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Media watchdog dismisses accusations Sky News propagated hatred towards Muslims

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Accusations from the Muslim community that Sky News Australia programs hosted by Andrew Bolt, Rita Panahi and Paul Murray propagated anti-Islam sentiment have been dismissed by the media watchdog.

The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (Aman) alleged in formal complaints to both Sky News Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (Acma) that Sky’s after dark lineup had a willingness to “conflate extremist discourse with Islam” which misled viewers about the nature of the religion.

“It erodes our community’s safety and wellbeing while also fuelling far-right movements,” Aman said about three programs broadcast on Foxtel and regional networks Win and Southern Cross Austereo last year. The pay TV and free-to-air platforms are governed by two self-regulatory codes of practice.

Sky News rejected the allegations and Acma found the incidents did not breach either the Subscription Broadcast Television Codes of Practice (governing Foxtel) or the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (governing free-to-air channels Win and SCA).

However, after being alerted to anti-Islam comments on Sky News Australia’s Facebook page, Sky apologised and deleted the comments.

Acma said the Bolt, Panahi and Murray segments in the complaint did not reach the high threshold of “intense” dislike, “serious” contempt or “severe” ridicule needed to breach the codes.

A request to strengthen program standards in light of the finding was declined by Acma, which also rejected complaints about the Facebook comments because online material falls outside the codes.

Last week Acma said broadcasting codes were hopelessly out of date given the nature and delivery of content, and the commercial TV code does not apply to online content, even when that content appears on a broadcaster’s livestreamed, catch-up or on-demand platform.

Last year Sky News Australia was banned from uploading content to YouTube for seven days after Covid-19 coverage violated its medical misinformation policies, but the broadcaster was never sanctioned by Acma for the material.

The Muslim advocates told the media watchdog that the Bolt, Panahi and Murray segments contained inaccuracies, lacked impartiality, and incited and perpetuated hatred towards Muslims by promoting the idea that Muslims are an existential threat to western civilisation.

“The mainstreaming of this narrative leads to discrimination, harassment, and endangerment of those who publicly profess their faith through their dress, names, worship, practice, and speech,” Aman said.

Acma found the comments by a guest on Bolt’s show did not reach the “not suitable for broadcast” provisions because of the high threshold required for “intense” dislike, “serious” contempt or “severe” ridicule. The use of the term “radical Islam” on Murray’s show was also found not to meet the threshold.

And Acma said comments about the treatment women in a segment on Panahi’s program had been qualified to make clear that “not all Muslims” subscribed to the views under criticism, and therefore the segment did not breach the code.

Sky News Australia declined to comment.