4.4 Who Gets A Voice and Who Is Silenced?

4.4.1 Sources

The selection of sources plays an important role in producing journalism. Who gets a voice and what they say has a strong influence on the narrative and message of the story. For this reason, an analysis of quoted sources in reportage - news and features - is another important way of evaluating the nature of News Corp coverage including its bias.

It is hard to influence public debate if you do not have a voice in the media (Thompson, 1995). The capacity of reporters and editors to include and exclude voices is one of the ways in which they exercise power. At the same time, sources use both overt and covert strategies to gain a presence in the media. Previous research revealed that more than 55% of all reportage in one week in ten Australian newspapers was largely based on public relations material, i.e. ‘spin’. The study found that the levels of spin were higher in News Corp outlets and highest for The Daily Telegraph (ACIJ & Crikey, 2012).

If groups are systematically denied a voice, they are effectively silenced (Ericson, Baranek, & Chan, 1989; Cottle, 2003; Bacon & Nash, 2003). Our results suggest that this exclusion applies to News Corp’s treatment of climate change scientists and advocates for action on climate change. As our results also demonstrate, groups and individuals can be denied their own voice as a source and at the same time become the object of derision from reporters, commentators or other sources (see Sections 6.2 and 6.4).

Low levels of sources

First sources are significant because they are likely to provide the primary definition of meaning conveyed to audiences. A second source or further sources may provide contrasting views or amplify the perspective of the first source. For this study, only the first two sources in news and features were coded. Only a small proportion of articles had more than two sources.

More than half of all the news and features (1,796 out of 3,552) had no source or just one source which demonstrates the superficial nature of the reportage across all four News Corp Publications.

Of all news and features (3,552), 13% had no source. For the Herald Sun and Courier Mail this was even higher at 19% (71) and 24% (138) respectively. Of the news and features which had a source (3,089), 43% had only one source and 57% had two or more sources.

The proportion with only one source was highest in the Herald Sun with 53%, and the lowest in the Daily Telegraph with 37%.

The one-dimensional nature of the coverage is not surprising and has been revealed in earlier research into news content on other subjects as well as climate change (ACIJ & Crikey, 2012; Bacon & Nash, 2003; Bacon, 2011). It is likely that the use of single source stories is increasing in light of shrinking editorial resources (ACIJ & ABC, 2014).

4.4.2 Breakdown of sources in four News Corp publications

We sorted both the first and second sources into categories.

Figure 4.4.2.a: Table showing the number of first sources per category per four publications from April 2019 to March 2020.
Figure 4.4.2.b: Table showing the number of second sources per category per four publications from April 2019 to March 2020.

4.4.3 Sources analysis

Political sources dominate

Political sources include all national, state, local and international politicians. Political sources dominated with 47% of all sources. While there was some variation between The Daily Telegraph having 51% and the Herald Sun having 34%, political sources had the highest representation in all publications. This flows from the strong influence of political frames revealed in the themes analysis and reflects the decades-long tussle over policy that dominates coverage of climate change in Australia (Wilkinson, 2020), and the partisan politicisation of coverage of climate change.

Figure 4.4.3.a: Bar graph showing the breakdown of political sources per News Corp publication from April 2019 to March 2020.

The dominance of political sources confirms earlier findings in our 2011 study of three months of coverage of the Gillard Labor government’s carbon price policy, which became known as the ‘carbon tax’. In that study, political sources were used more frequently than any other sources (54% of all sources), reflecting the intensity of the political debate about that policy (Bacon, 2011, p. 42).

Major parties dominate coverage

The political coverage of climate change is largely framed through the contest between Australia’s two major parties - the Liberal National Coalition (hereafter the Coalition) that has been in government nationally since 2013 and the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Of the political sources (2,275), 43% were from the Coalition and 31% were ALP politicians.

The patterns of major party sources across the four publications is fairly similar except for The Daily Telegraph, which gave less space to ALP and more to independents. This can mostly be attributed to NSW coverage of Zali Steggall who defeated the ex-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his federal seat of Warringah in the 2019 Federal election.

Nine percent of political sources were Australian independent or minor party politicians (other than the Greens). This included Independents at the national, state, and local level. Only seven percent of the political sources were Greens at all levels of government.

Lack of depth and diversity in political reportage about climate change

Of those stories that had a source, the first sources were Coalition politicians in 19% or 591 of cases. Of these, 38% or 223 had no second source. These stories nearly always communicated Coalition-preferred political messages without further analysis. The first source was ALP in 14% or 443 stories. Of these 44% or 196 had no second source. Many of these latter stories were negative towards ALP’s policies, highlighting the argument that a climate policy was not fully costed and therefore was not worth supporting.

Figure 4.4.3.b: Table of the top ten political sources in volume and proportions of all sources across four News Corp publications.

The above table shows how the media coverage of climate change is focused on a few spokespeople from major parties. Of the top ten quoted politicians, only one was a woman.

International politicians

Of the remaining political sources, 10% (229) were international politicians. New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern, US President Donald Trump, and President of France Emmanuel Macron received the most mentions. The representation of politicians from non-western countries was negligible with 51 mentions in a year. The ex-President of Tuvalu, Enele Sopoaga, was quoted 9 times. This highlights the narrow western focus of both broader international reporting (Putnis et al, 2000; Bacon & Nash, 2003), and the orientation of coverage of climate change by Australian media. No politicians from the important regional countries Vietnam, Bangladesh or the Philippines were quoted in the first or second sources. All of these countries are predicted to sustain damage and huge losses as a result of climate change.

Readers of News Corp Australia are receiving almost no information about the impacts of climate change at either the global level or in the Indo-Pacific where Australia claims a regional leadership role.

