Australian media bias tracked

Swinging noters: Australian media bias tracked Wednesday 2 September 2009

Australian journalists are close to the centre of the political spectrum, but their editors are more likely to take a party line, according to new research from The Australian National University.

The study, conducted by ANU economist Professor Andrew Leigh from the Research School of Social Sciences and Melbourne Business School economist Professor Joshua Gans, used a number of different approaches to measure ‘media slant’ in newspapers, radio and television.

Professors Leigh and Gans used three approaches to test for media slant; reviewing media mentions of 100 public intellectuals, rating election stories and rating newspaper headlines. The researchers found that although most media outlets showed no significant slant in reporting, there were some notable exceptions.

“In terms of content, Australian journalists seem to be a centrist bunch”, said Professor Leigh. “Using the first approach, only one out of 27 news outlets had a significant slant. This is ABC Television News, which had a significant slant towards the Coalition in the period 1999-2007.  All other outlets (including six ABC radio stations) were essentially centrist.

“Coding articles and headlines, The Age had a significant pro-Labor slant, while the other newspapers were centrist.  However, editorial endorsements show a much stronger slant, with only 8 of the 44 election endorsements over the period 1996-2007 being for Labor.

“In general, television was the most right-wing medium, and newspapers were the most left-wing medium.”

Professor Gans said that in reaching the results, the researchers had used three methods.

“Our first approach focused on public intellectuals,” said Professor Gans. “Coding up Hansard mentions, we were able to place over 100 public intellectuals on a Labor/Coalition spectrum. Using media mentions of the same individuals, we then tested whether particular media outlets were more likely to quote left-wing and right-wing public intellectuals.

“The second approach analysed journalistic content. We asked five raters to code nearly 300 election stories as pro-Coalition, pro-Labor, or centrist. The third strategy focused on editorial decisions. We had the raters code up newspaper headlines (without seeing the accompanying stories). We also coded up editorial election endorsements,” said Professor Gans.

ANU News » Swinging noters: Australian media bias tracked

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