The first law of journalism is that bad news is good news – bad news sells. On Monday, Fairfax’s Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers had a choice between a “good news” story and twisting the facts to make a “bad news” story. No prize for guessing which way the decision went.
In the process, the once-venerable Fairfax mastheads ventured a little further down the road of clickbait and populism, joining the Murdoch newspapers with a sectarian beat up.
In a nutshell, the key finding of a Fairfax-commissioned opinion poll was that Australians have negligible differentiation between immigration in general and immigration by Muslims. The poll reports just a one percentage point difference – 46 to 45 per cent – between those who believe Muslim migration should be reduced and those who believe all migration should be reduced. That’s within the margin of error.
In a poll taken after the Bourke Street murder of Sisto Malaspina – never mind the regular Muslim-bashing by the Murdoch camp and right-wing politicians calling an end to Muslim migration – that’s quite remarkable.
On the face of it, I’d interpret that result as being a heart-warming reinforcement of Australians’ tolerance and a rejection of the growing sectarianism either displayed or promoted in popular media. It would be good news.
But the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, with nearly identical headlines as their page one lead stories, claimed instead that the poll meant “Nation split on Muslim migrants”.
It takes an effort to produce “bad news” clickbait headlines out of a relative “good news” poll, but the SMH and The Age managed it. The Daily Telegraph would be proud of them.
To spell out how small the difference is: Fairfax and its pollster, Ipsos, reckon if you ask 100 Australians if immigration should be reduced, 45 will say “yes”. If you ask them if Muslim immigration should be reduced, only one more person says “yes”.
Turning the results around a little, despite the NSW government, the Victorian Opposition, prominent members of the federal government, several mainstream commentators and the obvious ratbag politicians all advocating a cut in migration numbers, 52 per cent of Australians said the current level should be maintained or increased. (With 45 per cent wanting a cut, 3 per cent undecided.)
With the sectarian element added by Fairfax-Ipsos and despite the anti-Muslim campaigns, both overt and sly, 49 per cent wanted the current level maintained or increased, 46 per cent wanted it reduced, 5 per cent were undecided.
Well done, Australia. Most of us don’t want to be racist or sectarian, whatever dog whistles are being blown.
This article was published by The New Daily. It was written by contributing editor Michael Pascoe.