troops were involved in an incident there during this period may account for that country now occupying fourth place, even though total coverage has increased only slightly from 4.39% in 2005 to 4.77% in 2007. France’s election campaign was in full throttle while the position of Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was under threat explaining their inclusion in the Top Ten. The data shows remarkably little variation from past studies of international news trends in the Australian media (see Putnis et al1996, 2000) which revealed a skew towards Europe and the US rather than the sort of engagement with the South-East Asian region that one would expect from an antipodean news service.

Table 2a: Top Ten Countries 2001 (Perth)
Location Percentage of International News

USA

25.12%

United Kingdom

13.74%

Israel/Palestine

8.17%

Nepal

6.24%

Indonesia

5.14%

Macedonia

3.15%

Philippines

2.86%

Sweden

2.41%

Japan

2.31%

France

1.91%

Table 2b: Top Ten Countries 2005 (Perth, Shepparton, Sydney)
Location Percentage of International News

Indonesia

21.16%

USA

15.06%

Jordan

10.33%

France

9.67%

South Korea

7.44%

United Kingdom

6.50%

Iraq

4.39%

Singapore

2.46%

Japan

2.14%

Middle East

1.64%

Table 2c: Top Ten Countries 2007 (Perth, Shepparton, Sydney, Townsville)
Location

Percentage of International News

USA

30.37%

United Kingdom

18.34%

East Timor

7.03%

Iraq

4.77%

France

3.79%

Israel

3.72%

International

3.37%

Afghanistan

2.77%

South Africa

2.44%

Spain

2.00%

Total EM content

Looking specifically at the amount of EM content in the bulletins, a comparison of the two surveys in Tables 3a and 3b shows that total levels of EM content are lower in 2007 than in 2005, and SBS’s proportion of that total has more than doubled (up to 26.69% from 11.64%) and is now more than three times as high as its nearest rival, Sydney Ten with 7.07%. The more evenly balanced levels across all stations in the earlier study probably resulted from the distorting effect of the focus on the counter-terror raids in Australia’s domestic news which inflated the EM content across all services. Without that focus, the 2007 levels may well reflect a more ‘normal’ news agenda. The ABC stations share consistent figures in the 6% range which is indicative of the way in which the same material is distributed amongst them and used in the same way.

When we look at the levels of EM news in each station’s service in 2005 the local nature of the anti-terror raids in Sydney and Melbourne is reflected in a greater concentration of EM news in the eastern states services compared to Perth (Table 3a). It is also interesting that Seven and Nine tended to maintain similar levels in the Perth and Sydney markets, indicative of the close competition between them on the ground. In Shepparton Seven and Ten had roughly even levels of EM news (around 25%) with Nine trailing with 18%, despite its being the leader in local content in this market (see Tables 1b and 1c above).

In 2007 (Table 3) SBS now clearly dominates with 45.43% of its total content fitting into the EM category. The ABC EM levels are consistent at around the 18% mark. When we compare the commercial services more differences emerge between the metropolitan and regional centres. Shepparton’s Seven service has 15.24% EM content and Townsville 12.12%, compared to Sydney 11.63% and Perth 9.02%. This would appear to suggest that more is happening than simply the same content being distributed around the network, and that some local effort is contributing to higher levels of EM content. In contrast Nine’s levels are lower than Seven’s in each market (Sydney 8.40%; Perth 9.69%; Shepparton 9.19%) and dip to 5.70% in Townsville, despite its local WIN news which appears to contribute little to levels of EM content.

Table 3: EM content – 2005 and 2007
Network

Percentage of Total Multicultural News Across All Services

Multicultural News as Percentage of Each Stations News

 

2005

2007

2005

2007

SBS

11.64%

26.69%

39.60%

45.43%

Sydney Ten

7.07%

7.07%

27.61%

16.04%

Sydney ABC

9.62%

6.70%

30.87%

18.09%

Perth ABC

7.22%

6.48%

25.60%

19.12%

Townsville ABC

 

6.34%

 

18.30%

Shepparton ABC

9.22%

6.29%

31.01%

18.92%

Townsville Seven

 

5.49%

 

12.12%

Townsville Ten

 

5.23%

 

12.45%

Shepparton Ten

9.34%

4.97%

24.17%

12.79%

Perth Ten

6.77%

4.48%

19.51%

11.75%

Shepparton Nine

8.21%

4.40%

18.81%

9.19%

Shepparton Seven

5.70%

3.78%

25.37%

15.24%

Sydney Seven

6.52%

2.91%

42.03%

11.63%

Townsville Nine

 

2.56%

 

5.70%

Perth Nine

5.81%

2.39%

24.72%

9.69%

Sydney Nine

7.50%

2.13%

41.38%

8.40%

Perth Seven

5.39%

2.10%

25.83%

9.02%

Content Categories EM/Non-EM

The 2005 survey coincided with several momentous events such as the counter-terror raids in Sydney and Melbourne, the execution of Vietnamese-Australian Van Nguyen in Singapore, and, on the international front, the death of one of Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist suspects, bombings in Jordan and Iraq, and riots on the streets of Paris by disaffected migrant youths. This showed up in the statistics for content categories where Crime and Courts and Justice topped the list of categories featuring EM stories (Table 4a) and these stories represented an overwhelming proportion of EM news (66.25%) compared to 22.27% non-multicultural news (Table 4b).

