Moral compass: How a small-town newspaper used silence in a hyper-charged controversy

Kristy Hess, Lisa Waller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


A recent controversy over plans to build a mosque in the provincial Australian city of Bendigo provides an interesting case to explore the news practices of one small-town newspaper faced with an issue that triggered an avalanche of hate speech, bigotry and extremist voices. Between 2014 and 2016, there was open conflict inside the city’s municipal chamber, violent street protests, hate campaigns and disinformation on social media. This research considers the role of the Bendigo Weekly in facilitating and shaping debate among local news audiences. Our research reveals that the newspaper deployed silence as a deliberate strategy for countering hatred and to tourniquet debate to the local level. The newspaper argued this was in the interests of serving as a ‘moral compass’. The importance of engaging a diversity of voices in deliberative democracy is widely celebrated in journalism studies. This essay, however, extends scholarship on silence as a form of agency for countering hate speech that is becoming an increasing feature of the digital era.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-590
Number of pages17
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


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