You are here

Concerns about the Age, the Australian and the ABC censoring population debate

Nicolas Howe has been watching how the Fairfax, Murdoch and ABC media are treating alternatives to the population growth scenario of 35m plus. He finds that they are not giving them due representation and therefore biasing the debate. Letters not published. Rights of reply not balanced. His article confirms others on which have found this to be a consistent pattern with Australia's commercial mainstream media. They publish material to normalise population growth. They belong to the growth lobby. They have vested interest in population growth. As for the public media, the ABC - as has been pointed out before, it employs a number of ex-Murdoch journalists and allows professional property developers and other members of the growth lobby to dominate debate. Propaganda Watch Growth Lobby

Article by Nicolas Howe

The Age

I have concerns about the commitment The Age has made to engage in the population debate. There were no letters published in response to Kevin Andrews call to reduce immigration. [1]

On the same day that the article was published there was an opinion piece written by Julie Szego condemning the call by Kevin Andrews.[2] Julie Szego also criticised Kelvin Thomson's position on population. Kelvin's right of reply was limited to 200 words in the general letters section of today's Age.

If The Age were truly serious about engaging in the debate they should have allocated at least as much space to Kelvin Thomson (federal politician with well thought out platform on population) as Julie Szego had been allocated to express her strange opinion on the issue.

I get the impression that The Age is going through a process of "manufacturing consent" or having the Australian public accept that an increase in population, despite the policy options available, cannot be avoided.

The last time The Age spoke seriously on this subject was in an editorial on 11/11/2009. That editorial expressed an opinion of acceptance of 35 million by 2050. It belittled Tim Flannery's call for an independent authority to administer population policy. The editorial suggested that the authority would determine immigration levels on "the whim of technocrats".

I responded to the editorial of 11/11/2009, as I guess so did many others. However no letters were published. The Age has closed down the debate despite a commitment expressed in the editorial of 19/9/2009.


I am witnessing a pattern here. It looks like the mainstream media are purposely not talking about population. During one episode of ABC TV's program Q & A, two of the panelists started discussing a topic in the context of population growth. The host of the program, Tony Jones (who normally I consider a tough and intelligent journalist), quickly changed the topic. I felt that I sensed some anxiety in his behaviour, as if discussion on population was off limits.

The Australian

The Australian newspaper is particularly biased. They regularly run a column written by Angela Shanahan who is dismissive of any calls to reduce population. The logic of these opinion piece's does not stand up to scrutiny. Angela Shanahan is a mother of nine children. I imagine it is almost impossible for her to express a reasoned view on population growth given her fecundity and religious conviction. Angela Shanahan is also a regular panelist on ABC's Q & A.

I think there is a determined effort being made by a group (or groups) of people with influence who are determined not to see democratic debate exploring small population options in the mainstream media.

Nicholas Howe

Notes and comment provided by Candobetter Editor

[1] Misha Schubert, "Andrews call for debate on slashing immigration," The Age, December 11, 2009.
This article was based on a telephone conversation that Schubert had with Kevin Andrews, ex Minister for Immigration with the Howard Government, currently Shadow Minister for Families, Housing and Human Services. It reported that Andrews had "called for a debate on slashing Australia's immigration from 180,000 people a year to a ''starting point'' of just 35,000." Andrews reportedly pointed out that 60% of our growth is via immigration which could be reduced. Andrews reportedly disapproved of Kevin Rudd's 'Big Australia' and described or agreed with the description of immigration levels as 'plucked out of thin air'.

''If you look at the 2008 data, you would need about 35,000 immigrants on top of births to replace the population (for that year). So I say the starting point should be replacement levels of population, then ask what additional population we need so the country can be economically and otherwise sustainable and growing,'' he said.

The current Australian immigration minister, Chris Evans, reportedly accused Kevin Andrews of hypocrisy since, when in Government Andrews and Howard had authorised a jump to 158,800 planned immigrant intake for 2007-08. Evans claimed to have long term policies on numbers.

[2] Julie Szego Article ‘Migrants Enrich our way of life’, The Age 11/12/09. (Feedback can be sent to:

This article also appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald as, "Wake-up to the opportunities in population growth", December 11.

In this article Szego talks about the Scanlon Foundation, which is linked to the commercial growth lobby uncritically as a philanthropic organisation, and cites one of its surveys in support of high immigration.

"A social cohesion survey by the philanthropic Scanlon Foundation released this month showed only one in 10 Australians held strongly negative views about immigration, while 37 per cent of the 3800 respondents thought our immigration intake was too high - a result that tallies with similar polls and is pretty encouraging given it was taken in the aftermath of an economic downturn."

To cite this source as a valid comment is naive.

Szego also writes, with remarkable puerility, "Policy should instead amount to a pep-talk on how more people are simply a wake-up-call and an opportunity, not a problem."