Table 4a: 2005 Top 5 content categories for EM stories
Category

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Multicultural News

Crime

11.33%

40.98%

Courts and Justice

6.99%

25.27%

Military and Diplomatic

2.40%

8.69%

Politics

2.08%

7.53%

Emergencies and Disasters

1.73%

6.24%

Table 4b: 2005 Top 5 content categories for non-EM stores
Category

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Non-Multicultural News

Courts and Justice

9.56%

13.22%

Politics

7.76%

10.73%

Sports News

6.75%

9.34%

Crime

6.54%

9.05%

Work and Industry

5.96%

8.24%

In 2007 the news focus was more on politicians rather than terrorists so the categories of Military and Diplomatic and Politics top the list, followed by Courts and Justice and Crime (Table 5a). However when compared to the figures for non-EM stories (Table 5b) it is still the case that about 50% more EM news is concerned with crime-related issues compared to non-EM stories (27.37% compared to 18.64%).

Table 5a: 2007 Top 5 content categories for EM stories
Category

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Multicultural News

Military and Diplomatic

3.93%

24.42%

Politics

3.06%

19.02%

Courts and Justice

2.73%

16.95%

Crime

1.68%

10.42%

Health and Medicine

0.67%

4.18%

Table 5b : 2007 Top 5 content categories for non-EM stores
Category

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Non-Multicultural News

Politics

17.13%

20.41%

Business and Finance

9.36%

11.16%

Courts and Justice

8.59%

10.24%

Crime

7.05%

8.40%

Health and Medicine

6.25%

7.45%

Story topic, type and tone

As in the 2005 study, news content was analysed according to content and type – in other words the topic and the storytelling convention used – to compare treatment of EM and non-EM content. A total of 20 content categories were identified and these were aggregated into six broad story types that gave a better sense of the flavour of the news content. These were:

Courts, Crime and Disasters: Emergencies/Disasters, Courts & Justice and Crime.
Clever Country: Education & Schools and Technology & Science.
Fun and Games: Arts & Culture, Leisure & Tourism, Personalities & Entertainment and Sports News.
Money and Work: Business & Finance and Work & Industry
Power and Policy: Politics, Military & Diplomatic, Media & Communications and Transport Issues
Social Matters: Social Issues, Environment, Health & Medicine, Consumer Affairs and Religion & Faith.

In both 2005 and 2007 Courts, Crime and Disasters and Power and Policy are the top categories, though the more benign news agenda in the later survey reverses their positions on the league table. However the differences between EM and non-EM content noted in 2005 persist in 2007. Tables 6a and 6b show how the domestic panic caused by the anti-terror raids was reflected in high levels of EM news in the Courts, Crime and Disasters category as a percentage of all news (20.05% compared to 4.81% of non-multicultural news) and as a percentage of EM news (72.49% compared to 28.89% of non-multicultural news).

Table 6a: 2005 EM stories by story type
Story Type

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Multicultural News

Courts, Crime and Disasters

20.05%

72.49%

Power and Policy

4.49%

16.22%

Social Issues

1.73%

6.26%

Fun and Games

1.16%

4.18%

Money and Work

0.24%

0.85%

Table 6b: 2005 non- EM stories by story type
Story Type

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Non-Multicultural News

Courts, Crime and Disasters

20.90%

28.89%

Power and Policy

14.87%

20.56%

Fun and Games

12.84%

17.75%

Money and Work

11.46%

15.84%

Social Issues

11.39%

15.75%

Clever Country

0.87%

1.21%

Tables 7a and 7b show that in 2007 there was much less coverage of EM news in both categories, but still a much higher proportion of EM news fitting into these categories than non-EM news (Power and Policy: 46.59% compared to 26.71%; Courts, Crime and disasters: 29.93% compared to 25.25%). Compared to non-EM news, the stories are more concentrated in the more serious categories compared to, for example, Fun and Games and Clever Country.

Table 7a: 2007 EM stories by story type
Story Type

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Multicultural News

Power and Policy

7.49%

46.59%

Courts, Crime and Disasters

4.81%

29.93%

Social Issues

1.99%

12.38%

Fun and Games

1.23%

7.64%

Money and Work

0.38%

2.37%

Clever Country

0.18%

1.10%

Table 7b: 2007 non- EM stories by story type
Story Type

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Non-Multicultural News

Power and Policy

22.42%

26.71%

Courts, Crime and Disasters

21.19%

25.25%

Social Issues

15.78%

18.81%

Fun and Games

11.24%

13.39%

Money and Work

11.01%

13.12%

Clever Country

2.28%

2.72%

Tone

The assessment of the stories against the nine-point tone scale revealed that, whereas in 2005 70.74% of the EM stories were in the Extremely Negative to Somewhat Negative range (Table 8a), in 2007 this had reduced somewhat to 53.03 (Table 8b).

