alan jones
Alan Jones (Image: Sky News Australia)

Fewer than one in 10 complaints made to Australia’s media watchdog about Sky News since the beginning of 2020 were assessed to decide whether it was in the public interest to investigate whether they breached broadcasting codes of practice.

A response to a freedom of information (FOI) request sent to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) reveals that the statutory authority received 77 complaints about News Corp’s Australian news channel between January 1, 2020, and August 1, 2021. 

Of those, just six were assessed by ACMA including: 

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  • One which led to an investigation into Alan Jones’ comments on COVID-19 that found no breach (despite finding that Jones misrepresented research to argue that masks don’t help stop the spread of the disease)
  • One assessed as “unlikely to reach the high bar” to violate guidelines
  • Four that are under investigation.

The remainder of the complaints were dismissed for administrative reasons:

  • 47 complainants were referred back to Sky News as ACMA will assess a complaint only once a broadcaster has an opportunity to respond
  • 16 were “provided information”, which means advising complainants that ACMA does not regulate online content
  • Eight did not provide enough details to launch an investigation.

Additionally, ACMA’s customer service centre spoke to 16 people who contacted it about Sky News content, and provided them with further information.

This builds on previous reporting that ACMA received 31 complaints specifically about Sky’s coverage of the pandemic since the beginning of 2020.

ACMA’s content investigations section manager Jennifer Allen, who disclosed these figures as part of correspondence with someone who had sent in a FOI request, also commented on why the regulator hadn’t acted when YouTube did.

“The ACMA does not have jurisdiction to take and assess complaints about content on digital platforms,” she said. “In this case we understand that YouTube has made its decision to suspend Sky News according to its own policies for its platform.” 

ACMA has been criticised for failing to sanction Sky News for its promotion of misinformation. In an interview published on Monday in Nine papers, former prime minister Kevin Rudd said ACMA’s failure to rein in Sky News meant it should be abolished.

“[ACMA] has done nothing while Murdoch’s Sky News denied the pandemic, preached anti-vaccine nonsense, and accused medical experts of conspiring to conceal the truth from the public,” he said.

Representatives from ACMA and Sky News are scheduled to appear before a postponed hearing of the Senate’s media diversity inquiry.

Do you agree with Kevin Rudd that ACMA should be abolished? Let us know your thoughts by writing to [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say columnWe reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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