Introduction Policies affecting alcohol’s price and promotion are effective measures to reduce harms. Yet policies targeting populations are unpopular with the public, whose views can be influenced by news framings of policy narratives. In Australia, alcohol taxation receives high news coverage, while advertising restrictions have not until recently, and narratives are highly contested for each. However, research specifically examining how audiences respond to such news stories is scant. We sought to explore audience understanding of news reports about two alcohol policy proposals. Method From June to August 2012, 46 participants were recruited for 8 focus groups in age-brackets of young people aged 18–25 years, parents of young people, and adults aged 25 or older. Groups were split by education. Participants were asked their prior knowledge of alcohol policies, before watching and discussing four news stories about alcohol taxation and advertising. Results Participants were clear that alcohol poses problems, yet thought policy solutions were ineffective in a drinking culture they viewed as unamenable to change and unaffected by alcohol’s price or promotion. Without knowledge of its actual effect on consumption, they cited the 2008 alcopops tax as a policy failure, blaming cheaper substitution. Participants had low knowledge of advertising restrictions, yet were concerned about underage exposure. They offered conditional support for restrictions, while doubting its effectiveness. There was marked distrust of statistics and news actors in broadcasts, yet discussions matched previous research findings. Conclusions News coverage has resulted in strong audience understanding of alcohol related problems but framed solutions have not always provided clear messages, despite audience support for policies. Future advocacy will need to continue recent moves to address the links between alcohol’s price and promotion with the drinking culture, as well as facilitate understandings of how this culture is amenable to change through the use of evidence-based policies.