Table 8a: 2005 EM stories by tone
Tone

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Multicultural News

9 Highly Positive

0.06%

0.23%

8 Very Positive

0.32%

1.17%

7 Positive

1.59%

5.86%

6 Balanced to Positive

3.18%

11.69%

5 Neutral

2.88%

10.61%

4 Somewhat Negative

5.02%

18.48%

3 Negative

7.22%

26.54%

2 Very Negative

5.52%

20.31%

1 Extremely Negative

1.39%

5.12%

Table 8b: 2007 EM stories by tone
Tone

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Multicultural News

9 Highly Positive

0.04%

0.25%

8 Very Positive

0.90%

5.60%

7 Positive

0.90%

5.60%

6 Balanced to Positive

2.38%

14.82%

5 Neutral

3.33%

20.70%

4 Somewhat Negative

4.85%

30.14%

3 Negative

3.10%

19.30%

2 Very Negative

0.50%

3.08%

1 Extremely Negative

0.08%

0.51%

In 2007, non-EM content was also assessed for Tone for a comparison to be made and as Table 8c shows, the proportion of negative content is much lower: 29.05% with the bulk of news content falling into the Neutral category.

Table 8c: 2007 Non-EM stories by tone
Tone

Percentage of All News

Percentage of Non-Multicultural News

10 Extemely Positive

0.32%

0.38%

9 Highly Positive

1.22%

1.45%

8 Very Positive

4.23%

5.04%

7 Positive

11.24%

13.40%

6 Balanced to Positive

14.29%

17.03%

5 Neutral

28.23%

33.63%

4 Somewhat Negative

15.14%

18.04%

3 Negative

7.14%

8.50%

2 Very Negative

1.51%

1.80%

1 Extremely Negative

0.51%

0.61%

0 Destructive

0.09%

0.10%

When the content was compared across stations some interesting differences emerged. In 2005, despite the negative skew imposed by the terror-dominated news agenda, the SBS and Sydney ABC presented a majority of balanced coverage (Table 9a). Perth Nine and Seven and Shepparton Seven had the largest amount of negative coverage. In contrast Shepparton Nine had the largest amount of positive coverage of all stations thanks to its regional news which more than anyone else focused on local stories that presented an image of community harmony.

Table 9a: 2005 EM Grouped Tone- station comparison
Network

Positive

Balanced

Negative

SBS

6.06%

49.80%

44.13%

Perth ABC

 

46.44%

53.56%

Perth Nine

1.28%

32.58%

66.14%

Perth Seven

 

33.17%

66.83%

Perth Ten

3.98%

44.64%

51.38%

Shepparton ABC

13.44%

33.72%

52.83%

Shepparton Nine

20.39%

27.86%

51.75%

Shepparton Seven

4.61%

20.03%

75.36%

Shepparton Ten

7.78%

36.35%

55.87%

Sydney ABC

2.74%

56.31%

40.95%

Sydney Nine

17.55%

51.84%

30.62%

Sydney Seven

11.94%

31.65%

56.42%

Sydney Ten

 

50.55%

49.45%

This continues in 2007 where both Shepparton and Townsville, with their WIN local news, provide the largest proportion of positive stories (Table 9b). In the absence of the terror scare the other services are skewed more towards balanced coverage than in 2005, though when compared with non-EM stories (Table 9c) it is still the case that stories with EM content are more negative than stories with non-EM content.

Table 9b: 2007 EM Grouped Tone- station comparison
Network

Positive

Balanced

Negative

Perth ABC

9.55%

70.84%

19.61%

Perth Nine

 

84.57%

15.43%

Perth Seven

9.93%

62.78%

27.30%

Perth Ten

7.37%

66.13%

26.51%

SBS

15.64%

63.75%

20.61%

Shepparton ABC

6.45%

72.93%

20.62%

Shepparton Nine

20.19%

60.33%

19.48%

Shepparton Seven

13.49%

49.14%

37.37%

Shepparton Ten

6.27%

70.52%

23.21%

Sydney ABC

10.68%

75.54%

13.78%

Sydney Nine

 

63.34%

36.66%

Sydney Seven

16.61%

32.23%

51.16%

Sydney Ten

12.50%

58.04%

29.46%

Townsville ABC

4.84%

81.12%

14.03%

Townsville Nine

25.64%

55.54%

18.82%

Townsville Seven

16.75%

69.43%

13.82%

Townsville Ten

0.90%

63.43%

35.67%

Table 9c: 2007 Non-EM Grouped Tone- station comparison
Network

Positive

Balanced

Negative

Perth ABC

7.77%

86.96%

5.27%

Perth Nine

18.54%

70.06%

11.40%

Perth Seven

14.89%

65.19%

19.92%

Perth Ten

21.77%

71.67%

6.56%

SBS

15.22%

78.67%

6.11%

Shepparton ABC

28.90%

61.75%

9.35%

Shepparton Nine

32.24%

52.00%

15.76%

Shepparton Seven

26.56%

56.48%

16.96%

Shepparton Ten

34.08%

55.03%

10.89%

Sydney ABC

17.92%

77.84%

4.24%

Sydney Nine

14.98%

62.78%

22.23%

Sydney Seven

20.67%

62.66%

16.67%

Sydney Ten

20.12%

67.57%

12.31%

Townsville ABC

13.46%

82.79%

3.75%

Townsville Nine

14.93%

77.55%

7.52%

Townsville Seven

20.51%

66.06%

13.44%

Townsville Ten

16.35%

72.22%

11.43%

Tables 10a and 10b disaggregate international and domestic content for 2005 and 2007 respectively. Once again with less of a local focus on terror in the later survey the coverage of domestic EM news is less negative than the international coverage. Whereas in 2005, 40.40% of domestic EM news was negative compared to 30.05% of international, in 2007 the figures are 24.55 (domestic) and 28.40 (international).

