Media watch - how to hold newsmakers to account

The SSAA has been contacted by concerned members who are disgusted by the increasing instances of erroneous reporting and biased media coverage surrounding the shooting sports and firearms. In the current political climate with the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) review underway and the Adler A110 lever-action shotgun creating a stir, journalists who have little or no experience reporting on issues that affect our sport can end up misreporting the facts. Anti-gun groups such as Gun Control Australia (GCA) and the Australian Greens Party relish being the loud vocal minority receiving too much airplay from sympathetic or uneducated journalists, while key stakeholders such as the SSAA are often ignored or deliberately not quoted. This can be frustrating for licensed firearm owners who turn on the news at the end of the day only to find another sensationalised story misrepresenting their sport.

Even our public broadcaster, the ABC, has got it so wrong that it was forced to issue not one, not two, but three corrections regarding its coverage of the Adler shotgun and the real state of firearm laws last year. This included the suggestion by an ABC News 24 presenter that it is easy to legally buy guns online in Australia; ABC’s 7pm News’ embarrassing use of footage of a pump-action shotgun in a story that was meant to be about the Adler; and a breach of editorial standards for accuracy on 774 ABC Melbourne surrounding the temporary ban of the importation of the Adler.

Journalists also appear to be going to the wrong people for comment. Known anti-gun lobbyist Philip Alpers and Gun Control Australia’s (GCA) Samantha Lee are two sources who receive far too much airtime. SSAA National does make the effort to contact journalists to give them some background on their sources and offer comment from the National office or one of our state or territory branches. However, most of the time, the reporter declines our offer or is directed by their editor to present a story in a certain way. Sky News, for instance, which ran a segment with Ms Lee in October in which she claimed ‘rogue gun dealers’ were responsible for the black market, ignored the SSAA’s calls and emails suggesting they interview SSAA National President Geoff Jones about the topic to offer an alternative and more realistic perspective.

The SSAA has a dedicated media department and a pool of experts available 24/7, who we openly encourage the media to contact for comment on any issues. We also publish and distribute our publication, A Journalist’s Guide to Firearms and the Shooting Sports, with a second edition recently printed and distributed to numerous reporters and newsrooms across the country. In addition to this, the SSAA actively monitors the media and has raised concerns about erroneous and biased articles with the news organisations responsible, along with the Australian Press Council (APC). Other publications have been named and shamed on the SSAA National Facebook page for breaching the Journalist’s Code of Ethics and for numerous technical inaccuracies, such as stating that the Adler “fires eight bullets in eight minutes”, as reported by The Daily Telegraph.

Despite popular belief, it’s not always the journalist who is harbouring anti-gun sentiments. In the case of The West Australian, two journalists who reported on an up-and-coming junior female shooter quit in protest after the editor portrayed the young girl as being a threat to public safety.

Some media outlets also skirt around industry codes and standards by branding obvious negative and biased articles as ‘opinion pieces’, making them exempt from the usual journalism ethics. In the case of television, programs such as The Project are classified as ‘entertainment’, not news programs, meaning they don’t have to adhere to fair and balanced journalism standards. The SSAA found this out first-hand after complaining about a sensationalised and biased piece by The Project, which saw the widow of a homicide victim ambushed with leading anti-gun questions, but it was to no avail.

One experienced journalist who has worked extensively for two of the largest media organisations in Australia, told the Australian Shooter that although there have been examples of misreporting surrounding firearms, he doesn’t believe most journalists are anti-gun. “For what it’s worth, I’ve never heard any of my colleagues - at any media outlet I’ve worked in - make disparaging remarks about shooting, shooters, or guns generally,” he said. “I honestly do not believe the average non-shooting Australian actually gives gun ownership any thought in their day-to-day lives; they support proper licensing and registration, but don’t generally have a problem with licensed, law-abiding people owning guns for target shooting and to a lesser extent, hunting.”

When it comes to addressing biased or unfair reporting, he suggests contacting the journalist directly in a non-confrontational and non-abusive manner. He pointed out that today’s journalists are time-poor, working in understaffed newsrooms and are far from being experts in the field of firearms or the shooting sports.

“That doesn’t excuse deliberate anti-gun bias where it appears,” he said, “but it’s been my experience - and SSAA members may have had different ones, I acknowledge - that most journos are generally too busy, too stressed and too underpaid to be getting involved in elaborate anti-gun agenda-pushing, even if they hate guns. Although, I haven’t met any who openly say they do, for the simple reason they, like most other people, don’t give firearms ownership much thought until guns feature in the news. This is likely because someone who shouldn’t have one, and almost certainly wasn’t allowed to in the first place, has done something unpleasant with it.

“Also, journalists have to come up to speed on a lot of different subjects very quickly indeed - they’re not going to do a lot of investigation to find out of a .308 rifle is a pretty standard hunting calibre or something that belongs in a James Bond movie.”

While the SSAA will continue to correct misrepresentations to the media, commentators and politicians alike, we encourage our members to express their concerns directly to the news group, reporter or governing bodies. Members can draw upon the SSAA’s vast resources, including our Position Statements on issues from licensing and registration, to hunting and junior shooting, to self-loading rifles and shotguns and sound suppressors, as well as Member Action advice on how to write to politicians and journalists and how to use social media.

While it may seem like we are facing a never-ending battle at times, the journalist leaves us with a great point: “If enough people write enough letters consistently, the message will get through eventually.”

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