The cross media laws are important in retaining a diversity of voices in Australian media. It was said 100 years ago that the newspaper “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Although this was said with irony, this does describe the appropriate aspiration for the role of our media. When media get too large, too powerful, they themselves becomes “the comfortable” and cannot hope to afflict with effect. When that happens, the powerful grow more powerful, and the opportunity for the media to make them accountable to the wider community is lost.

The close relationship between major politicians and major media figures is already a matter of national scandal. The swelling chorus of uncritical adulation for the current Federal Government from the Murdoch media empire has been very disturbing. Closeness between political leaders and media moguls too readily leads to political power being used to support powerful media figures, and media power being used to support powerful politicians. This is the antithesis of democratic accountability, and leaves the fourth estate comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

Large media corporations are continuing the trend of syndication of stories across many media outlets. This enables them to “let go” of a number of the journalists who otherwise would be the conduit for fresh stories and points of view. It means that the media product available to citizens is more limited, and less local. It means that they are less likely to find any affirmation or resonance for their own particular viewpoint in the media that serve them.

And the rise in “new” media is no basis for relaxing cross-media ownership restrictions. It is like building a shopping mall and saying “Well, you can still go to your local corner store.” Let’s welcome the rise of new media and new voices, but don’t kid ourselves that this is the main game. We still need diversity in traditional media outlets.

Our cross-media ownership laws should be strengthened, particularly by cross-subsidisation of public broadcasting, not dismantled.

Malcolm Fraser – Former Liberal PM:

I would not support changes in media laws unless there could be believable guarantees that the number of media owners and players would be increased. I certainly would not support changes that result in further narrowing of media ownership.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey