Aus­tralian me­dia con­sumers more po­larised than the global average

The Guardian Australia - - News - Katharine Mur­phy Po­lit­i­cal editor

Aus­tralian news con­sumers are more po­larised than the global average, and peo­ple’s po­lit­i­cal lean­ings in­flu­ence their choice of news out­let, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey of me­dia trends.

The com­par­a­tive po­lar­i­sa­tion of me­dia con­sumers in Aus­tralia com­pared with those in other coun­tries is one of the find­ings of the Dig­i­tal News Re­port, Aus­tralia 2018 – a reg­u­lar col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Reuters In­sti­tute for the Study of Jour­nal­ism at the Uni­ver­sity of Ox­ford and the News and Me­dia Re­search Cen­tre – Uni­ver­sity of Can­berra.

The ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralian sur­vey par­tic­i­pants (60%) iden­ti­fied them­selves as po­lit­i­cal cen­trists, with 40% iden­ti­fy­ing strongly with the left or right side of pol­i­tics. “This re­flects a slightly higher de­gree of po­lit­i­cal po­lar­i­sa­tion amongst Aus­tralian news con­sumers than the global average of the 37 coun­tries sur­veyed,” the sur­vey re­leased on Thursday says.

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The study finds that Aus­tralian view­ers of com­mer­cial TV net­works and the sub­scrip­tion chan­nel Sky News are more right-leaning than the ABC tele­vi­sion au­di­ence, which at­tracts view­ers evenly from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

The re­port notes strong par­ti­san iden­ti­fi­ca­tion by Aus­tralian news con­sumers with par­tic­u­lar news brands, with rightwingers more likely to read the Aus­tralian and watch their nightly TV news on the Nine or Seven net­works, and left­wingers more likely to read Fair­fax news­pa­pers and watch SBS.

Aus­tralian news con­sumers who iden­tify as left­wing have the high­est in­ter­est in news and ac­cess it most of­ten. In the on­line news world, out­lets in­clud­ing Guardian Aus­tralia and Buz­zFeed “at­tract strong left­wing au­di­ences” but the on­line of­fer- ings news.com.au and Ya­hoo7 skew right.

The ABC au­di­ence is mixed pic­ture. Con­sumers of the ABC TV news come from all sides of the po­lit­i­cal di­vide but the na­tional broad­caster’s on­line news ser­vice “at­tracts a heav­ily left­wing au­di­ence”.

The sur­vey also re­veals this was the year when mo­bile devices over­took com­put­ers as the pri­mary means of ac­cess­ing on­line news, with al­most 60% of Aus­tralians sur­veyed now con­sum­ing their news on the go.

There are two heart­en­ing pieces of news for main­stream me­dia out­lets. Au­di­ence trust in es­tab­lished news brands is im­prov­ing, with an in­crease from 42% to 50% from last year’s sur­vey, and there has been a 10% in­crease in the last two years in the num­ber of Aus­tralians re­port­ing they are pay­ing for news – the big­gest in­crease out of 37 coun­tries sur­veyed.

Aus­tralians are also very con­cerned about fake news and be­lieve it is the job of news or­gan­i­sa­tions, rather than the global dis­trib­u­tors of on­line con­tent – Google or Facebook – to cor­rect mis­in­for­ma­tion.

But the re­port notes that glob­ally, con­cern about po­lit­i­cal mis­in­for­ma­tion is much higher than peo­ple’s re­ported ex­pe­ri­ence of it. “In Aus­tralia 67% of news con­sumers are wor­ried but only 25% say they have en­coun­tered it,” it says.

The form of fake news ex­pe­ri­enced by most peo­ple is “poor jour­nal­ism”, and news con­sumers con­cerned about mis­in­for­ma­tion are in­clined to pay for news they value.

Con­sumers who ac­cess in­for­ma­tion via so­cial me­dia feeds re­port en­coun­ter­ing more more fake news, and this group has lower trust in news. “How­ever, those with higher news lit­er­acy also re­port ex­pe­ri­enc­ing more fake news, pos­si­bly be­cause they are bet­ter at dis­cern­ing the qual­ity of re­port­ing,” the re­port says.

“There are signs news con­sumers are adopt­ing strate­gies to man­age their ex­po­sure to mis­in­for­ma­tion by ac­cess­ing trusted sources di­rectly via brand web­sites and apps, us­ing news ag­gre­ga­tors to get tai­lored news and fol­low­ing news sources di­rectly on so­cial me­dia.”

The re­port notes “there is an op­por­tu­nity for news or­gan­i­sa­tions to con­tinue to im­prove the qual­ity of their re­port­ing with a view to en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple to pay for it”.

Pho­to­graph: Wil­liam West/AFP/Getty Im­ages

The Dig­i­tal News Re­port has found strong par­ti­san iden­ti­fi­ca­tion by Aus­tralian me­dia con­sumers with par­tic­u­lar brands.

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