Although there was only one letter in the hardcopy Age the day after Szego's article, there were many e-comments of which the great majority lambasted her. Of the one or two who thought her article was okay, this one caught my eye due to its organically egocentric focus and mad overvaluing of a single remote concern:

" Djinn | Sydney - December 11, 2009, 9:36AM

Thanks Julie for telling it how it is. Arguing against immigration is usually a fig leaf for xenophobia and selfishness. Every person in Australia is an immigrant. Besides, there is one simple question that none of the critics of immigration can answer - "Who is going to wipe your bum when you're old?". Answer: Nobody, if the likes of Kevin Andrews have their way."

Image icon media-bias-little.jpg7.84 KB
Image icon MEDIA-BIAS-SLANT-tv-b&w.jpg40.97 KB


So Australia's mainstream media are avoiding the obvious common cause of multiple social, economic and environmental problems impacting every state in Australia - over-population.

The proverbial herd of elephants are waved through in silence as if we're all Salman Rushdies. Why?

Answer that and you are more than half way to the solution.

Well mainstream media must keep faith with the mainstream if they to continue in the business of selling mainstream news. If they upset their target readers, listeners and watchers, they jeopardise losing them. The known way to lose an audience is to treat a taboo subject insensitively or with an approach that challenges/undermines core mainstream values. Dealing with a cultural taboo will cause mainstream disfavour. Subjects in Australia (and indeed most countries) that cause this are:

* Suicide (a no go rule for media)
* Depression (no longer a taboo)
* Child Pornography and Pedophilia
* Racism and ethic bias
* Violence against women
* Torture
...and I am sure there are others.

The media perception then of population then must be probably aligned and connected to the cultural taboo subject of 'racism and ethnic prejudice'.

So how to raise the issue and encourage open public debate without awakening the racist funnel web spider?
Not easy. Such communications challenges are faced by governments all the time to sell the unsellable. This is why there is a boom in communications degrees. Note they do not use the word 'propaganda' in communications circles - it is taboo!

One approach is to have someone respected publicly and sensitively raise the issue and clearly distinguish it from an issue of race or prejudice. Kevin Andrews MP has bravely done so to his credit and respect for Australia long term. Scientist Dr Tim Flannery is another. Neither of them are racist.

Another approach is to persist with exposing the facts and evdence in multiple media opportunties until the public is exposed to the issue so much that it becomes mainsteam by saturation. (Could take a long time)

Another approach is to publicly throw down the gauntlet and expose the subject as a taboo, like depression was exposed so well by Jeff Kennett of Beyond Blue, to his credit. Find out how depression became 'de-tabood', learn from it and apply the lessons to overpopulation/mass immigration.

Another approach is to find out what other societies have done combatting this taboo...and to learn from it.

Another approach is to make the subject the next black. Think marketing.

Or one can listen to Fairfax gospel like in its article 'The Big Squeeze' on 12th December, 2009, which prophesises: ... "Sydney has no choice but to make its homes smaller to accommodate a population boom."

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

With all due respect, the word and concept of 'population' and 'population management' are bandied around constantly by the mainstream media. To the nauseating point where the Australian periodically trots out Angela Shanahan as a multiparous female opining on how deficient people without children are etc.

I can also see signs of catholicism being used to bolster the big population lobbies deathlike-grip on debate - with Rudd having hobnobbed with the pope and now rushing to be seen with the remains of Mary McKillop. This is seriously disquieting. As I recall, Murdoch became a catholic at one stage - and possibly still is.

Between Murdoch and Rudd and the Pope, we need to take lessons from the Italians, who have managed to get round the problem of religious doctrine affecting peoples' rights.

What the media are allergic to is the OTHER side of the debate - population moderation.

However, if you want another word for population, use 'development'; it amounts to the same thing. You can't have more houses without population growth and you cannot have population growth without more houses.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist

The population density of Italy is also one of the highest being the fifth densest in all over Europe. However, the natural population growth has been negligible, with less than 0.1% per annum. This is interesting for a basically Catholic nation! The same can't be said for other developing Catholic nations. Large religious groups will not address this issue for the same reason as the media - they depend on growth for power and income!

The newspapers are part of the growth lobby. Businesses and mass markets use the media to sell their wares and promote consumerism. They are major sponsors of real estate and land developers. They are owned by giant multi-millionaires. It is not in their interests to publish articles or letters about our population explosion or excessive immigration.

The Age is probably much more transparent and have published more on the topic than The Australian, Canberra Times or the Sydney Morning Herald. I have sent in many letters on the topic, and others have too no doubt, to have them ignored.

There has been a lot of political attention about the ETS and climate change, but very little about the root cause - swelling populations and the increasing demand for power and thus emissions. The same with our water supply - the elephant in the room is ignored. Any comments or surveys though reveal the truth - most people are concerned about the topic but there is very little place in the mass media for their voices.

Federal MP Kelvin Thompson is to be applauded, but he is probably committing political suicide.

This is why it is reassuring to have independent web sites like Candobetter!