Racism and social commentary in Australian mainstream media.
All people should be equitably represented by the media, regardless of their racial identity.
What is Media Monitoring?
All Together Now (ATN) defends the notion of a free press. We believe it is vital that journalists have the ability to inform citizens about public affairs without fear or favour. However, we also note that this freedom comes with the responsibility to present information fairly and accurately. All Australians should be equitably represented by the media, regardless of their racial identity. Our research conducted between 2017 and 2021 indicates that social commentary published on some mainstream media platforms is failing to do this.
The media is often the only exposure audiences have with people of different racial identities. It has the power to inform interactions between everyday people and to challenge or uphold systems and structures that inhibit or support racial equity. Importantly, research shows that the majority of media consumers expect social commentary (opinion pieces and current affairs) to present the world fairly and accurately, much like news reporting. We know that race is often debated in opinion pieces and social commentary. With this in mind, social commentary plays a crucial role in forming and shaping public perceptions of race.
In 2016, we worked with our partners at the University of Technology, Sydney, to develop a media monitoring framework that collected and analysed racialised opinion pieces from the mainstream media.
This work was run by volunteers until 2018 when All Together Now was awarded a three-year National Research grant by the Department of Social Services. Between 2018 and 2021 we conducted a longitudinal study of media portrayals of race, with the data collection stretching over 26 months (April 2018 to June 2020). We have published the results of our monitoring in periodic reports and worked with communities targeted by racism in the media to address this pressing issue.
We hope that our research will contribute to the push for much-needed media reform, and to a more just and equitable Australian society.
What We Did
Our media monitoring project took a three-pronged approach. This includes:
1) Media monitoring: Using All Together Now’s media monitoring framework developed in partnership with UTS, we assessed race-related opinion pieces from Australian mainstream media. Between April 2018 and June 2020 we analysed 724 media pieces to see if they portrayed race inclusively, neutrally or negatively, and used qualitative analysis to better understand how racism was mobilised. Specifically, we read the opinion and editorial sections of major Australian newspapers with the highest cross-platform readership according to Roy Morgan Research (annual reports) and collected all race-related opinion articles. We then did the same with television current affairs programs that had the highest viewership according to TV Tonight ratings and selected all race-related segments.
The newspapers and television programs we monitored:
The Age (Nine Network)
The Australian (News Corp)
The Courier Mail (News Corp)
The Daily Telegraph (News Corp)
Herald Sun (News Corp)
The Sydney Morning Herald (Nine Network)
60 Minutes (Nine Network)
The 7:30 Report (ABC)
A Current Affair (Nine Network)
Today Tonight (The Seven Network)
The Project (Network 10)
Sunday Night* (The Seven Network)
We also worked with the Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia (CIRCA) to quantitatively analyse the cultural background of media commentators in order to understand the issue of diversity in media. Our collaborative research showed that 89% (318) of the negatively racialised opinion pieces (n=357) were authored by people of Anglo-Celtic and/or European backgrounds, while most of the opinion pieces authored by Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and people of color were inclusive (66 out of 89).
2) Community-led solutions: We worked with communities targeted by racism in the media to better understand its impact and to collaboratively identify and prototype possible solutions.
In 2019-2020, ATN partnered with the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy to consult sections of the Muslim community and found that a lack of diversity in media was an ongoing issue. Together, we designed and implemented the Muslim Women’s Leadership Program (MWLP), aiming to combat Islamophobic narratives and address some of the barriers that prevent Muslim women from entering and engaging in the media industry. In this program, young Muslim women were mentored by senior Muslim women with experience in media and community advocacy. The MWLP program also included a series of workshops, and experiential projects to facilitate networking and immersive industry experience. Pre- and post-evaluation surveys were conducted and showed a significant increase in the 11 participants’ confidence to engage with the media and ability to make a change in the community.
In 2020-2021 we partnered with the Asian Australian Alliance to design a survey on media consumption and racism in mainstream media. The survey was distributed among people and communities of Asian backgrounds in Australia and identified potential solutions that seek to remedy negative media coverage. All Together Now and the Asian Australian Alliance decided to create an easily shareable infographic, to spread awareness and build onto the existing evidence of anti-Asian and Asian Australian sentiments that resurfaced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The infographic also contains the community-proposed solutions to address racism and can be seen here.
3) Audience impact: Using the data from our media monitoring, we analysed user comments made in response to racist content on digital newspaper platforms.
In 2019, we did a pilot analysis of news readers’ comments, using text-analytics software and qualitative analysis, to understand the relationship between audiences and this content. We wanted to know how racism in the media was interpreted and reproduced online. More information and the results of this pilot project can be found in the Social Commentary Case Study section of our 2019 report.
Between 2020 and 2021 we took our pilot a step further and analysed in-depth 4,558 online reader comments in response to negatively racialised opinion pieces about Muslim people. The study found that comment sections on racialised opinion pieces in Australia’s mainstream media are increasingly polarising readers and perpetuating Islamophobia. We published the detailed findings and methodology in 2021, in a stand-alone research report called Politely Racist.
Our Media Monitoring Framework
We assess the content and context of a media piece to determine whether it portrays racialised communities in an inclusive, neutral or negative way. These categories are defined using the Racial Discrimination Act and the UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, in addition to contemporary literature and our previous media monitoring research results. For more information on our framework, visit the methodology section of our quantitative results document.