The Australian and New Matilda’s ‘Where are the women in the media?’

Today we published Part 4 of our New Matilda ‘Where are the women in the media?’ series. On Tuesday, we published Part 3 of our investigation which was a gender breakdown of by lines on a particular day. We called it a ‘snapshot’ and suggested more research is needed.

The Australian didn’t rate well in the by line breakdown which annoyed them.

While working on the series on Monday, I emailed (copying my co-author Elise Dalley) two questions to Editor in Chief Chris Mitchell. One of these requested a gender breakdown of staff at The Australian and the other was relevant to another piece. He emailed us back but did not answer our question about the gender breakdown. Instead he supplied a list of section and state bureau female editors.As these were not relevant to Part 3, Elise Dalley, my co-author,read his response and correctly assessed it was not relevant. I did not read my email as I was very busy. Once I did read Mitchell’s characteristically dismissive response, I agreed with Dalley. We had already acknowledged the work of some women reporters at The Australian.

Our failure to include the irrelevant information led to an piece attacking me in The Australian news pages yesterday – yes, I know they should have more important stories to cover but attacks on the reputation of women educators who dare to criticise News Ltd is nothing new. Julie Possetti and Margaret Simons and myself have all copped it before.

Elise Dalley and myself repond to The Australia in New Matilda today.

I was first aware of The Australian’s anger that we hadn’t published their list of women section editors late on Tuesday when Nicholas Leys wanted to interview me about the project. Despite the inconvenience of the time and extremely short notice, I responded in writing to six questions which are relevant to our research. When I first received his questions, I was inititally concerned that we might have missed something relevant. Once I checked with my co-author and also read the reply, I knew this was not the case.

So here are the questions and my answers:

1. Why have you not included the list of women editors supplied to you by The Australian in the research? Yesterday, I sent two questions to Chris Mitchell. I did not request the list he sent me of middle ranking editors, although I welcome it. I did not receive it before publishing this article. In any case, today’s story was about the breakdown of gender by lines across mastheads and rounds. In relation to Michelle Gunn(the editor of the Weekend Australian), we specifically mentioned her in our first report. We also mentioned other names of strong women reporters at The Australian in today’s report.

In part one, we noted the absence of a woman editor across Australian metropolitan and national papers. For those interested in gender equity, this is cause for concern. So far we have not studied senior editors below the top level. We hope to continue our research and we agree it would be good to get a fuller picture of the journalism labor force. If media companies cooperate, we would be interested to add this. In order to gain a greater understanding of our results, we asked the Editor in Chief for a gender breakdown of women and men at The Australian but he did not supply this.

2. Would you agree or disagree that this list does in fact indicate The Australian employs a significant number of women in very senior roles? I agree that this list shows there are a numer of women in senior roles at The Australian. This is heartening. However, this was not the issue at stake in today’s report which is part of a project with at least five parts.

3. Why did you choose to conduct a byline search on just one day?
This part of our study is somewhat similar to the Global Media Monitoring Project which has been done in many countries. at regular intervals. That project also uses the technique a snapshot on a single day. We have acknowledged limitations that flow from this sample in our report and specifically indicated the need for further research. However some of the patterns indicated are nevertheless quite stark and deserve more public attention from the media and community discussion. We did a week for Part 2 which was focussed on opinion pieces so was easier to do. Even one day involved detailed coding of hundreds of stories as you will see in Part Four on sources.
4. Does this meet normal and accepted standards of academic research as opposed to counting bylines over one week, for example? We have not claimed that our study has the rigor of a larger peer reviewed study however it is a useful example of how journalists can combine social science techniques with journalism to provide fresh insights and stimulate community research. In the changing world of journalism and universities,you could call it data journalism or practice based research. As you can read in our article, our findings are confirmed by other academic research. We specifically drew attention to that.You can also find more information about other research studies on the ACIJ site.
5. Why did you choose a Monday (March 4) to count the bylines, a day when any newspaper is not working with a full roster of staff? We did not choose Monday because there were less staff. In any case, it was clear from a reading of the publications that many articles were not prepared on a Sunday. Take the media section of The Australian for instance. I imagine that much of that would be prepared in advance. A broader study would reveal whether there is a distinct variation across the days of the week. Our only aim in this study is to gain an understanding of women in the media.
6. What does your research show, other than a higher ratio of male to female reporters on the day in questions? I suggest that you read Parts One and two. We summarised these briefly in today article. Also today’s report showed a variation across mastheads and rounds which is worthy of greater study. The overwhelming male nature of sports reporting and the gendered nature of other rounds including the male dominance of politics and business and feminised nature of some others is an indication of lack of gender equity which most would agree is not desirable. I would be surprised if the women editors at The Australian and many male journalists do not agree with this. The causes for the inequity and how to change it needs much more discussion by journalists and others.

