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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: May 2011

4 - The popular public sphere


While most Australians are not particularly interested in politics, they are interested in news. In 2001, half the adult population were spending at least one hour a day watching, listening to or reading news and current affairs (ABA 2001b). By 2008, over 80 per cent were still reporting that they would catch up with the news during their day (Phillips et al 2008). Even at the end of the 2000s, news and current affairs programs continued to top the television ratings in Australia, which was unusual by international standards. Taking just one ratings period as an example – April 2009 - demonstrates this. The most-watched television program in Australia was Seven News at primetime and four out of the top 10 were news programs. By contrast, in the US and UK no news program ranked in the top 20 in the same period (BARB 2009; OzTAM 2009; 2009).

General news, sport, entertainment and music were the types of news Australians said they preferred, with ‘political analysis’ ranked last (Phillips et al 2008). The more popular news products that attracted the largest audiences reflected these preferences. Sparks has argued that tabloid news journalism:

devotes relatively little attention to politics, economics and society and relatively much to diversions like sports, scandal, and popular entertainment … the personal and private lives of people, both celebrities and ordinary people [receive much attention whereas] … relatively little [is devoted] to political processes, economic developments, and social changes.

(Sparks 2000:10)