4.8 Sources quoted

It is hard to influence public policy if you do not have a voice in the media (Thompson, 1990; Ericson 1989). At the heart of journalism is the relationship between journalists and their sources (Ericson, 1990; Cottle, 2003; Roberts & Nash, 2009). The inclusion or exclusion of sources is one significant way in which media exercises power. An analysis of quoted sources is therefore an important way of assessing the nature of coverage. The first three sources in all news and features articles across the six months were coded.

More than 11% of articles had no source at all and another 30% of the rest of the articles had only one source. This indicates the one-dimensional nature of many articles. Articles that quote only one source are likely to convey a single message although it is possible to quote a source and then critique that source with other information. One-source articles can also be used as part of packages.

While the practice of using single source articles may be understandable in the light of shrinking editorial resources, it leaves the media more open to publishing promotional articles without scrutiny.

Examples of single source articles

‘Steelmaker blasts carbon tax plan’ (Courier Mail, February 22, 2011).

The story’s lead paragraph was:

"BLUESCOPE Steel chief Paul O'Malley has knocked the Federal Government's carbon tax plan, declaring it unfair, discriminatory and “not good' for the steel industry.”

Although the story did not quote any other source, it did background the recent Bluescope losses.

‘Carbon Tax not fair: Oil giant’ (Herald Sun, March 7, 2011).

"AUSTRALIA'S largest oil and gas producer, Woodside Petroleum, says it should be exempt from paying any carbon tax. Woodside yesterday said, as a trade-exposed exporter, the company believed it should not pay any price on carbon “Woodside believes the company's trade-exposed exports should be exempt from any price on carbon, given the absence of an international agreement on pricing greenhouse gas emissions,' it said.” We divided the sources up into the following categories:

Figure 4.8.1: Number of first three types of sources quoted and percentage of total for each type of source, across 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.
Type of source First source Second source Third source Total % of first three sources
Political - Labor 773 464 259 1496 28%
Business 622 395 217 1234 23%
Political - Coalition 370 378 194 942 18%
Academic 167 86 52 305 6%
Political - Greens 105 101 75 281 5%
Public 90 59 49 198 4%
Political - Independent 78 59 47 184 3%
Government 87 35 38 160 3%
Media figures 45 53 31 129 2%
Unions 49 35 17 101 2%
NGO 34 30 19 83 2%
Think tank 35 24 21 80 1%
Scientist 27 16 11 54 1%
Activist 19 24 2 45 1%
Other 23 14 6 43 1%
International sources 12 2 3 17 <1%
Farmer 11 5 0 16 <1%
Religious 5 0 0 5 <1%
Total 2552 1780 1041 5373 100%

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54% of all sources coded were political sources, showing the strong political framing of the issue. Gillard government politicians were quoted on 28% of all occasions. This was expected as government politicians announce and initially frame policy. Many of these occasions were around time of major announcements.

Coalition sources (18%) were quoted less often than Labor sources (28%). Labor Ministers as spear headers of the carbon policy did have access but were also often quoted in response to business critics. As Figure 4.7.1 shows, there was little focus on Abbott's policy so demands for him to respond to criticism. However as Figures 4.8.1 and 4.5.2 show, the Coalition's anti carbon ‘tax' message that was nevertheless promoted through the print and online media overall.

Business sources (23%) were more frequently used as first sources than all civil society sources, which include Non-government organisations, members of the public, academics, think tanks, religious spokespeople, unions, activists and scientists (17%). A strong narrative was the conflict between the Labor government and business opponents of the policy, rather than a broader debate involving many community interest groups.

