Australia’s broadcast media regulator has found programs on News Corporation Australia’s Sky News and Foxtel repeatedly breached codes of practice by broadcasting misinformation, including about climate change and Covid-19.
In highly damning findings, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said Sky News Australia program Outsiders failed to present news content “either accurately or fairly”, including by broadcasting false statements about the health of the Great Barrier Reef and making false claims about green initiatives.
The ACMA investigated six allegations relating to four Outsiders segments, which aired between October and December 2021, called “Outsiders News” and a “regular recurring segment” called “Outsiders Weather and the Sceptics Ice-Age Watch”.
In one, the program falsely presented a study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, saying “there’s never been so much coral” and “coral reefs are looking fantastic”.
The ACMA said those statments “undermined the notion that the Great Barrier Reef is at risk”, when in fact, the Australian Institute of Marine Science report “did not make that finding” and had “clearly stated in its report” that the Reef was at risk.
In another segment, an Outsiders host falsely claimed former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston was “mandating” that “everyone” in Britain “get rid of their perfectly good gas heaters” and “replace them with desperately inefficient eco heat-pumps” at a cost of 10-20 thousand pounds.
In fact, the ACMA found, the strategy “is not intended to commence until after 2035” and “will not include forced replacement of existing equipment”.
“The program has an obligation to its audience to clearly separate fact from comment,” said a statement from ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin.
“Across a number of its episodes, Outsiders failed to do so and did not present news content either accurately or fairly”.
“Across a number of its episodes, Outsiders…did not present news content either accurately or fairly” – ACMA chair
All four “Outsiders” episodes breached the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice. Source: ACMA
The regulator also investigated two US programs that aired on Foxtel in September 2021 and found an array of false claims had been made about Covid-19, including that vaccinations caused an “uptick in certain cancers”; “lead to infertility” and “miscarriages”; that they “killed all the animals they tested it on”; and that “we have no information about the shot”.
The programs, “Ministry Now” and “Joni Table Talk”, aired (on September 1 and September 24 respectively) on Foxtel network Daystar, a US “faith-based network dedicated to spreading the Gospel 24 hours a day, seven days a week”.
Between the six programs, the ACMA found the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, the Subscription Narrowcast Television Codes of Practice and the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice had all been breached.
Despite this no penalties have been issued.
“Foxtel will…review the systems it has in place to ensure that content sourced from third-party providers is compliant with the code,” the ACMA said.
“Foxtel will report back to the ACMA within four months on the outcome of this system review, including the staff training, processes and arrangements it has undertaken to ensure future compliance with the code”.
The damning findings are presented across four ACMA “investigation” reports that were all “finalised” between December 19 and December 21 last year.
The regulator has provided no explanation as to why it did not release the reports for over four months after they were completed.
“The regulator has provided no explanation as to why it did not release the reports for over four months”
“Every one of the four Outsiders episodes breached the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice”
Two of the four episodes also breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (clause 3.1.1), which requires “factual material” to be presented “accurately” and to “ensure viewpoints included in the program are not misrepresented”.
The other two episodes were not found to have breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, including because they were “opinion” and “therefore not subject to the accuracy provisions in the code”.
Although they were the same episodes, those aired by Foxtel (as part of Sky News Australia) form part of a “subscription” television service and are subject to the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice; while those aired by Southern Cross Communications and by Network Investments (as Sky News Regional) are “commercial television” and subject to the Commercial Television Code of Practice.
The broadcast “licensees” – the entities regulated by the ACMA – are Foxtel, Southern Cross Communications and Network Investments.
The Outsiders program on Sky News. Source: Sky News
The ACMA investigated 13 instances of concern regarding Covid-19 misinformation aired on the “Ministry Now” and “Joni Table Talk” episodes on Foxtel.
If found the Subscription Narrowcast Television Codes of Practice had been broken in nine of the 13 instances.
“In 9 of 13 instances the two programs were found to have broken the the Subscription Narrowcast Television Codes of Practice”
In an Outsiders “Weather and the Sceptics Ice-Age Watch” segment aired on October 3, 2021, the program claimed “temperature drives carbon dioxide and not the other way around”.
“So if global warming comes before carbon dioxide increases, then reducing carbon dioxide to net-zero is as pointless as it is laughable,” the host said.
Foxtel told the ACMA “the host of the segment…frequently uses an exaggerated presentation style to emphasise the satirical nature of the content”.
“The host…frequently uses an exaggerated presentation style to emphasise the satirical nature of the content” – Foxtel
“For instance, he gesticulates in an animated fashion, and uses different tones to ‘ham up’ his commentary,” Foxtel told the ACMA.
The ACMA said it “does not consider that the tone of the segment counters the informative nature of the content presented, nor negates that the content deals with current matters”.
“As a conclusion, it was strongly delivered by the host as a ‘eureka’ insight that was used to cast doubt on the consensus scientific position that carbon dioxide increases…global warming,” the ACMA said.
“Accordingly, the ACMA finds that in broadcasting the statement, the Licensee (Foxtel) did not clearly distinguish between analysis or commentary, and factual material, and therefore, breached (the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice)”.
In another “Weather and the Sceptics Ice-Age Watch” segment, aired on 7 November 2021, the ACMA said the host “referred to data” that “he said was compiled on a website that was mostly sourced from the Japan Meteorological Agency and the European Institute for Climate and Energy”.
The Outsiders host said: “Clearly if the planet was warming to the dire extent that we are being told, it would show up in the data, wouldn’t it?”
The ACMA said the piece was “misleading” and that by “presenting temperature data from Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo in an unfair manner” had breached the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice.
“It was misleading to audiences to set up a hypothesis and then present only the sub-set of the available data that supported the view that the host wanted the audience to form,” the ACMA said.
Sky News Australia was last year found to be the nation’s least trusted news source by pollsters Roy Morgan.
Last week News Corporation agreed to pay US$787.5 million ($1.2 billion) to Dominion Voting Systems – one of the biggest defamation payouts in history – over its US Fox News network pushing false news stories that the voting machine maker had rigged the 2020 US presidential election against Donald Trump.
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