Table 10a: 2005 – Percentage of All EM Stories
Tone

International

Domestic

9 Highly Positive

 

0.23%

8 Very Positive

0.42%

0.75%

7 Positive

0.50%

5.36%

6 Balanced to Positive

4.12%

7.56%

5 Neutral

2.62%

7.99%

4 Somewhat Negative

8.13%

10.35%

3 Negative

14.47%

12.07%

2 Very Negative

6.14%

14.17%

1 Extremely Negative

1.31%

3.81%

Table 10b: 2007 – Percentage of All EM Stories
Tone

International

Domestic

9 Highly Positive

 

0.25%

8 Very Positive

2.58%

3.02%

7 Positive

2.59%

3.02%

6 Balanced to Positive

6.94%

7.87%

5 Neutral

11.80%

8.90%

4 Somewhat Negative

15.34%

14.80%

3 Negative

11.03%

8.27%

2 Very Negative

1.60%

1.48%

1 Extremely Negative

0.51%

 

The next analysis concerns the amount of coverage of individual ethnic communities. The 2005 survey covered 13 stations in three markets, whereas in 2007 the survey covered 17 stations in four markets. In order to make a valid comparison the coverage of the different ethnic communities represented in both international and domestic stories was compared across the three-city cohort of Perth, Sydney and Shepparton for both 2005 and 2007. Data for Townsville 2007 is listed in a separate table. The international stories (Tables 11a,11b,11c) continue to show the global focus on the ‘War on Terror’ hotspots. While Muslim issues still head the list, the number of Muslim-related stories has reduced in the later survey, though the focus on Islam underpins the ongoing battles in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The stories from Turkey also relate to religion, dealing with local protests over the Turkish government’s intention to mandate the wearing of the veil for women. The East Timorese elections bring that country into greater prominence in the second survey.

Table 11a: 2005 International Top 5 by Community (3-City)
Community

Stories

Muslim

107

Singaporean

11

African

8

Vietnamese

5

Arab/Iraqi

4

Table 11b: 2007 International Top 5 by Community (3-City)
Community

Stories

Iraqi

36

Muslim

36

East Timorese

22

Afghani

17

Turkish

15

Table 11c: 2007 Townsville: International Top 5 by Community
Community

Stories

Iraqi/Muslim

14

Afghani/East Timorese

6

Turkish

5

Palestinian

4

Syrian

3

As for domestic news (Tables 12a, 12b, 12c) the focus on Islam promoted by the 2005 anti-terror raids has been replaced in 2007 by the focus on Sri Lanka with the arrest of two Australian-Sri Lankan men alleged to have been collecting money in Australia to support the rebel Tamil Tiger movement. The Zimbabwean stories related to controversy over whether the Australian cricket tour should be suspended in protest at the regime of President Robert Mugabe. The African stories related to a yacht which capsized off the South African coast causing the death of an Australian sailor. The Indonesian stories related to the ongoing appeal hearings for the Bali Nine drug smugglers. The Asian and Indian stories in Townsville related mostly to the local scandal of the employment of under-qualified foreign interns in regional Queensland hospitals.

Table 12a: 2005 Domestic Top 5 by Community (3-City)
Community

Stories

Muslim

200

Lebanese

13

Singaporean

8

Philippine

8

Uruguayan

5

Table 12b: 2007 Domestic Top 5 by Community (3-City)

Community

Stories

Zimbabwean

22

Asian

19

Sri Lankan

18

Indonesian

8

African

8

Muslim

7

Table 12c: 2007 Townsville: Domestic Top 5 by Community
Community

Stories

Asian

7

Indian

7

Zimbabwean

4

Indonesian

4

Sri Lankan

3

The lowering of international and domestic tensions is reflected in the way stories are reported. In 2005 most EM news was negative in tone, and only small amounts were positive (Table 13a).

Table 13a: 2005 Percentage of EM stories by tone Three Cities
Tone

All EM News

Domestic EM News

International EM News

Positive

7.25%

10.17%

2.43%

Balanced

40.77%

41.58%

39.44%

Negative

51.97%

48.25%

58.13%

In 2007, around 65% of EM news fits into the ‘balanced’ category, and while around 24% of EM news is negative, a higher proportion (around 12%) can be described as ‘positive’ in tone (Table 13b, 13c).

Table 13b: 2007 Percentage of EM stories by tone Three Cities
Tone

All EM News

Domestic EM News

International EM News

Positive

11.85%

12.35%

11.45%

Balanced

64.64%

65.14%

64.24%

Negative

23.51%

22.51%

24.31%

Table 13c: 2007 Percentage of EM stories by tone Townsville
Tone

All EM News

Domestic EM News

International EM News

Positive

9.84%

15.81%

0.61%

Balanced

69.80%

69.79%

69.81%

Negative

20.36%

14.39%

29.58%

Tables 14a and 14b allow us to see how the stations compare in the tone of their coverage for 2005 and 2007.