The low use of civil society sources by Australian newspapers confirms an earlier finding in a comparative study of the coverage of COP 15 United Nations Climate change conference in 19 countries that found that Australian newspapers (SMH and The Daily Telegraph) gave less coverage to civil society sources than newspapers in other countries including China, United States, Sweden, Brazil and Canada. The only countries that had a lower proportion of civil society sources were Pakistan and Israel. (Eide, Kunelius & Kumpu, 2010: 25) O CHECK

Figure 4.8.2: Type of first source quoted in articles on climate policy, across 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.
Type of source Total % of total
Political - Labor 773 30%
Business 622 24%
Political - Coalition 370 14%
Academic 167 7%
Political - Greens 105 4%
Public 90 4%
Government 87 3%
Political - Independent 78 3%
Unions 49 2%
Media figures 45 2%
Think tank 35 1%
NGO 34 1%
Scientist 27 1%
Other 23 1%
Activist 19 1%
International sources 12 <1%
Farmer 11 <1%
Religious 5 <1%
Total 2548 100%

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First sources are significant because they are most likely to provide the primary definition of meaning. On 30% of occasions, Labor sources were quoted first. Business sources were quoted first on nearly one quarter of occasions and more frequently than the Opposition Coalition. The issue tended to be framed in terms of a conflict between the Labor government (Holding power with the support of Greens and Independents) and business interests.

Despite the fact that Greens played a key role in negotiations over the carbon policy and are often criticised for wielding too much influence over the government, they were only quoted as one of first three sources on 5% of occasions and as a first source on 4% of occasions.

Non-government organisations that had played a prominent role in campaigning for climate change action were quoted as first source on 1% of occasions and overall on only 2% of occasions. To some extent this reflects the high concentration on business sources. In mainstream news journalism, business sources are rarely critiqued by non-business sources. The most frequently quoted think-tank was The Climate Institute, an organisation established in 2005 to promote climate change action, was quoted more than twice as frequently as any other think tank source.

The business sources were further coded according to industry. The result showed that sources linked to fossil fuel dependent industries were quoted more frequently than sources for any other industries. Energy (Other), which included the renewable energy sector, received low coverage.

Figure 4.8.3: Number of times industries of business were quoted and percentages of business sources and all sources, across 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.
Industry of business Total sources % of business sources % of all sources
Fossil fuel* 426 35% 8%
Financial 245 20% 5%
General** 141 11% 3%
Construction 65 5% 1%
Retail - food 64 5% 1%
Transport 62 5% 1%
Energy - other 60 5% 1%
Manufacturing- other 35 3% 1%
Manufacturing - auto 31 3% 1%
Retail - other 30 2% 1%
Communication 25 2% <1%
Primary - agricultural/food 22 2% <1%
N/A 21 2% <1%
Tourism 4 <1% <1%
Legal 3 <1% <1%
Total 1234 100% 24%

* Fossil fuel industries including those dependent on fossil fuel industries including aluminum and steel.

** General sources include peak councils such as the Business Council of Australia

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Individual business sources were also compared, demonstrating that Bluescope Steel was quoted 71 times, far more than any other business source. This was more than the number of times all NGOs and scientists were quoted. Figure 4.8.4 also shows that peak councils such as the Business Council of Australia, Minerals Councils of Australia and Australian Coal Association achieved very strong representation.

Despite the fact that many businesses supported the policy, all top-ten business sources were quoted making negative statements about the policy, although some said they were in favour of carbon pricing in general. Some, such as Business Council of Australia, were cautiously favorable earlier in the period and quoted in more negative ways by July when the details of the policy were announced.

Figure 4.8.4: Top ten business sources quoted, in 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.
Name of business Total % of business
Bluescope Steel 71 6%
Business Council of Australia 33 3%
Minerals Council of Australia 31 3%
Woodside Petroleum 30 2%
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry 28 2%
Australian Coal Association 27 2%
Qantas 25 2%
Rio TInto 25 2%
OneSteel 25 2%
Australian Industry Group 23 2%
Total 318 100%

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The three people quoted as first sources more than any other business sources were Paul O’Malley (CEO, Bluescope Steel), Don Voelte (Woodside - LNG Gas) and Graeme Kraehe (Chairman - Bluescope Steel).

In some cases, different media outlets interpreted company statements more or less negatively. Qantas provides a good example of how a press release can be interpreted in different ways.

