Sky News And Beyond: Why Australia’s Media Problems Go Deeper Than Our Right-Wing Commentators

Miranda Devine blaming "leftist violence" for the Capitol Building riots is just the beginning.

US Capitol Building

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The violent attempted coup by Donald Trump supporters in Washington DC may have come to an end, but the misinformation being spread about it continues to escalate, including in Australia.

Today, numerous right-wing presenters and commentators who regularly appear on ‘Sky After Dark’ have suggested “leftist violence” led to this event. But they’re not the only ones in the media responsible for the spread and legitimisation of right-wing aggression and extremism.

The coup, referred to as “domestic terrorism” by US Senator Chuck Schumer, was incited by the outgoing president’s continued false claims that he won the US election. In his “Save America Rally”, Trump encouraged thousands of his supporters to rally at the Capitol building where members of Congress were meeting to certify Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

The US Capitol Police were not prepared for the violence which ensued — unsurprisingly, they did not appear to take right-wing extremism seriously — leaving one person dead, many others injured, and a city under curfew.

So, what does the Australian media — let alone a TV channel not many Australians have even heard of — got to do with any of this?

Well, a lot more than you may realise.

While Sky News Australia’s viewership is a fraction of other TV broadcasters, they’ve been responsible for pro-Trump coverage and the spread of US election misinformation in a place that’s given them far more power than TV: online.

On YouTube, the broadcaster has 1.1 million subscribers — a number that sits just below the ABC’s 1.25 million. On the platform their strategy is to cater to a global audience, as reported by Business Insider’s Cameron Wilson. None of the channel’s top 10 videos are about Australian issues — five of them, with millions of views each, are about US politics instead.

As per Wilson’s reporting, the videos on US politics focus on “topics favoured by America’s rightwing media ecosystem” and spreading misinformation about disproven US voter fraud has been high on the agenda since the election.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the social media giants who have been credited for the increasing division between the left and the right worldwide.

Sky’s partnership with YouTube and Facebook has made this possible — the same Facebook which has today locked Trump’s social media accounts for the next 24 hours.

Sky’s coverage of the coup described the event as a face-off between “Trump fans” and the police. While Miranda Devine, James Morrow, and Rita Panahi — who are all featured on Sky News’ ‘after-dark’ programs in various capacities — have all alluded to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests making way for today’s extremist violence at the Capitol.

Other Sky journalists who host news programs at the channel, including Kieran Gilbert, Laura Jayes, and the now-departed David Speers (who now works at the ABC) have failed to speak out against ‘After Dark’. Jayes, the host of ‘First Edition’, tweeted her thoughts about Trump’s actions following the attempted coup, but did not make mention of her workplace or colleagues’ commentary of the event.

Staff at outlets like the New York Times, BBC, and even The Australian have penned open letters and taken a stand against what their workplaces have deemed worth publishing. To expect similar action from Sky News staff is not beyond the realms of possibility.

However, Australian media’s problem with reporting on right-wing violence and extremism does not begin and end with Sky News, nor with Murdoch-owned media.

While Sky is obvious to call out, the Australian media as a whole has bought into a dangerous game of ‘false balance’. Increasingly, key figures of the alt-right have appeared on mainstream media platforms seemingly to provide balance against facts — not opinions — about issues ranging from climate change to racial inequity.

Only two months ago Katharine Murphy, Guardian Australia’s political editor, wrote about being against the de-platforming of Steve Bannon. In 2018, both Sarah Ferguson and Leigh Sales of the ABC did the same.

These are mainstream journalists and, for many Australians, household names. And while they may not be furthering misinformation and spreading dishonesty, what they are doing is far more deeply entrenched in the Australian media and, therefore, much harder to stamp out.

What starts as a strive for fairness, balance, and impartiality, quickly becomes a force for the spread and legitimisation of dangerous misinformation. The real-life implications of this pattern is what we saw in Washington today, what we saw in Christchurch almost two years ago, and what we may soon see soon on our own shores.