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ABC news director says politics receives too much coverage in Australia

The launch "controller" of the ABC's 24-hour news channel now claims politics is over-reported in Australia. Plus other tips from the week.

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours…

News, news everywhere. The ABC’s news director Gaven Morris took some time out this morning from a busy couple of weeks at the national broadcaster to share his thoughts on the University of Canberra’s latest Digital news report, published today. Reflecting on the rather depressing findings about just how disengaged Australians are with the news and with politics, Morris talked about how Australians were overwhelmed with sources of news and information, and politics was over-reported in Australia:

“This is a struggle within the ABC as much as anywhere else. We spend too much time doing incidental things about politics beyond most people’s interest. We’re interviewing politicians who don’t have anything to say, which has become a real trend in the last 10 or 15 years, you know, just fill a slot with a politician because they’ll fill some air but they don’t have anything to say. And we don’t necessarily hold them to account to say something, we’re happy for them to fill the airtime, but I think that’s a problem.”

Morris’ concern with politicians filling empty air sounded like an apt description of much of the content on the ABCs own 24-hour news channel, of which Morris himself was the launch “controller”. While he was in charge, he was much less pessimistic about the channel, then called ABC News 24. Celebrating its one-year anniversary in 2011, Morris was quoted in an ABC press release waxing lyrical about how important the channel was: “The past year has shown us that there is a demand for a 24 hour news channel, free and accessible for all Australians, and people are switching on to it, particularly during times of crisis … We aim to make ABC News 24 not only the best possible live news service but also the television home of informed discussion and debate.”

Tele flop. The Daily Telegraph’s latest baseless attack on transgender children has been found by the Australian Press Council to be just that — utterly baseless. The ruling concerned a 2017 article by Miranda Devine, who has a long history of using the most innocuous incidents to try to whip up reactionary outrage over gender issues in schools. In the article, run online under the hysterical headline “What madness can justify mutilating our children?”, Devine claimed that medical procedures for transgender children were a form of child abuse, that there was no evidence transitioning would lead to a reduction in self-harm and suicide, and that new Victorian laws would punish therapists who opposed transitioning children.

The council found the claim that there was no evidence transitioning would improve mental health breached requirements that published material take steps to ensure factual material is factual and not misleading, and that expressions of opinion are not based on significantly inaccurate factual material. The Telegraph has form breaching press council standards when it comes to gender-related issues. Just last month, an article falsely claiming the Australian Defence Force had banned soldiers from using the words “him” or “her” was also found to have breached standards.

Build it and they will succumb. Once a sure-fire way for the young and stingy to avoid paywalls, the incognito-mode loophole may be in its dying dies. By switching a web browser to private (or “incognito”) mode, a website can’t read your cookies, making this an incredibly easy way to get around a metered paywall (one where you can read a certain number of free articles a month). But recently, The New York Times has begun clamping down on freeloaders, and blocking users from reading articles in incognito windows. Trying to read a Times article in incognito mode will prompt a message asking a user to log in or create a free account.

The New York Times’ pop-up message to would-be misers.

Tweets spelling the end of the incognito get around began appearing earlier this year, but it seemed like the crackdown was inconsistent, and still at a testing phase. It’s unclear whether the restriction is still being tested, but it does seem like it is now in place for more Australian users. Yet more reason to pay for your journalism.

Lies, damnation and statistics. A week from today, Victoria will be the first state in Australia to pass voluntary euthanasia laws, and the Catholic Church is on the offensive. The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney recently put out a video attacking the laws, asking how long it will take for Victoria to look like Belgium. The video then proceeds to rattle off some ostensibly terrifying statistics about euthanasia in Belgium.

The claim that every three days one person in Belgium is euthanised without their consent is based, according to the video, on a survey in Belgium from 2010. The figures quoted in the video, and the study itself, regularly appear on pro-life websites. The problem is they’re misleading — a careful read of the article in question indicated that assisted dying without a patient’s explicit request only happened 1.8% of the time. Rather than non-consensual euthanasia procedures, this figure usually pointed to instances where a comatose patient’s death was accelerated by giving drugs or turning off life support.

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