Concerns over impartiality, commercial influence in news

More than 8 in 10 Australian adults are concerned about large advertisers influencing the news, according to new research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin said the ACMA is looking at how the commercial broadcast news industry has changed due to digital disruption and whether current regulatory arrangements are fit for purpose.

“There is ongoing debate about the credibility of news delivered online. But TV and radio remain an important source of news for the majority of Australians. If audiences have concerns about the credibility of news on TV and radio, then these need to be addressed by industry,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

ACMA research found a range of concerns from Australians about the impartiality of, and commercial influence in, news:

  • 88 per cent are concerned news is made more dramatic or sensational to attract more readers or viewers.
  • 85 per cent are concerned news is reported from a particular point of view rather than being balanced or impartial.
  • 79 per cent were concerned that there was difficulty in telling when a journalist is expressing an opinion rather than reporting the facts.
  • 77 per cent are concerned about commercial businesses paying to have their products or services featured in the news, but not disclosing the payment.
  • 97 per cent reported noticing commercial influence in at least one news source.
  • 58 per cent consider that there is now more commercial influence in Australian news today, compared with three years ago.

“As Australia’s broadcasting regulator, we want to make sure that current regulatory arrangements still do the job they were designed to do in the contemporary broadcasting news environment. For example, we are interested in whether the move from half-hour news bulletins towards hour-long hybrid news and current affairs programs has impacted the impartiality of news reporting,” Ms O’Loughlin said.

“It’s also an opportunity to look at principles relating to impartiality and commercial influence that might usefully apply to the delivery of news on online platforms.”

The ACMA is seeking comment from industry stakeholders and news audiences by Friday 28 February.


  1. Nice of ACMA to wake from their slumber, I brought up the issue of product placement embedded throughout current affairs and nearly all the lifestyle/reality content on air almost 15 years ago in writing, and got a “move along, nothing to see here folks” response from ACMA, which justifiably has the reputation as as the miniature teacup poodle of media watchdogs.

    • I agree. For too long, programs like Today Tonight (no longer airing, thank god) and Alleged Current Affair has been airing nothing but infomercials disguised as “current affairs”, and their stupid excuse, “we are giving the public what they want.” And I agree is that it is also lifestyle/reality content also has embedded advertising, like in Big Brother how the housemates eats KFC or branded content that airs on weekends (which I don’t watch).

      Bad sadly eastwest101, I think it is going to get worse as the media gets more and more concentrated and starts forcing these advertising down our throats, disguised as “news” and “current affairs”. Everything is being bastardised as advertising is getting into everything.

      And did anyone know that the most popular add-on on web browsers is ad-blockers?

  2. The ACMA says people are concerned about 4 issues: sensationalism, journalists pushing agendas instead of being objective, lack of separation of news and op-ed and commerical influence on news.

    Curiously the ACMA the one with with lowest concerns, commercial influence 3 times. The Fairfax article that reported on it mentioned only that issue in a thinly veiled attack on Nine’s other arms, radio and TV. They also refused to do an interview with Nadal before the AO because his PR people insisted the papers plug the insurance company that is now one of his sponsors.

    Payment for comment is actually the least troubling because any payment in cash or kind must be declared as sponsorship and the AMCA does police that rigorously e.g. the Jones and Laws Cash For Comment prosecutions. What is actually happening is that businesses are providing free, light-entertainment plugging their…

  3. It would be nice to see some impartialilty on the ABC news which seems to be getting even more leaning to the left with completely unbalanced coverage.

  4. This is a familiar topic on “Media Watch” but nothing seems to change. The Govt has a “hands-off” approach to commercial TV and leaves it all to ACMA which we all know is a toothless tiger.

  5. I agree commercial news services have no credibility left. What about those segments involving Brooke Bonney “reviewing” a film release? It’s a thinly veiled commercial, so where’s her credibility?

  6. David writes “the ACMA is looking at how the commercial broadcast news industry had changed”. Actually, no. The study is about “the broadcast industry” – including the ABC. In fact, one of the findings is that ” One study found that only 51% of Australian news consumers ‘understood that the ABC is free of advertising and funded by taxpayers’”.

    • Firstly, I’ve amended a typo which should indicate “has” changed not “had.” Secondly, the sentence refers to ACMA Chair Nerida O’Loughlin so I’m not in a position to alter the context of her statement. Thirdly, the scope of the ACMA’s inquiry does not extend to ABC and SBS, as the ACMA does not have a role in registering the ABC and SBS codes, and, as such, does not approve their content.

      • It is an ACMA discussion paper – not an inquiry – and it is titled “Impartiality and commercial influence in broadcast news”‘ it makes no distinction between commercial and ABC and is seeking comment from “industry stakeholders and the public”. There are several references to the ABC in the paper (including its editorial policies and that it “leaned towards Labor” in addition to the one I have already quoted; the ACMA is now “seeking your comments on impartiality and commercial influence in broadcast news” – not “commercial broadcast news”. It is always more helpful when people actually read the full detail and not grab at click-bait headlines.

        • With respect we are getting into semantics. It’s not a formal inquiry no, but even the discussion paper notes the scope of their “inquiry” does not cover ABC / SBS. In any case I am still not in a position to change the context of Nerida O’Loughlin’s statement which you can see for yourself here. I offer links for the very reason to facilitate people drilling down and reading more and reject any implication of clickbait here. It accurately represents the topic, but thanks for feedback again.

  7. And this is why I don’t trust commercial news bulletins, as its all fake news now. Look at A “Current Affair”, which is not even current affairs now, and it was proven by the Married at First Sight wedding special a couple of weeks ago. And just last week, there was a taste test. How much money did Nine get for that taste test story.

    We are seeing the bastardisation of news and current affairs, in which commercial interests are given precedence over real news, but the commercial stations are basically saying “we are giving people what they want”. No they are not. They are giving advertisers what they want, not what we want, which is actual news, not Kardashians or the royals.

  8. Commercials being masqueraded as genuine news stories has certainly become more prevalent ever since commercial news services extended to an extra half hour. Whenever they run out of stories on the Royals or the Kardashians they use their commercial arrangements to fill their hour long news time.

  9. I got so disillusioned with the quality of the news on TV that I never watch it anymore if I can avoid it. Even opinions are reported as if they are factual news. I’m also starting to think that only females go to journalism school now (I guess that’s not strictly true, Most of the reporters seem to have gone to acting classes and skipped the grammar classes)

    • I think the problem is that many “journalists” on commercial stations tend to have a degree in Public Relations and not journalism; and I think that it is disturbing for the future.

      • There was no degree in Journalism in Australia. It used to be in house cadetships, that any High School graduate with intelligence and good communications skills could apply for, and involved training organised by the organisation in skills including typing, shorthand, journalism and ethics.

        Post Dawkins reforms we got the Communications Degree which covers Media skills for journalists and PR and is mostly about how to effectively communicate your viewpoint to people (your viewpoint being of course the one true viewpoint of modern humanities).

        With the rise of the Internet, there are only a handful of jobs in journalism, so most end up in corporate or government PR and marketing. As marketing has become less about flogging widgets and more about creating and protecting a Brand, by advocating only the one true viewpoint.

  10. Well overdue. The news on the channel I watch act like a PR team of the state government. Nightly they eagerly follow the news releases pointing out the perceived positives, but never mentioning likely negatives.
    Whilst I recognise it’s a balancing act, IMHO the sensationism of the TV News towards bushfires encourages the lunatics in society to come out. I noticed the previous two summers that the reporters were in position in their gear and there seemed to be disappointment that there was nothing to report.

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