Friday, 1 January 2021

Trust in Australian media is at an all time low in this house


On Saturday 26 December 2019 The Guardian Australia published an article by its political editor and member of the Canberra Press Gallery, Katharine Murphy, titled This was the year Australia restored trust in its politics – and that really is a miracle”.

I clicked on the article with some eagerness given Ms. Murphy’s solid reputation.

It was then I realised that I was being served opinion based on alleged facts I could not at that point in time corroborate.

The link to the initial findings of the Scanlon Foundation’s "Mapping of Social Cohesion 2020" led to another Guardian article published on 17 December whose own link purporting to go to these finding led to yet another Guardian article published in November 2019 which clearly predated the 2020 findings.

To make matters worse the link supplied in the Murphy article led to a bowdlerized comparison graph bearing little resemblance to past Scanlon Foundation social cohesion mapping graphs.

The Murphy article stated that the initial survey findings had been released on Thursday, 24 December 2020, which was a misleading statement.

On 26 December 2020 no initial finding were displayed on the Scanlon Foundation’s website, nor that of Monash University or ANU Social Research Centre.

In addition, as background Ms. Murphy cited a 2009 social cohesion survey pool of 3,000 individuals, when in fact that year the national pool stood at 2,000 individuals with another 6 local-level surveys with a combined total of 1,800 individuals.

It’s seemingly small facts relating to methodology which give clues as to how reliable are comparisons between annual surveys.

In fact in refining the national survey the number of respondents has gone both up and down over time and the number of local-surveys has varied across the years since 2007. While questions on the questionnaire form have been altered, as well the form changed in length with different interview duration.

What readers of The Guardian articles of 17 and 26 December 2020 could not know at the time of publication is what methodology changes may have occurred in the initial findings for Mapping of Social Cohesion 2020” because there was no full disclosure of these finding by the newspaper. 

This is the graph that The Guardian published on 17 December 2020:

It leaves the reader to guess what percentages should be consigned to "Only some of the time", "Almost Never" and "Refused/don't know".

This is the more informative graph supplied by the Scanlon Foundation in 2019:

The Guardian articles of 17 and 26 November 2020 appear to be telling readers that national trust in the federal government to generally do the right for the Australian people has risen by 25 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

Alas, this reader must remain unsure until such time as the Scanlon Foundation’s "Mapping of Social Cohesion 2020" is finally published. 

Then there is the case of the somewhat conflicted columnist

Meet Ms. Parnell Palme McGuiness, columnist in Fairfax-Nine publications.

Managing director of Thought Broker Pty Ltd and managing director of Agenda C Pty Ltd. Both companies being in the business of developing targeted, traditional and digital media campaigns to create maximum impact for their clients and both operating from the same business address.

And who are their clients? Well that is not disclosed on company websites.

However, Ms. McGuiness did admit to having the Liberal Party of Australia as a client at one point and Austender reveals that over the last 18 months Agenda C has been granted three limited tender federal government contracts which appear to have been aimed at facilitating the Morrison Government's social media presence.

Agenda C states of itself; "What’s even better than telling your story yourself? Having someone else tell a story about you! We understand what makes you interesting to the media and work with it to make you interesting to the world..... Agenda C assesses, plans, acts and measures to steer you through tough times. Our experienced traditional and digital media teams work together to take control of the narrative so you’re back in control."  

Thought Broker says of itself; "Thought leaders offer a distinctive point of view by linking their subject matter expertise with wider debates, and in doing so, they present a credible and authoritative voice. Over time, they come to be sought out as an expert in their field and asked to weigh in with their experience. A thought leader communicates intelligently with people who can make a difference in business and public life, setting the agenda or shifting the debate by introducing a new perspective. Each of our thought leadership campaigns is based around a bespoke strategy which answers our clients’ business problem and supports their advocacy requirements."

Ms. McGuiness obviously sees no conflict of interest in being both a columnist whose subject matter is frequently political in nature and a director of two businesses (dedicated to using mainstream and social media to manipulate public perceptions), one of which derives income from federal government contracts.

In my opinion she is deluding herself if she believes everyone else see her self-proclaimed independence in the same light.

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