A survey of Australian journalists found half had withheld information for fear of defamation action.
Medianet – a division of media intelligence and PR business Mediality – surveyed journalists and PR professionals separately and anonymously in October and November last year.
Almost half of the more than 1000 Australian journalists surveyed had withheld from publishing information that they knew to be true because of fear of defamation. Some 41 per cent of journalists responded that they believed defamation laws in Australia were too strict in relation to the media. Many noted that editors, publishers or lawyers at their media organisations were “highly conservative” when it came to publishing potentially defamatory information due to the financial risks of being taken to court.
The findings come as several high profile media defamation cases await trial, including Lachlan Murdoch's action against Crikey and Bruce Lehrmann's civil case against news.com.au and Channel 10 for their reporting of Britanny Higgins' rape allegations in 2021.
The annual survey also provides insights into challenges Australian journalists face in their work, including discrimination and abuse, burnout, unpaid work and gender pay gaps.
Medianet managing director Amrita Sidhu said an overwhelming majority of survey respondents highlighted the struggles of working within the industry.
“Almost every single respondent (98 per cent) felt that public interest journalism in Australia had been threatened in 2022, whether that be due to defamation laws, disinformation or lack of resources and staff, among other factors,” she said.
Survey findings indicated almost half of journalists (44 per cent) had been abused or harassed due to their work in the media, with many reporting receiving dek. ath threats, online abuse or trolling, or being physically assaulted. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they had experienced burnout in their media work.
“So many journalists discussed the personal toll of being overworked, underpaid and burnt out, along with tight deadlines, feeling undervalued, and covering difficult news stories including floods, war and COVID,” Sidhu said.
With one in eight also experiencing racial discrimination or abuse, there was also a call for more diverse hiring, particularly in management or board positions.
A parallel survey of PR professionals showed PR respondents earned more, with almost half (47 per cent) earning more than $100,000 a year, compared to a quarter of journalists (25 per cent). More than a third (35 per cent) of PR professionals had previously worked as journalists before changing professions due to factors such as better lifestyle and pay.
Despite a slight decrease in the gender pay gap from previous years, women and non-binary journalists remained less represented in higher pay categories compared to men, and were also found to be less represented in chief-of-staff, photojournalist or cameraperson, publisher, presenter or announcer, editor or producer positions.
The two anonymous surveys covered 1,023 journalist respondents and 291 PR professional respondents.