New research shows how Australia’s newsrooms are failing minority communities

Australians from culturally diverse backgrounds often feel frustrated about media coverage of news events and issues that portray them in a negative light. A new study analysing media coverage of issues related to multicultural Australia found that more than a third of stories reflected a negative view of minority communities.

Traditionally, so-called “hard news” stories are straight reports of “what happened”. This means they are reported in an objective and balanced manner, taking in diverse views on the issue.

Our study analyzed 1,366 media articles, examining the sentiment towards minority communities in them. We found that over a third of hard news stories contained negative sentiments towards minority communities, while more than half of the editorials and commentary pieces portrayed minority communities in a negative light.

The sample included about 80% news stories, 4% features and 16% editorials and commentaries on selected events and issues during a six-month period.

It focused on six news topics with some level of public controversy around the issue of multicultural Australia. These included Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; a discussion of Islam as a religion; US President Donald Trump’s refugee ban in January 2017; the Bourke Street attack in Melbourne’s central business district; youth gang crime, particularly in Melbourne; and the London terror attack on March 22, 2017.

The study collected articles from five mainstream online news sites: the ABC, the SBS, The Age, the Herald Sun and The Australian.

In our analysis, we found only a quarter of the stories about minority communities incorporated another point of view in the story. For example, this could be a member of the relevant minority community group, a scholar who may be able to provide an alternative view or comment on the bigger picture, or a shadow minister.

Most of the stories analyzed between September 2016 and March 2017 were based either on a reporter’s observations (41%) or included a government source (31%). Only about 26% of stories had a second source (a non-government source, an individual or expert).

Issues such as Section 18C and the controversy surrounding the former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, received extensive coverage in The Australian (211 stories compared to the next highest coverage of 82 stories in The Age).

Similarly, youth crime received above average coverage in the Herald Sun (46 stories compared to the next highest coverage of 22 stories in The Australian).

The Age published the highest number of stories (82) on the issue of Islam as a religion, and 13 news stories on youth crime in Melbourne.

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