Table 14a: 2005 Tone Group – Percentage of Networks International and Domestic EM News
Network

International

Domestic

Balanced

Negative

Positive

Balanced

Negative

Positive

Perth ABC

39.87%

60.13%

0.00%

51.02%

48.98%

0.00%

Perth Nine

41.58%

58.42%

0.00%

28.69%

69.48%

1.83%

Perth Seven

34.87%

65.13%

0.00%

32.59%

67.41%

0.00%

Perth Ten

48.63%

51.37%

0.00%

42.80%

51.39%

5.81%

SBS

49.24%

45.20%

5.56%

50.87%

42.11%

7.02%

Shepparton ABC

24.96%

68.51%

6.53%

41.29%

39.30%

19.41%

Shepparton Nine

26.67%

73.33%

0.00%

28.31%

43.62%

28.07%

Shepparton Seven

30.30%

69.70%

0.00%

16.46%

77.33%

6.21%

Shepparton Ten

31.51%

61.74%

6.75%

38.79%

52.92%

8.29%

Sydney ABC

47.85%

52.15%

0.00%

61.78%

33.70%

4.52%

Sydney Nine

52.80%

47.20%

0.00%

51.29%

21.17%

27.54%

Sydney Seven

20.92%

79.08%

0.00%

35.65%

47.95%

16.40%

Sydney Ten

39.48%

60.52%

0.00%

56.42%

43.58%

0.00%

Table 14b: 2007 Tone Group – Percentage of Networks International and Domestic EM News
Network

International

Domestic

Balanced

Negative

Positive

Balanced

Negative

Positive

Perth ABC

72.38%

18.80%

8.82%

68.96%

20.61%

10.44%

Perth Nine

64.20%

35.80%

0.00%

88.92%

11.08%

0.00%

Perth Seven

9.47%

90.53%

0.00%

85.79%

0.00%

14.21%

Perth Ten

61.19%

26.01%

12.80%

72.81%

27.19%

0.00%

SBS

63.34%

23.04%

13.62%

65.24%

11.72%

23.03%

Shepparton ABC

73.13%

18.08%

8.78%

72.68%

23.91%

3.42%

Shepparton Nine

77.66%

22.34%

0.00%

59.31%

19.31%

21.38%

Shepparton Seven

65.73%

0.00%

34.27%

38.37%

61.63%

0.00%

Shepparton Ten

55.85%

41.53%

2.62%

89.10%

0.00%

10.90%

Sydney ABC

91.39%

8.61%

0.00%

54.31%

20.71%

24.98%

Sydney Nine

57.76%

42.24%

0.00%

64.26%

35.74%

0.00%

Sydney Seven

28.41%

46.31%

25.29%

36.79%

56.95%

6.26%

Sydney Ten

54.34%

33.84%

11.82%

60.36%

26.71%

12.93%

Townsville ABC

76.94%

23.06%

0.00%

87.63%

0.00%

12.37%

Townsville Nine

50.00%

50.00%

0.00%

56.34%

14.32%

29.34%

Townsville Seven

64.84%

35.16%

0.00%

70.76%

7.63%

21.61%

Townsville Ten

63.31%

34.65%

2.04%

63.53%

36.47%

0.00%

For international news, compared to 2005 the tone in 2007 is much less negative overall with most stories now falling into the balanced category and much more positive reporting. Sydney ABC has the most balanced stories (91.39%) with the other ABC services also strong performers. The strongest commercial station is Shepparton Seven with 65.73% balanced stories. Perth Seven leads in negative coverage (90.53%) followed by Townsville Nine (50%) and Sydney Seven (46.31%). Shepparton Seven has the highest concentration of positive stories (34.27%).

While international news can sometimes add reinforcement to domestic stories (Poole 2002: 258; Akbarzadeh and Smith 2005) it is domestic news which is of most interest in this study as it shows how Australian journalists report to the Australian public about Australian issues. In the absence of terror panics, the 2007 data shows reportage to be overwhelmingly balanced, though negative reporting still far outweighs positive reporting in relation to EM content. Domestic news affords more opportunities than international news for variation across the country as each station responds to the daily events in its own market. Yet it is hard to explain how for example Sydney ABC could jump from 4.52% positive news in 2005 to 24.98% positive news in 2007 while Sydney Nine, in the same market and responding to a similar news agenda, could drop from 27.54% to 0.00% in the same period. The data can simply tell us what was on our screens – it invites no judgement as to the relative performance of the different services Having said that the following observations can be made about 2007:

  • Shepparton Ten has the highest proportion of balanced content in domestic EM news (89.10%), much higher than Ten records for the other centres. Perth stations Nine (88.92%) and Seven (85.79%) perform strongly as does Townsville ABC (87.63%).
  • Seven is the service with the highest negative content with Shepparton Seven in the lead with 61.63% followed by Sydney Seven with 56.95%. Perth stations Nine and Ten and Sydney Nine had no positive EM content at all in the 2007 survey.
  • The highest positive content levels were recorded for Townsville Nine (29.34%), Sydney ABC (24.98%), SBS (23.03), Townsville Seven (21.61%) and Shepparton Nine (21.38%). Note that Shepparton Nine was also a strong performer in the previous survey with 28.07% positive content. This reflects the contribution of the regional WIN news services which comprise the first half hour in both these centres and make a point of focusing on local community events.

Community harmony

Stories were assessed where possible according to any perceived impact they might have on community harmony (negative, neutral, positive or reinforces stereotype). This rating was more subjective than any other and the most difficult to assess and in the end not all stories could be categorised in this way. The tables below (15a-f) include only the stories out of the total which could be categorised. Once again the 2007 Townsville data is shown separately from the 2005/2007 3-city comparison.