Having received these replies, Nicholas Leys decided that he had a story, not just for the media section but the front news section. He ignored those parts of my answer that he did not consider relevant to his story and accused me of suppressing the list of women editors. Fair enough. That’s how reporting works over at The Australian.

Yesterday, I wrote Leys this letter:

Dear Nicholas

The article about me published by you this morning is unfair, defamatory and misleading. It falsely accuses New Matilda of misrepresenting facts and me of suppressing relevant material. In fact, our report was an accurate and factual one.

The material sent to us by Chris Mitchell and Helen Trinca was not relevant to yesterday’s piece. Chris Mitchell did not answer my question about gender balance. If he had, my co-author Elise Dalley who read his response would have informed me. Once I had also read it, I completely agree with Elise Dalley that it was not relevant to yesterday’s article.

It is unprofessional of you to suggest that we should publish irrelevant material. As I explained in my responses yesterday, if the information becomes relevant for future articles, we will mention it.

The question about the Top 50 was asked with regard to a future article. As I made clear in my email, we are writing a series of articles on gender and the Australian media. As I said in my email to Chris Mitchell, we are doing a series.

This sort of attack journalism demeans you, your paper and our profession,


Wendy Bacon

To which Leys replied:

“Wendy, with all due respect counting bylines on one particular day – a Sunday no less – and condemning this newspaper and the fine journalists who work on it (men and women) as a result was flawed and insulting”.

Perhaps the ‘fine’ men and women over at The Australian could take a look at the results and the other academic studies on this subject and consider whether the issue of the under representation of women might yet be worthy of their attention. Could the under representation of women have anything to do with the deep misogynist streak in our culture which led to the menu which provided a joke for people involved in LNP fundraising and occupied some much of the nation’s attention yesterday. If in fact, women are playing a strong middle level editing role at The Australian why isn’t it reflected in the results for Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 of our study? As many feminists have pointed out, it takes more than a few women climbing up the ladder for deeper change to occur in gender inequality.

Compared to some many other stories, this interchange is a very minor matter. It only further goes to show that The Australian, rather than dealing with critiques of its reporting, whether it be climate change, international relations or gender representation attacks the critic rather than dealing with the issue.

Judge finds News Ltd’s reporter was not part of abuse of process.

Most of the focus on today’s Federal Court judgement in the case brought by ex-Federal Parliament Speaker Peter Slipper against his staffer James Ashby will be on the central finding that Ashby’s sexual harrassment case against his ex-boss was an abuse of process.

Justice Rares found:

Mr Ashby instituted the proceedings without reasonable cause because they were and are an abuse of the process of the Court.

The court also found that Ashby’s co-worker Karen Doane and ex LNP Mal Brough acted with Ashby for the purpose of inflicting political damage on Slipper. But Slipper also alleged that News Ltd’s senior Daily Telegraph reporter Steve Lewis was part of Ashby’s plan to damage the Speaker. Justice Rares’ finding in favour of Lewis will be a relief to reporters who are often accused of being involved in political games. Lewis, he found, was just doing what reporters are expected to do – chase stories.

Rares subjected the actions of Lewis to detailed examination and found his actions as a reporter played an important role in the affair. But he found there was nothing unusual in a symbiotic relationship between journalists and people involved in politics. ( This is certainly true).

