What happened to Australia’s media?

In my term, there were seven print proprietors. Now there is one and a bit. We [Australia] have the most concentrated media in any democratic country, anywhere in the entire damn world. That is dangerous.”

This quote from former PM Malcolm Fraser was commenting on the rapid concentration of print media ownership in Australia over the past decades; however, it’s not just print media that has seen this type of change. Broadcast media and radio have also seen an increase in media concentrated ownership posing many alarming questions. Other than affecting employment rates and the quality of journalism, as Andrea Carson from The Conversation highlighted, it also showcases a lack of content diversity and brings a strong bias to today’s traditional media.

Granted, online media also has hidden agendas and bias undertones as well, however it’s the absolute concentration of media ownership in traditional media that ranks Australia number 25 in the Journalist without Borders Freedom of Press rankings.

In many academics opinions, the media takes on many roles within Australian society, however, what comes to mind when many think of the most important purpose of media, is being transparent with agendas and informing citizens. The media is supposed to stand as watchdog and report information and any injustice, absent of bias. However, nowadays with the saturation of media and need for twenty-four hour media services, I believe the media just isn’t what it used to be.

Media diversity in Australia has been drastically impacted by the concentration of ownership as well. Media diversity ensure we not only have a variety of options and a wide range of varying content, but it also ensures we also don’t have just one person telling us what to think. Thankfully we have the Government funded ABC and SBS, but these are just 2 channels in a sea of heavily owned media outlets and as we dive deeper into media ownership in Australia its clear to see just how bottomless the problems is.

This issue was actually brought to my attention a few Sundays ago.  I was watching 60 minutes when a Paleo diet story came on. Now, if you know me, you know this topic is my Kryptonite, but this isn’t the time or place to air my dirty laundry, so let’s just say, I changed the channel. Pleasingly, Today Tonight was my next news choice but much to my horror, it’s ANOTHER Paleo story. And then the same bad neighbour story and the same evil government piece, I was even watching the same ads! Now I’m no news expert, but I’m pretty sure there is plenty going on in the world for these two news stations to air different news stories, but due to their competition with each other and total focus on gaining viewer-ship, the news just isn’t the news anymore.

I must say, thank god for social media, because when a politician does something shady or outrageous; yes we are looking at you Joe Hockey, you can count on social media to call them out. But when you are working for a major newspaper run by Rupert Murdoch, it’s hard not to write what Rupert Murdoch wants you to, without losing your job.  Now this brings me to another issue with concentrated media ownership, the power it gives the owners.

Rupert is probably a smart guy and probably knows a lot about a lot of things, however, just because you own 75% of Australian newspapers, doesn’t make your views, beliefs and opinions better than any one else’s.

2011 Daily Telegraph's front page

One great example of this lack of transparency and bias media reporting on behalf of Mr Murdoch, is The Sydney Heralds influence on the 2011 Australian federal elections. It was described by many journalists as an experiment of Murdoch’s influence on Australian media and political scene. He had already successfully influenced the 1992 UK election, which saw the Conservative Party win due to Murdoch’s invested interest and benefit of the party winning, so it was no surprise he decided to do it in Australia.

During this time we saw headlines in major papers such as the Daily Telegraph and The Courier Mail read “Kick the mob out” and the “Price of Labour”, a clear dig at the Labour party.  Now I’m not just starting a conspicuous theory, Murdoch opening agreed he would benefit from a Tony Abbott’s government and openly disagreed with Labour’s stance on asylum seekers and climate change. Honestly, it’s lovely to see someone have, such as passion for politics, however, when you start to enforce your beliefs onto a nation, that’s when things become a bit ugly.

So what are we doing about it Australia? Well not much.

Other than the governments rule of ‘no single owner can occupy more than two of three regulated media platforms in one market’ or their ‘no one party may control 75% or more of one commercial television broadcaster’ rule, they really don’t mind who owns the media, instead they are actually praising online media. Their solution to this problem is to let online media rule through its increased dominance as a news and content provider. Which is all well and good, but it doesn’t solve our media ownership issue.

If you ask me, nothing will, however, traditional or mass media is still highly influential among many Australians, and this issue cannot just be ignored. Unfortunately, though, while there are still people with money controlling large media outlets, you won’t be able to enforce laws to undo that, and they will always find a way around it; instead it’s up to us as an audience to recognise who owns the media and what agendas are behind every story. Nonetheless, if you’re like me and sometimes you just want to sit down and relax to some unbiased and entertain news, you can always watch ABC or SBS. 


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