On July 11, Qantas put out a press release stating that the carbon policy would cost the airline $110 –115 million and that the full cost would be passed onto consumers.

The cost to a domestic fare was estimated at $3.50. The SMH published this story with the heading ‘Airlines count the costs of carbon tax' (SMH, July 11, 2011), whilst news.com.au published 'Qantas slashes profit expectation by $110m as carbon tax set in’ (news.com.au, July 11, 2011). Both stuck closely to the content of the release.

ABCPM radio, on the other hand, took up the story on the same day and interviewed other sources including Macquarie Private Wealth division director Martin Lakos, who pointed out it was a little too early to be making clear predictions about the impact of the carbon tax on the economy: "You know we've had this announcement you know for 24 hours only and so the complete analysis has not been completed.”

Crikey diverged from the press release with Plane Talking blogger Ben Sandilands’ different interpretation: ‘Carbon tax impact on Qantas similar to parking for a few extra minutes at Sydney or Melbourne Airport’ (July 11, 2011). He began:

"Although Qantas has couched its ASX statement on the impact of the carbon tax on domestic air fares in end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it terms it says it will only average an additional $3.50 per sector in the financial year to June 30, 2013.”

Figure 4.8.5: Breakdown of stance of business sources quoted 4 times or more, across 10 Australian newspapers from Feb. - Jul. 2011.
Newspaper Negative Neutral Positive Total
The Northern Territory News 16 94% 0 0% 1 6% 17
The Daily Telegraph 42 89% 2 4% 3 6% 47
The Courier Mail 51 88% 0 0% 7 12% 58
The Advertiser 49 83% 2 3% 8 14% 59
Herald Sun 67 82% 4 5% 11 13% 82
The Age 89 80% 3 3% 19 17% 111
The Sydney Morning Herald 87 76% 3 3% 26 22% 115
The Australian 220 75% 19 7% 53 18% 290
The West Australian 17 74% 0 0% 6 26% 23
The Mercury 15 71% 3 14% 3 14% 21
Total 653 79% 36 4% 137 17% 826

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Figure 4.8.5 shows the negative stance of most business sources quoted 4 or more times over the 6-month period. Many Australian readers would have been left with the impression that the business community was opposed to the carbon price policy. In fact this was far from true.

The NT News, The Daily Telegraph and The Courier Mail were particularly negative in their choice of business sources but The Age, the SMH and The Australian also strongly represented business sources opposed to the policy.

Small business owners were also selected who mostly represented the anti carbon policy position.


On July 8, 2011, The West Australian piece ‘Drycleaners feel the heat’, began:

"The price of sprucing up one's glad rags could rise amid fears the carbon tax will drive up the cost of drycleaning.

Drycleaners fear they will be saddled with increased costs as the tax hits their energy bills and other expenses, including Australian-made coat- hangers.

While the industry is likely to be spared a rise in chemical bills because most of its solvents are imported, a carbon tax-driven gas and electricity rise of 10 to 15 per cent could put an extra burden on an industry hit by power bills rising 57 per cent over three years.

Ad Astra Dry cleaning co-owner Joel Rogers said he expected running costs to rise about 5 per cent because of the carbon tax and he would probably have to pass that on to customers eventually.”

On July 8, the Herald Sun ran a short story under the headline: ‘Slice of Profits eaten up’. The article featured cake specialist Rebecca Marnock who, despite the definite tone of the headline, was quoted in the lead paragraph as saying that she "understood little about the carbon tax but did not think it would be a cause for celebration.” Further down, she repeats, "I don’t know much about the carbon tax up at all. But if our prices go up fro our suppliers, there is every chance our prices would go up. If they went up too much, some wouldn’t pay for them– they might try to make their own.” (‘Slice of profits eaten up.’ Herald Sun, July 8, 2011).

