Michael Pascoe: ‘Insult-style conservatism’ – Murdoch media can sink lower

A toothless regulator does Australia no favours, writes Michael Pascoe.

A toothless regulator does Australia no favours, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: TND/Getty

The bad news is that, yes, the Murdoch media we’re used to in Australia can stoop lower in pursuit of its anger-and-outrage audience. It has already done so in the US.

For a preview of where Sky News is heading, it’s easy to check the direction of the Murdoch-format pacesetter, Fox News.

According to a New York Times feature last month on Fox News’ rising star, Greg Gutfeld, “insult conservatism” is the institutional voice for the next generation of Fox viewer.

Fresh from the pain – and the lesson – of its $1.2 billion Dominion defamation settlement, it looks like Fox wants to play the “joking/not joking” card more as a means of keeping the outrage coming.

The NYT article begins:

“One evening in May, the most-watched man in late-night television these days staked out a curious if characteristic position: A 38-year-old teacher who allegedly had sex with a 16-year-old student, the host said, was the hero this nation needed.”

Understandably, Gutfeld’s “joke” sparked plenty of outrage, the network’s currency, and Gutfeld has been promoted, his late-night show moved to start an hour earlier at 10pm on the east coast. He also co-hosts a weekly program that is the most-watched on American cable news.

The NYT theorised that Gutfeld has capitalised on a defining talent he shares with Donald Trump: “A kind of insult conservatism that can frame any serious argument as a joke and any joke as a serious argument, leaving viewers to suss out the distinction.”

The newspaper quotes Nick Marx, a Colorado State University professor and co-author of a book about right-leaning comedy, as saying Gutfeld’s shtick was the troubling culmination of Fox’s commingling of news and entertainment.

The more obviously clownish elements of the local Sky After Dark line-up are already on the Gutfeld track.

 Science, it means nothing to Sky

You might think Rowan Dean is only joking with his whole climate-change-is-a-hoax routine – or is he? The problem is that a hefty percentage of Fox and Sky viewers haven’t much talent for sussing this out and are more there for the outrage-triggering.

And the nifty thing about developing the angry audience beloved by shock jocks and tabloid media is that it’s loud and proud and self-promoting.

“Angry people are more likely to engage in debates with people having both similar and opposing views,” according to academic research.

“They also seek out information confirming their views more frequently.”

The various PhDs argue that anger reinforces echo-chambers and trench warfare dynamics in the digital public sphere.

Mr Turnbull took aim at News Corp this week. Photo: AAP

Purely on the Sky News-Foxtel audience, the numbers are so small as not to matter other than within the Liberal Party. There are few people prepared to pay money to get their blood pressure up with the mixture of conspiracy theories, Labor bashing and general ranting that characterises the After Dark rabble.

But the streamed content is not what counts to Murdoch.

As Malcolm Turnbull and Sharan Burrow explained in a withering feature in The Guardian, the streamed version mainly exists to provide content for Sky’s YouTube market.

“Sky News Australia has pursued an aggressive YouTube strategy, leveraging the platform’s algorithmic preference for anger-inducing content to attract eyeballs and subscribers,” the pair wrote.

“Sky News Australia has 3.43 million YouTube subscribers – more than the ABC and 7News combined. Across digital platforms, their videos claim to have had more than 1.5 billion views.”

On top of their newspapers and a deal with regional broadcasters to carry Sky on free-to-air networks, that makes the Murdochs’ mis-and-disinformation campaigns an even bigger worry, whether on climate, the Voice or mere daily politics.

“It is wholly unsurprising that Sky News Australia has overwhelmingly rallied against the Voice to Parliament,” wrote Mr Turnbull and Ms Burrow. “Sky has promoted misinformation, just as its sister network, Fox News, has done in the US.”

‘Disregard for truth, fact …’

“This disregard for truth, fact and the most basic of journalistic standards must be of concern in any democracy, yet it goes unchecked as the Murdoch empire extends its reach,” Mr Turnbull and Ms Burrow wrote.

Sky News is free to peddle whatever misinformation it chooses on the Voice, safe in the knowledge that the toothless broadcasting watchpuppy won’t even yap until long after the referendum is over.

Crikey’s Bernard Keane this week detailed the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s uselessness.

On average, it takes more than nine months for ACMA to finalise an investigation on the rare occasions it attempts them.

“The recent occasion in which the ACMA did inquire into Sky News – for blatant climate denialism on Outsiders – saw the regulator commence an investigation in June 2022 about broadcasts in late 2021. It was completed in December 2022 and was not released until April this year,” reports Mr Keane.

“So, in the event that the ACMA can bring itself to investigate Sky News’ lies about the Voice, don’t expect any findings until at least late 2024, when it might finally produce a report saying it had ordered the organisation to provide more training to its presenters.”

And remember that the Murdochs’ local broadcasting venture is still catching up with the Fox News model, still looking for a local Greg Gutfeld.

“At a minimum, Gutfeld has positioned himself as perhaps the fullest realisation of what today’s Fox is and what tomorrow’s might be, fusing a roguish contrarianism and an instinct for self-promotion with a political media ecosystem constructed to reward both,” opined the NYT.

And Sky News Australia, for that matter.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.