The 2005 data (Table 15a) shows the level of Muslim-inspired panic that gripped not just Australia but the world at that time. The Muslim community attracts by far the most coverage, and the most negative coverage, much of which reinforces the stereotype of a community which is alien, threatening, and ‘not like us’.

Table 15a: 2005 Domestic Community Harmony
Community

Domestic

Negative

Neutral

Positive

Reinforces Stereotype

Total

Muslim/Islamic

119

26

15

36

196

Lebanese

7

 

 

6

13

Filipino

1

2

4

1

8

Singaporean

3

 

3

 

6

Uruguayan

 

2

1

 

3

In 2007 (Table 15b) the community profile is much more diverse, with many more communities featuring, but with mostly a scattering of stories pertaining to each. The Zimbabwean stories relate to the threatened Australian cricket tour to that country and the Sri Lankan stories relate to the allegations of Tamil Tiger fundraising in Australia. The Indonesian stories relate to the appeal hearings of the Bali Nine. The Muslim community is not in the Top 5 at all, but in 6th place and is included in order to compare with the 2005 figures.

Table 15b: 2007 Domestic Community Harmony - 3 City
Community

Domestic

Negative

Neutral

Positive

Reinforces Stereotype

Total

Zimbabwean

19

1

1

1

22

Sri Lankan

16

1

 

1

18

Asian

3

6

4

3

16

African

3

2

2

1

8

Indonesian

8

 

 

 

8

Muslim/Islamic

2

3

1

1

7

In Townsville (Table 15c) the negative domestic stories about the Indian and Asian communities relate to the ongoing investigation into unqualified staff from India and other Asian countries working in the Queensland hospital system. It is interesting to note how, despite the relative paucity of stories relating to non-Anglo communities, most of the reportage was deemed to be negative in terms of community harmony impact.

Table 15c: 2007 Domestic Community Harmony - Townsville
Community

Domestic

Negative

Neutral

Positive

Reinforces Stereotype

Total

Indian

7

 

 

 

7

Asian

3

2

 

 

5

Muslim/Islamic

2

  

2

 

4

Indonesian

4

 

 

 

4

Zimbabwean

4

 

  

 

4

In the previous survey the WIN regional news service in Shepparton (broadcast as the first half of Nine’s bulletin) was singled out as having the greatest number of positive local stories featuring people from non-Anglo backgrounds. This is reflected in Table 16a.

Table 16a 2005 Shepparton Community Harmony Impact
Community

Domestic

Negative

Neutral

Positive

Reinforces Stereotype

Total

Muslim/Islamic

41

9

11

19

80

Lebanese

4

 

 

2

6

African

 

 

2

 

2

Singaporean

2

 

 

 

2

Ethiopian

 

 

1

 

1

Iraq

 

 

1

 

1

Italian

 

 

1

 

1

Vietnamese

 

 

1

 

1

Table 16b shows the data for 2007. As with the other services, there is less of a focus on the Muslim community and much more of a diverse mix. However most of the stories fall into the Negative category this time – in fact given how few stories there are on this regional service the data underscores the fact that where non-Anglo communities are mentioned at all, it is likely to be in negative rather than positive contexts.

Table 16B 2007 Shepparton Community Harmony Impact
Community

Domestic

Negative

Neutral

Positive

Reinforces Stereotype

Total

Sri Lankan

8

1

 

 

9

Zimbabwean

6

 

 

 

6

Asian

1

2

2

 

5

Arab

2

 

1

 

3

African

 

 

2

 

2

Indonesian

2

 

 

 

2

Indian

 

1

 

 

1

Italian

 

 

1

 

1

Japanese

1

 

 

 

1

Muslim

1

 

 

 

1

Tamil

1

 

 

  

1

Vietnamese

1

 

 

  

1

Quantitative Data Summary

To sum up, the 2007 survey appears to revert to a more ‘normal’ television news mix without the distorting effects of the 2005 domestic terror scare. What we see on our screens is a broader range of ethnic communities, but far fewer stories. The coverage is more balanced than in 2005, but there are still many more negative than positive stories in the EM group, and a higher proportion of EM news is negative (53%) compared to non-EM news (29%). It continues to be the case that a greater proportion of EM news is concerned with crime-related issues compared to non-EM stories. The community harmony ratings bring out even more starkly the extent to which those relatively few stories featuring non-Anglo communities are more likely to leave a negative rather than a positive impression. The WIN regional news services going out on the Nine network in Townsville and Shepparton, with their focus on local community events, are noteworthy for their higher concentration of positive EM news, compared to the metropolitan services.

Qualitative Analysis: Story treatment

In previous papers relating to the 2001 and 2005 surveys, which form part of this longitudinal content analysis of Australia’s television news services, it has already been noted that television news is a product of its business model, formats and conventions (Phillips and Tapsall 2007a, 2007b). The need to attract audiences through attention-grabbing storytelling, the time pressures of newsgathering and constraints of the bulletin format have resulted in services which favour easy-to-gather news focussing on action rather than analysis, on the black-and-white as opposed to the shades of grey. The purpose of this long-range study has been to show what is on our screens every night, and to see whether and how it is changing over the years. Studies of television news in other countries have shown how quality has been declining in terms of diversity of stories, diversity of sources, and quality of the storytelling – with critics decrying the move towards superficial and sensationalist reporting( eg. Altheide 1997, Johnson-Cartee 2005, Patterson 2000, Rosentiel et al 2007). Similar trends have been observed in Australia (Phillips and Tapsall 2007a). However when it comes to the representation of the diverse groups that make up Australian society these trends could have more serious implications for community harmony. In this part of the paper we take a closer look at how television news stories are being told and in this process reveal the unintentional assumptions embedded within them.