Journalists often select their sources to further illustrate points established by other evidence or to indicate a range of views. On the carbon debate, a range of sources was available. A feature in The Age, March 5 quoted a control room operator at Loy Yang Power station in the coalfields of the Latrobe Valley who was quoted as saying despite the potential future closure of the station, action on climate change was urgent. (‘On the carbon row front line' The Age, March 5, 2011. On other occasions, The Age quoted Latrobe Valley sources who were opposed to the tax.

While a selection of human interest sources is a conventional technique of media packages coming out of major announcements, the reader is provided with no objective way of assessing whether dry-cleaner Joe Rogers’ response to the carbon price policy is realistic or not.

In early July 50 businesses, including the global giant GE, AGL, the Body Shop and others signed a statement backing the price on carbon. This move was a deliberate attempt to counter the success of the anti-policy business lobby and gain more coverage for the pro-policy business community. An organisation was formed Businesses for a Clean Economy to address concerns that many businesses were not ‘getting a say’. This story was taken up the ABC, which reported that in fact 100 businesses had joined the group.

Several companies in the group were interviewed including Graeme Wise, the Body Shop's chairman.

GRAEME WISE: The debate has become I think very selfish and very narrow. The point we're making and I think a lot of companies have joined us in making is that this is not talking about short-term profits for a few big companies, this is talking about the reduction of pollution and the best way of doing that.

SUE LANNIN: A new website called Business for a Clean Economy has also been set up.

Lane Crockett from renewable energy company Pacific Hydro says it's time for a price on carbon.

LANE CROCKETT: Businesses are behind the transition of our economy to a low emissions economy. We believe that it's better to take action now than wait and in fact from Pacific Hydro's view we'd say we're well past the time when we should have started to take action to reduce our emissions.

SUE LANNIN: With loud opposition to a carbon tax from the mining industry, Graeme Wise says the debate has been skewed by vested interests.

GRAEME WISE: As Mandy Rice-Davies said, “they would say that wouldn't they?'

The vested interests of that people is basically, seems to be driving this whole debate and I feel that it's time for the people who actually are part of the general Australian economy to make a stand on this and say what they really think.

This story was taken up by AAP and run in The Canberra Times, Financial Review, several regional newspapers and MX News Ltd.’s give-away newspaper in Brisbane and Sydney. It was also mentioned in one paragraph at the end of a feature of more than 1200 words published by The Australian.

The rest of the article covered a number of issues about compensation including complaints by The Australian Coal Association (‘Emergency aid for power plants’, The Australian, July 6, 2011).

Despite the pro-carbon policy business initiative, several days later The Australian reported: "Industry remains opposed to carbon tax, following release of key details of the package.” ‘Industry’ was quoted as saying that the carbon tax was "unnecessarily punitive and fails to provide adequate compensation to impacted sectors.” Seven sources were quoted. The only source quoted who was not negative was The Australian Trucking Association who welcomed the decision to exempt the trucking industry from carbon tax until July 1, 2014. (‘Industry remains opposed to the carbon tax, following release of key details of the package’, The Australian, July 10, 2011).

The following day, The Australian published another story: ‘Coal Industry fears $18bn hit from Gillard’s carbon tax’. It quoted mining giant Anglo-American saying that a promised $1.3 billion assistance package would not be enough. This article also quoted Rio Tinto, the Minerals Council of Australia, The Australian Coal Association, The Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and The Australian Aluminium Council who all were opposed to the government’s assistance package. It quoted the government as forecasting average income growth would slow by "just 0.1% but counted this with the views of unnamed ‘economists’ who ‘said the tax would be negative for growth.” (‘Coal Industry fears $18bn hit from Gillard’s Carbon Tax”, The Australian, July 10, 2011).

Since the ‘economists’ were not named it is not possible to report whether any of them included the panel of market economists surveyed by The Age’s Tim Colebatch who had reported just five days earlier that they "unanimously endorse a price on carbon as the best way to tackle climate change.” (‘Carbon tax the way forward: economists’, The Age, July 6, 2011). It could be said that Colebach had also selected sources to reach the result he preferred but there is no evidence of that and since he named all his sources so that readers could assess their credibility for themselves.