Uni re­jects false ‘far-right’ re­port

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN FER­GU­SON AS­SO­CIATE EDITOR

Vic­to­ria Univer­sity has re­jected claims its aca­demics found News Corp pub­li­ca­tions had fu­elled far­right sen­ti­ment, amid con­cerns its re­search is in dan­ger of be­ing dis­torted.

The univer­sity re­jected as in­ac­cu­rate a front-page claim by Morry Schwartz’s The Satur­day Pa­per that News Corp jour­nal­ists had in­ten­si­fied far-right re­cruit­ment. “At no point does the (aca­demics’) re­search re­port claim that News pub­li­ca­tions fu­elled far-right sen­ti­ment,’’ a univer­sity spokes­woman said.

“The re­port does, how­ever, ar­gue that main­stream me­dia con­tent was used ex­ten­sively by far-right groups.’’

The state­ment, re­spond­ing to ques­tions from The Aus­tralian, also raised con­cerns about the univesity’s re­search be­ing skewed be­fore it was made pub­lic through peer-re­viewed chan­nels.

“The re­searchers are con­cerned about hav­ing their re­search taken out of con­text,’’ a spokes­woman said.

The Satur­day Pa­per splashed its edi­tion last week­end with the false claims about the work of VU aca­demics on the im­pact of me­dia on race hate, and con­tin­ues to make them in its on­line edi­tion.

The ar­ti­cle was writ­ten by Rick Mor­ton, a for­mer jour­nal­ist at The Aus­tralian whose employment with News Corp ended in May. The Satur­day Pa­per’s re­port, fo­cused on the work of The Aus­tralian and a sub­se­quent pod­cast pro­duced by the news­pa­per, wrongly claimed that the Safe Schools pro­gram had been abol­ished. It is still ac­tive in Vic­to­ria.

Mor­ton’s ar­ti­cle im­plied that The Aus­tralian’s cov­er­age of African crime had helped fuel far­right in­ter­est but The Aus­tralian’s se­ries ap­peared al­most en­tirely af­ter the univer­sity re­search was ac­tu­ally con­ducted.

The univer­sity said “the sys­tem­atic col­lec­tion of quan­ti­ta­tive so­cial me­dia data” be­gan in 2015 and ended on De­cem­ber 31, 2017.

The Aus­tralian’s re­port­ing un­der the ban­ner “State of Dis­or­der’’ be­gan in late De­cem­ber 2017. The Satur­day Pa­per wrongly re­ferred to The Aus­tralian’s se­ries as “State of Fear’’.

A VU spokes­woman played down sug­ges­tions The Aus­tralian fea­tured heav­ily in the re­search.

“The Aus­tralian is only re­ferred to in the re­search re­port

when list­ing the most com­monly used ex­ter­nal news sources of shared con­tent on Face­book across all the 12 far-right groups in­cluded in the study,’’ she said.

“As has been al­ready made pub­lic, The Daily Mail was the most com­mon on­line source of con­tent posted by far-right groups un­der anal­y­sis, fol­lowed by Nine News, YouTube and The Aus­tralian. The re­port does not make any as­sump­tions as to why cer­tain news out­lets have been shared more than oth­ers.’’

De­spite The Aus­tralian be­ing fourth in the re­search list, The Satur­day Pa­per pub­lished the ar­ti­cle un­der the head­line “Murdoch me­dia fu­els far-right re­cruit­ment”.

The re­search re­ferred to by The Satur­day Pa­per was con­ducted by De­bra Smith, a se­nior re­search fel­low, and col­leagues.

The Satur­day Pa­per ar­ti­cle drew a link be­tween what me­dia pub­lished and hate crimes, in­clud­ing the re­cent El Paso and Christchur­ch mas­sacres.

Dr Smith and her col­leagues an­a­lysed Face­book pages for 12 right-wing groups, seek­ing to track what they were post­ing.

The univer­sity will not re­lease a copy of the re­search un­til it has passed through the rel­e­vant chan­nels of au­thor­ity but as­pects of its work have been pub­lished in book form.

The Satur­day Pa­per re­port was also based in part on work from a new book on the far right in Aus­tralia. The chap­ter writ­ten by the three Mel­bourne aca­demics does not re­fer to The Aus­tralian.

VU is ex­plicit that the new re­search did not find News pub­li­ca­tions fu­elled far-right sen­ti­ment. How­ever, Mor­ton wrote: “No one is ar­gu­ing th­ese me­dia out­lets di­rected any of th­ese hor­rific at­tacks. But ac­cord­ing to new re­search, they did in­cu­bate an en­vi­ron­ment in which hate speech could flour­ish.

“In the end, those ‘re­spectable’ de­bates pro­vided fuel and gave per­mis­sion.’’

The Satur­day Pa­per’s ed­i­torin-chief, Erik Jensen, said yesterday: “The re­search shows that ar­ti­cles from The Aus­tralian rate highly among those shared on far-right Face­book groups. Given the pa­per’s pay­wall, the shar­ing is dis­pro­por­tion­ate. This ma­te­rial is used to re­cruit and em­bolden far­right ac­tivists — which the re­search shows. We stand by our re­port­ing.’’

The re­port drew on The Aus­tralian’s pub­li­ca­tion of a se­ries of ar­ti­cles on African crime gangs as well as re­port­ing on the Safe Schools anti-bul­ly­ing cam­paign.

On the Safe Schools cam­paign and re­fer­ring to 2015 to 2017, The Satur­day Pa­per wrote: “Dur­ing the same pe­riod, the re­searchers found that use of the word ‘trans­gen­der’ soared by 1635 per cent … per­fectly cap­tur­ing the pe­riod dur­ing which The Aus­tralian ran its anti-Safe Schools cam­paign.’’

What the ar­ti­cle didn’t say was the fact that the in­crease was off an ex­tremely low base of two men­tions of “trans­gen­der’’ in 2015 to 201 men­tions in 2017.

The Satur­day Pa­per wrote that the univer­sity study showed in­flam­ma­tory me­dia re­ports on race and Safe Schools had acted as a “dog whis­tle’’ for ex­trem­ists.

The book chap­ter writ­ten by the aca­demics is be­lieved to con­tain some of the re­search. The book, ti­tled The Far Right in Con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralia, notes that there has been a con­sis­tent de­crease in the preva­lence of anti-Is­lam mes­sag­ing be­tween 2015 and 2017. “This is also at­trib­uted to the way in which many far-right groups strate­gi­cally re­spond to new dis­cur­sive op­por­tu­ni­ties, af­forded to them by height­ened pub­lic dis­courses, for ex­am­ple, on same-sex mar­riage or al­leged ‘gang crimes’ in Vic­to­ria,’’ the aca­demics wrote.

“Aus­tralia has ex­pe­ri­enced an un­prece­dented wave of far-right ac­tivism, both on­line and on the streets, in re­cent years.’’

‘The re­port does not make any as­sump­tions as to why cer­tain news out­lets have been shared more than oth­ers’ VIC­TO­RIA UNIVER­SITY

Schwartz

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