Lewis had been reporting on Slipper unfavourably for two years. Ashby and Doane would “have believed that Mr Lewis would give their stories attacking the person for whom they were working a sympathetic, if not enthusiastic, airing.” Nevertheless, Rares concluded that Lewis was merely acting as most reporters would do in vigorously pursuing a story and that there was no evidence that his actions were politically motivated.

His findings in relation to Lewis can be found in the judgement from Par. 142 onwards:

Mr Lewis appears to have pursued, enthusiastically, the stories potentially available to him based on Mr Ashby’s and Ms Doane’s information. However, I am not satisfied that Mr Lewis shared with them the purpose of advancing the political interests of Mr Brough or the LNP or of aiding Mr Ashby or Ms Doane in their future prospects of advancement or preferment. It is more likely that Mr Lewis was focused on obtaining good copy for stories to sell newspapers. He may not have been so naïve that he was blind to the motivations of Mr Ashby, Ms Doane or Mr Brough. Mr Lewis was no doubt wanting to encourage them, as sources, to continue to provide material which he could use to publish. But, that did not involve him in seeking to achieve the same end as his sources, despite some overlap. Publication of significant or sensational news can have significant impact on the public perception of persons or bodies referred to in the stories that favours one side rather than another in the political debates of the day. However, that consequence does not necessarily suggest that the journalist or publisher is seeking to aid or support the side of politics that benefits from the publication. Rather, it is more likely that, by publishing the story, the journalist or publisher is simply fulfilling his, her or its role of reporting news. Once presented with sources such as Mr Ashby and Ms Doane, together with the prospect of a story such as in the originating application, it is difficult to think that any journalist would have acted differently to Mr Lewis in pursuing and publishing that story.

The question many will ask is whether Lewis would have been as enthusiastic if he was pursuing Abbott, Hockey or Bishop.The truth is that News Ltd’s agenda is so well known that sources seeking to damage the Coalition would have been less likely to approached Lewis and News Ltd would not have encouraged him so keenly to pursue such an investigation or paid the sources’expenses. News Ltd’s disdain for the Gillard government has been open. Political reporters act within professional boundaries but are often used to meet the poltiical goals of media companies that employ them.
The role of Lewis needs more examination.

Green Left Weekly interviews me about media job cuts and Gina Rinehart

This week, Green Left Weekly’s Jay Fletcher interviewed me about the big job cuts and changes in the Australian corporate media.

In the interview, I talk about how the biggest shareholder in Fairfax and richest woman in Australia, Gina Reinhart has refused to sign the Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence.

Here is what the Charter says:

1. That the proprietor(s) publicly declare a commitment to the fundamental and longstanding principle of editorial independence.

2. That the proprietor(s) acknowledge that journalists, artists and photographers must record the affairs of the city, state, nation and the world fairly, fully and regardless of any commercial, political or personal interests, including those of any proprietors, shareholders or board members.

3. That editorial staff shall not be required to work other than in accordance with the Australian Journalists’ Association code of ethics.

4. That full editorial control of the newspapers, within a negotiated, fixed budget, be vested with the editors of the papers and that the editors alone shall determine the daily editorial content of the newspapers.

5. That the editors alone shall hire, fire and deploy editorial staff.

6. That the editors shall not sit on the board of the owning company or companies, or any non-publishing subsidiary companies, and shall not be directly responsible to the board but to its appointed management.

7. That the editors must at all times carry out their duties in a way that preserves the independence and integrity of the mastheads.

Adopted by Age staff, March 28, 1988

Adopted by the Board of John Fairfax Limited, May 2, 1988

Adopted by Sunday Age staff, December 1990

Adopted by The Sydney Morning Herald, Sun-Herald and Australian Financial Review staff, February 21, 1991

Role for government in protecting independent journalism ?

I was asked to submit 400 words to the Sydney Morning Herald as part of regular feature which puts the same question to four people. I was the ‘academic”,

The question was: Should governments protect independent journalism?

Here is my reply.

AUSTRALIAN governments need to do more to protect independent journalism. If they had done more in the past, the task would not be so urgent now.