In the 2005 study of Australia’s television news, the representation of non-Anglo communities was inflated by the focus on domestic terrorism. This provided the opportunity to show how the characteristics of television news storytelling contributed to the sense of moral panic, at that time attached to the Muslim community in particular. The overall conclusion was that the dominant representation of non-Anglo communities was as ‘bad, sad mad or “other”’(Phillips and Tapsall 2007b). Minority groups of all kinds feature far less in the 2007 survey. However this serves to highlight even more some starkly significant differences in treatment in the stories in which they do feature that repeatedly underscore the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘the other’.

What stories feature Ethnic Minority (EM) talent?

As in the 2005 survey, most of the stories featuring EM talent present them as either deviants or victims. The deviants include:

  • The ‘Australian citizens of Sri Lankan descent’ in the most terror-linked of the domestic stories, following allegations that two Melbourne men were fundraising for the Tamil Tigers. The men had been collecting money for tsunami relief and were accused of funneling this money to the rebel Tamil Tiger movement. (1 May, all services).
  • The Chinese intern who was the focus of local media attention in Queensland over the issue of unqualified foreign-trained doctors in a Cairns hospital. (Townsville Seven, Nine, Ten, ABC, 2 and 3 May). These stories were linked both implicitly and explicitly to the long-running scandal of the Indian surgeon Jayant Patel nicknamed ‘Dr Death’ who had practiced in a Queensland hospital with no checks being done into what was a notorious medical record of malpractice leading to the deaths of many patients.
  • The ‘two Chinese nationals’ arrested following discovery of drug lab in south Sydney (Sydney Nine, Shepparton Nine, 11 May). The ethnicity of the criminals is referred to only in the newsreader introduction. The report itself makes reference only to ‘outlaw motorcycle gangs’. (Note the newsreader introduction to the same story in Nine’s Shepparton bulletin makes no reference to the Chinese nationals, but instead links the story to ‘police fears a potent new form of cannabis developed by Vietnamese drug gangs in Canada could soon hit our shores’).
  • The Indian-Australian woman on trial for defrauding an old man by illegally accessing his savings (Townsville ABC, Nine, Seven Ten, 2 May). She is named and pictured walking behind the fence of the court compound.
  • The unnamed and unpictured Pakistani taxi driver identified as a rape suspect in Perth. (Perth ABC , Nine, 11 May)
  • The bearded turbaned man (unnamed but an identikit picture) police were seeking for questioning over an attempted child abduction (Perth Seven, Nine, 11 May)
  • The Imam sacked from a Canberra mosque on grounds of inciting violence (SBS 11 May). The Imam refused to be interviewed and while a group photo supposedly including the imam was used he was not identified in that shot.
  • The man of Arabic background accused of predatory behaviour after groping a breastfeeding woman in a shopping centre in Melbourne (3 and 4 May, commercial services only). Only CCTV images are included in the first story, though his name which identifies his ethnicity is used the next day. Nine’s newsreader introduction includes its own gloss on the story by describing the predator as a ‘pervert’.
  • The “men of middle-Eastern appearance” who robbed an Indian-Australian shopkeeper (Sydney Ten, 8 May).

The victims include:

  • a Japanese exchange student allegedly threatened by a knife-wielding attacker (Townsville Nine, Ten, 1May ). We see vision of her on Nine, but not on Ten. She is not interviewed on either service.
  • A Muslim murder victim, Kevin Palmer (Townsville Seven, Nine, Ten, 11 May). His religious background is revealed by a reference to his friend and ‘fellow Muslim’ Anthony Mundine on Seven, and by references to services in both a church and a mosque on Ten. Nine makes no mention of Muslim connections.
  • The African refugee children from traumatized backgrounds who are the subject of a special school program in Shepparton (Shepparton Nine, 3 May)
  • A Chilean migrant family attacked in their home by a gang of thugs (Sydney Seven, 9 May).
  • An Asian man punched and killed while standing in a taxi queue (Townsville ABC, Seven, Ten, 30 April)
  • An Asian disabled woman whose modified car was stolen and crashed in Perth (Perth, all services except SBS, 4 May). All versions of the story include an interview with the woman.
  • A missing boy ‘of black African appearance’, the subject of a Sydney police alert on 4 May (Sydney Nine, Ten).
  • A Middle Eastern taxi driver murdered in a violent attack in Sydney, on the occasion of the sentencing of the teenage perpetrators. (Sydney, all stations except SBS, 4 May)
  • A Vietnamese woman subjected to a vicious hammer attack in her home (Sydney Ten, 7 May), interviewed with subtitles.
  • An Indian-Australian shop-owner, victim of the robbery by the ‘men of middle eastern appearance’ noted above in the Deviants list (Sydney Ten, 8 May).

