4.5 Content of articles: stance towards the 2011 Carbon Reduction Policy

We coded the content of all articles for neutral, positive and negative stances towards the policy.

As Figure 4.5.1 shows, there was a higher level of 'neutral' in the content of articles than in the headlines that are written to grab attention. The highest levels of neutral content were in The Mercury and The Age. The lowest levels were in The West Australian, the NT News and The Daily Telegraph.

Figure 4.5.1: Percentage of articles stance towards the policy, across 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.
Newspaper Negative Neutral Positive
The Daily Telegraph 58% 35% 7%
The Courier Mail 51% 40% 10%
The Northern Territory News 50% 33% 17%
Herald Sun 50% 41% 9%
The Australian 47% 44% 9%
The West Australian 40% 36% 24%
The Advertiser 34% 51% 15%
The Mercury 28% 55% 17%
The Sydney Morning Herald 27% 50% 23%
The Age 15% 54% 31%
Total 40% 44% 15%

Download data as .csv or view on GitHub

We again removed all articles that were coded neutral and compared the negative with the positive.

Figure 4.5.2: Percentage of articles positive towards the policy compared to articles negative to the policy in 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.

Download data as .csv or view on GitHub

All newspapers published some positive articles. However when combined with the headline findings, Figure 4.5.2 shows the negative approach to the policy adopted by The Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun, The Courier Mail and The Australian.

By comparison, The Age and the SMH were far more balanced although there was a contrast between these two newspapers with the SMH publishing 27% negative articles compared to The Age's 15%.

The Age was the only paper to publish more positive than negative articles but this does not necessarily mean The Age should be regarded as a 'pro' paper in the way the News Ltd papers are anti, as the ratio of positive to negative articles in The Age was considerably less than the ratio of negative to positive articles in News Ltd papers.

There were more neutral articles than there were neutral headlines. Of neutral articles that had positive or negative headlines, 19% were positive and 41% were negative.

In our second report, we will report on climate science reporting. It is worth noting that the report will show that The Age, the newspaper with the most in-depth coverage of climate science, had the most positive stance towards action on climate change. Readers that were receiving the most negative coverage of the policy in the Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Australian also received a substantial dose of commentary, which either rejected or raised questions about the scientific consensus on human induced climate change.

Some might argue that the negative approach to the carbon policy is simply the result of the application of conventional news values that tend to highlight conflict. But while the negativity of news values may well explain some of patterns revealed by the content analysis, they do not explain why the marked difference between Fairfax and News Ltd papers. The explanation lies rather in different corporate and editorial policies that editors and journalists apply in making decisions about how to cover climate change issues. This does not imply uniformity across a company or a masthead but the patterns of representation are the result of informal policies combined with the application of professional reporting conventions by individual editors and reporters.