Independent journalism will not flourish without diversity of ownership. Governments can pass laws designed to protect that. Our failure to set up adequate rules has led to the most concentrated media in the developed world, with News Ltd and Fairfax Media (the publisher of the Herald) controlling 86 per cent of circulation.

Gina Rinehart, who wants more influence at Fairfax, has so far failed to recognise the right of journalists to report independently. News Ltd already has a more compliant journalistic culture. These two big companies, one controlled overseas, are in a battle for survival. This calamity has been delivered by market forces.

Over the past 30 years, various inquiries have warned that concentration could lead to the abuse of private media power, just as grave a threat as government interference. Governments failed to act because they were wary of media companies who scream ”censorship” as soon as intervention is mentioned. It needs to be understood that the interests of the public and independent journalists are not the same as the interests of media owners.

As companies seek to bolster profits by restructuring and cutting operations, the diversity, quality and quantity of independent journalism are further threatened. Faced with this crisis, governments should consider using tax-payer funds to support a more diverse public interest journalism, as is done with the arts.

The Greens suggest that charters of editorial independence could be statutorily entrenched. Again, instead of shoving the idea aside, we need to finally take the task of providing a framework for independent journalism and democratic media seriously.

The Finkelstein report outlines ways in which diversity and public interest journalism have been protected by subsidies elsewhere. Academics, including myself, submitted an idea for tax deductibility on donations for non-profit investigative journalism. Such journalism could be published in partnership with major companies as well as to support smaller independent media. Some people warn that such schemes could be politically influenced by decision makers. But if schemes have worked elsewhere, they should be considered here.

In submissions to Finkelstein the big media owners all rejected any role for government intervention. But their interests are different from those of journalists and the public. Governments should play a role in supporting journalists in producing diverse and independent journalism.

Wendy Bacon is a professor of journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney.

You can find the other three replies here.

Questions for the CEO of News Ltd – they remain unanswered.

As the phone hacking scandal blew up in Australia where News Corporation controls 70% of the metropolitan audience in the most concentrated media in the developed world, News Ltd CEO John Hartigan assured the public that nothing so heinous as phone hacking would ever happen in Australia. There was no evidence to doubt his word, but it seemed to me that each media context was different. News corporation is a integrated global company. Some stories got by phone hacking by News International were certainly published here. There were also other questions to which it would be useful for Australia readers to have answers.

From a journalism point of view these questions are pretty straight forward and I was surprised that no one else had asked them. I wondered that the soft approach to CEO John Hartigan was the result of years of News Ltd dominance,

These are the questions I sent to John Hartigan. Instead of answering them he got back with a furious response.

1. I notice that News Ltd papers continued to report stories from News of the World well after phone hacking scandal broke — was this practice discussed by you with editors or other executives in the company? In retrospect, do you have any concerns about this? Why or why not?

2. I note that editors of at least some News Ltd publications including newspapers can give permission for payment for information or articles. Is this a matter that is being included in your editorial audit? Wh[y] or why not? How many occasions has News Ltd paid for information or stories over the last two years? Are there different rules for different publications? if so, what are they?

3. I notice from reports from Australian News Ltd journalists who have spent time working at News of the World (one of them being Rosie Squires) that payment for information and stories was endemic at News of the World. What is your opinion about this? Did you ever raise any concerns about this within wider international circles of News Ltd? Was this discussed at international News Ltd meetings?

4. Are there any circumstances in which you believe it would be acceptable for journalists or papers to hire private inquiry agents to assist with stories — what would these be?

5. Do you consider that bias by newspapers in cities where only one company owns a newspaper could ever be an issue? How do you monitor whether fair means of reporting the news are being applied across the company? What auditing or monitoring mechanisms do you apply? Are there occasions when you do take up matters of bias with editors?

6. Do you think that it would be a good idea if the Australian Press Council became an independent body with funding from both media and other sources including government?

7. Do you think it is appropriate for politicians and media owners or senior executives to meet privately? What would be the purpose of such meetings?

The Sunday Age had asked me to write an opinion piece for today’s paper.
which also appeared in the National Times. You can read it here. It also includes my reasons why I think there should be a media inquiry.