There are positive stories, which show EM talent as proactive agents in charge of their own destinies and with their own voice. These include:

  • Two recipients of bravery awards in Sydney (ethnic backgrounds not specified). Both were victims of crime and received the awards, one posthumously, for their bravery when under attack. The wife of the man who lost his life is interviewed, as is the other award recipient. (Sydney Ten, 9 May)
  • A group of Pacific Islanders who are prosecuting a pub owner for discriminating against them by banning them from his premises. They are not pictured or interviewed, though the head of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board justifies their action. (Sydney Ten, 3 May).
  • Zimbabwean political activist Sekai Holland, married to an Australian, returning to Australia in a wheelchair after being the victim of a violent attack by Mugabe supporters in Zimbabwe (SBS, Sydney Ten, 4 May). This is linked to the ongoing story about a possible cricket boycott of a proposed tour of Zimbabwe. While the sports-related story is carried on all services, only Sydney Ten and SBS cover Holland’s return and carry interviews with her where she strongly condemns the violence of the Mugabe regime.

We occasionally see EM talent as ‘experts’:

  • The Indian senior specialist who comments on the scandal surrounding the employment of unqualified foreign interns in Queensland hospitals (Townsville Ten, 3 May)
  • The Asian-Australian spokesperson for Right to Life Association in a story on manufacture of euthenasing drug Nembutal (ABC, 7 May)
  • The Arab-Australian spokesperson for People Helping People in a WIN (Nine) story on a local Rain Festival (Shepparton Nine 7 May)
  • Two EM experts commenting on food allergies (Townsville Seven, 8 May)
  • The Asian-Australian spokesperson for the National Union of Students in a story on funding of universities (ABC, SBS 9 May)
  • The Asian-Australian medical expert interviewed for story on sleep problems of children with ADHD (Shepparton Nine, 9 May)

We see EM faces in schools (eg classroom shots illustrating story on literacy testing, Sydney Seven and Ten, 7 May; students at a technical school during a visit by then Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, Sydney Ten, 11 May); universities (eg. international students featuring in story on Business Export Awards in Townsville, Nine, 11 May); and hospitals (eg. EM staff assisting in a ‘cross country mercy dash’ to convey organs for transplant to a Sydney hospital, Sydney Seven, 8 May). However there is an interesting inconsistency in relation to the faces we tend to see in the crowds, the generic representations of the ‘Australian public’. We see EM faces where we would expect to see them (eg Townsville’s Greek festival, Seven and Nine 1 May; Townsville’s Italian festival, Seven, Nine, 2 May; the launch of police Multicultural Policy Statement in Victoria, Shepparton ABC 30 April). But mostly the faces in the crowds are Anglo – the cameras focus on faces that represent the stereotypical white Australian (eg. the crowds at the Royal Show, Perth Nine, 30 April; the entirely Anglo talent in a story on the manners of young people, Perth and Townsville Ten, 30 April; the Anglo students in the MS Readathon, Townsville Nine 2 May; the all-Anglo talent and faces at the Labour Day Rally, Townsville ABC, 7 May).

The segregation of EM talent into EM stories is illustrated by the way in which EM talent is on display in the story about Townsville’s local cultural festival (Seven, 8 May), but absent from the coverage the previous day when Townsville covers the local Labour Day Rally (Townsville Seven, 7 May).

The pictures below offer an illustration of the dichotomy that arises. They are from a single bulletin which went to air on WIN/Nine in Shepparton on 3 May. We see EM faces in a story concerning a new schools program for African children, but no EM faces in a ‘normal’ story about new technology in a local primary school.

African children school program
Picture 1a: 3 May Shepparton WIN/ Nine: African children school program

Technology In the classroom
Picture 1b: 3 May Shepparton WIN/ Nine: Technology In the classroom

While there are a few instances where EM talent features in a vox pop (a woman in headscarf interviewed as the victim of a petrol fuel scam. Sydney Nine, Ten, 9 May; consumers in telemarketing story, Perth Ten, 3 May; a commuter commenting on traffic chaos on Sydney’s Spit Bridge, Sydney ABC, 2 May), the majority of vox pops tend to feature exclusively Anglo talent (eg. reaction to the State budget, Perth ABC, 9 May; community reaction to Federal budget, Townsville Seven, 9 May; crowd reactions at local concert, Townsville Nine, 11 May). On one occasion the omission seems almost willful: Sydney Ten on 11 May has good news story about the graduating class of new police recruits. While the story focuses on three recruits including an Asian-Australian man, only the Anglo talents are interviewed.

The pictures below compare the imagery of two stories dealing with commuter issues in Victoria to show the contrasting impressions made by the presence or absence of EM talent.  Picture 2a and b come from a story about overcrowded trains in Melbourne. Pictures 3a and b come from a story on train delays in regional Victoria.


Picture 2a: Shepparton Seven, 10 May


Picture 2b: Shepparton Seven,  10 May


Picture 3a: Shepparton Nine, 30 April


Picture 3b: Shepparton Nine, 30 April

In summary we see that

  • EM talent features only rarely compared to Anglo talent in television news stories,
  • the stories where they do feature place them in roles of deviant or victim rather than as ordinary members of our community,
  • where they do feature they are less likely to have a speaking role, and
  • where they have a speaking role subtitles may underscore the sense of ‘difference’ between them and the perceived mainstream.

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