Sky News Regional – a new free-to-air television offering – has just launched in regional areas across Australia with such luminaries as Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt, Cory Bernardi, Paul Murray, Rowan Dean and Peta Credlin hustling to get into our loungerooms, to flood regional airways between Cairns and Kalgoorlie, with anti-immigration rhetoric, climate denialism, conservative claptrap and vaccine misinformation all masquerading as news.
In the meantime, Sky News has been banned from uploading any new content to YouTube or live streaming for a week after violating the social media site’s misinformation policies.
This follows Alan Jones – the poster boy for after dark conspiracies – being dumped from his regular Daily Telegraph column after his misinformation on COVID-19: Newscorp said that Alan Jones ‘no longer resonates with our readers’.
At least six videos from Sky News Australia hosts Alan Jones, Rowan Dean and Rita Panahi have been deleted from YouTube for spreading COVID-19 misinformation about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin as treatments.
You may well wonder why it falls to the Google-owned YouTube to be governing content quality coming from Sky News Australia and why the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is not acting against the divisive, dishonest and damaging enterprise that has become known as Sky-after-Dark: after all ACMA is a government-controlled entity who tell us that their job is to regulate communications and media to maximise the economic and social benefits for Australia. The reason that ACMA have failed to act and left it to a foreign social media site to provide content governance on Australian media output is possibly due to the fact that they have no teeth and this Liberal government is unlikely to change that situation while they continue their unhealthy relationship with the Murdoch organisation and its entities.
What is at stake here is the right of a so-called news organisation to deliver far-right conservative rhetoric, conspiracy theories and outright lies under the guise of news but avoiding the inconvenience of fact-checking, research or traditional investigative journalism. They label it as ‘opinion’ which means that none of these standards apply: this is the business model that Murdoch successfully adopted with Fox News in the US and which his organisation are trying to replicate through Sky News in Australia.
The new free to air offering will potentially reach millions across the nation as a result of the partnership it has developed with two television networks: WIN and Southern Cross Austereo.
Two former prime ministers have warned us about the dominance of the Murdoch media in Australia and the control exerted on our politicians. Kevin Rudd told the Media Diversity Enquiry that:
The “Fox News-isation” of the Australian media was well underway thanks to Sky News Australia breeding climate change denialism and encouraging far-right political extremism, Mr Rudd said.
Malcolm Turnbull told the Enquiry that :
News Corp had evolved from a reasonable media organisation into a highly partisan one which is a danger to democracy. “The most powerful political actor in Australia is not the Liberal party or the National party or the Labor party, it is News Corporation,” he said.“ And it is utterly unaccountable. It is controlled by an American family and their interests are no longer, if they ever were, coextensive with our own.”
Even James Murdoch, the younger son of Rupert, recently resigned from the board of News Corporation citing “disagreements over editorial content”. He told US regulators, he disagreed with some “strategic decisions” made by the company. Whilst he was not specific, he had previously spoken out against the climate change denialism promoted by the company and its editorial positions.
The question is how do we as a society regulate a news organisation so that there is a clear distinction between what is properly researched and balanced ‘news’ coverage and what are alternative facts and the opinions of a group of right-wing conservative ratbags, masquerading as journalists. Clearly, they have a right to freedom of communication and free speech as they will frequently remind us but when it comes to manufacturing fake news and conspiracy theories it is time to call them out.
At an early stage in its evolution, FOX News in the US carried the slogan ‘Fair and Balanced’ but they walked away from that when they cottoned on to the revenues they could generate from far-right fakery, spurious opinions and alternative facts.
Take care, Australia, these people have an agenda: remember the IPA wish list to which they enthusiastically subscribe –
Item 14: Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
Item 15: Eliminate laws that require radio and television broadcasters to be ‘balanced’
Item 50: Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function
Item 51: Privatise SBS
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