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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

cross-media ownership restrictions « Previous | |Next »
June 23, 2003

This judgement by Eric Beecher from Text Media and The Reader is a good one. He says that:

"The curtain is coming down on Australia's era of cross-media ownership restrictions. Whether it happens this time around or within a few years, there is a sense of inevitability that the current laws limiting ownership of more than one media segment in a major market will disappear. Result: Australia's large media companies will get larger, and ownership of the country's media assets will fall into fewer hands."

This is probably what will happen, given that Senator Alston is basically fashioning broadcasting policy to fit in with the convenience of the media owners. Ken Parish helpfully spells out the way the concentration of ownership may worrk to the advantage of the owners. It is a process of:

"Packer buying Fairfax and Murdoch buying the Seven Network, thereby both controlling a newspaper and TV station (though not a radio station) in each capital city. Of course, Packer would only have newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne to start with, although there'd be nothing to prevent him from muscling into other markets as well (and Murdoch probably wouldn't try to stop him as long as they could carve it up between themselves). If that isn't a duopoly I don't know what you'd call it."

Thats the description of the concentration of media capital resulting from Senator Alston's deregulatory reforms. What then is the significance of the media duopoly for us?

Beecher says that that the 'opponents of these changes fear that greater media concentration will provide fewer media "voices" and therefore reduce the vibrancy of our democracy.' That has been the response of Ken Parish and Tim Dunlop. The appear to stand with Senator Brian Harradine in opposing any move by Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch to own television and newspaper assets in the same city.

Why keep the status quo?The standard answer is given by John Cherry of the Australian Democrats. This draws attention to the "importance of diversity of viewpoints in Australian media. Diversity, and fairness and accuracy in news reporting, is essential for our democracy to be effective and viable."

We can quibble with Cherry's account. Why news reporting rather than commentary?D on't we have enough news reporting? We need more interpretation of news reporting that spells out the significance of what is happening--as Ken Parish did-in his post -- and more policy work that spells out those alternatives or possibilities to the media duopoly that would enhance the functioning of liberal democracy.

What sort of diversity do we need? Is it reasonable to develop a diversity index as Cherry suggests? Is "editorial separation", (that is, the maintenance of separate newsrooms in the television station and the newspaper) a good idea? What about Cherry' suggestion of taking this further by requiring not just editorially separate newsrooms, but also that editorial control of one of the newsrooms be separated from the owner? Should we place a greater emphasis on digital technology than free-toair-televsion? Digital technology now makes it possible for Australia to have an a largere number of TV channels; an abundance of broadband websites; and the focused development of new public interest and educational services in communities across Australia? Should we be thinking in terms of digital democracy?

Eric Beecher then questions the democracy argument. He says that it:

"...is fine in theory, but the practical problem with that argument is that most of the media in Australia are not what you would describe as media with a political "voice". Commercial television, popular magazines and most commercial radio simply don't register on the Richter scale of political influence. How could they: they mainly run entertainment and music."

Beecher says that 'Media "influence" resides mainly in newspapers, on pages like this one. [Sydney Morning Herald]. That overlooks the crucial role played by John Laws and Alan Jones on talkback radio. Beecher's argument also overlooks the cultural diversity and the national identity argument and does not address the politics of culture (eg. the white picket fence

Beecher equates the media's political influence as the media being serious political propaganda tools. He then says:

"If you think that could happen, you misunderstand the reality of commercial TV, which is that it's a business based on ratings. In any case, as Australia's major media owners are all public companies, their overwhelming raison d'etre is financial success, not political influence."

Hardly. Political influence is less about propaganda and more about the shaping the political agenda so that the journalists, commentators and politicians working with the enframing of the issue. For example the consider the way law and order enframes the homeless as potential criminals.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
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