Business sources

Business sources were the next biggest group of sources with 18% of the total. This was less than half the level of political sources. Of 874 business sources, The Australian published 619 or 71%. We broke the business sources down into categories.

Figure 4.4.3.c: Table showing the breakdown of all business sources in reportage items in four News Corp Publications from April 2019 to March 2020.

Together, financial, fossil fuel, and other mining sources accounted for 56% of all business sources quoted.

Renewable business sources

Of the 874 business sources, only 41 represented businesses exclusively focused on renewable forms of energy. Of 41 renewable business sources, the vast majority (36) were in The Australian.

In an editorial of The Australian on 13 November 2019 called ‘Lies, Illusions, extremists stalk the political fringes’ the paper proudly claimed that:

The nation (Australia) is investing in wind and solar power three times faster per capita than Germany and four to five times faster than China, the EU, Japan and the US

Given how well Australia is doing on renewables and the constant claim by News Corp that Australia is doing its part, you might expect more reporting on renewables, relative to fossil fuels and mining.

Moreover, of the 595 news and features where the first source was business, 57% had only one source, and the lack of contestation could be indicative of the promotional nature of the coverage. This is explored in detail in Section 6.3.


There was a very low level of government sources/people working for the public service. This includes heads of government departments. Of all 4845 sources, only 125 or 3% of sources were government sources.

In earlier decades this might have been higher. The low levels reflect an increase in the controls of the communication between public servants and journalists and the increasing influence of ‘political spin’ managed by Ministerial advisors (Stockwell, 2007).

Scientists and other academics

Out of 4,845 sources coded, 177 (4%) across the four publications were scientists (both academic and professional). All other academics were 124. These figures were very low across all publications. In a full year of Herald Sun coverage scientists were quoted on the subject of climate change on only 14 occasions. Even allowing for a margin of error, these figures are very low.

There were 779 news and features stories that were coded as having a science and environment theme across the four News Corp Publications. These are the stories that related climate science or were about environmental impacts of climate change in some way. Of these stories, 667 had a source. Of these, 212 (32%) were political sources and 85 (13%) were scientists.

This means that, in a science and environment story, News Corp is more than twice as likely to quote a politician than a scientist, which is a further indication of the deeply politicised approach to coverage of the science.

For further discussion, see Section 6.1 and 6.2.

Health is a significant issue in climate change

In August 2019, the Australian Medical Association joined other health organisations around the world in recognising climate change as a health emergency. More recently, in mid-November 2020, a coalition of 29 leading health groups wrote to the Australian Prime Minister asking him to apply ‘“the same level of urgency in tackling climate change as you have to the COVID-19 pandemic’”. They warned that ‘“climate change is accelerating, and if our current trajectory continues unchecked, we face existential threats to humanity.’” These levels of concern stand in sharp contrast to the negligible levels of health sources (only 18 occasions over the year) that were quoted as either a first or second source in stories mentioning climate change from April 2019 to the end of March 2020 in four News Corp publications.

Civil society, citizens, and activists

Of 4,845 sources, 658 (14%) were either civil society, citizens, or activists. This total comprised:

On only 20 (4%) occasions were civil society sources coded in stories with a climate science and environment theme. This is despite the very high engagement of those organisations with environmental issues. So although they were so often the object of derision and abuse, they were only occasionally given a voice to respond or state their views. For more discussion, see Sections 6.2 and 6.4.

These current findings confirm our earlier research findings about the low representation of civil society sources in Australian newspapers’ coverage of the Gillard government’s carbon policy. In that study, we found that although environmental NGOs played a prominent role in campaigning for climate change action, they were quoted as the first source on 1% of occasions and overall on only 2% of occasions (Bacon, 2011, p. 45). In case readers of this study might be tempted to dismiss that as a reflection of universal news values, this low use of civil society sources was also a finding in a comparative study of the coverage of COP 15 United Nations Climate change conference in 19 countries. That study 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, p. 25).

Men dominate climate change coverage in News Corp publication

Of the 4,175 identifiable sources, men dominated with 76%, while only 24% were female, and <1% (2) were non-binary. This division, while stark, was even stronger in the business-themed articles with approximately 85% of sources being male.

First Nations sources

There were very few stories which a quoted source was identified as First Nations source in an article that mentioned climate change. We only identified 11 stories in which a source was identified as a First Nations person. Several of these were in relation to Aboriginal knowledge and experience of fire in a story that referred to climate change. There were also several mentions in small positive stories. For example, in an article promoting the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair. In this story, journalist Angela Saurine writes that with ‘natural wonders unlike anywhere in the world, it is not surprising that issues of climate change will take centre stage at this year’s event.’ She quotes Artistic Director Janina Harding as saying, ‘there are a multitude of changes to the environment that we have witnessed on our homelands in Queensland and the Torres Strait that we know are related to climate change’ (‘Climate Change up in lights at arts fair’, Courier Mail online, 13 Feb. 2020). Nowhere in our year’s sample could we identify coverage of these issues. We also could not find any stories about concerns being expressed by the Central Land Council about impact of heat on communities in Alice Springs and remote communities. There was a story about the need to cull camels causing damage in drought-stricken Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

4.4.4 Conclusion

Overall, this analysis shows that News Corp’s coverage of climate change was heavily influenced by male elite sources which include a large number of Federal politicians from the Coalition and ALP.

More financial and fossil fuel sources were quoted than those associated with renewable businesses. Much of the business coverage was in The Australian rather than the three tabloids and was often single-sourced, i.e. promotional.

Environmental, scientific, and health sources are marginalised although they actively engage in addressing climate change issues. Audiences received almost no information about the global or Asia-Pacific impacts of climate change. First Nations sources are rendered all but invisible in News Corp coverage of climate change.