Crikey editor Misha Ketchell writes:


Professor David
Flint, the former head of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, has a
theory about the power of media moguls: they don’t have all that much.

According to Flint, in his book Malice in Medialand, the
real power is wielded by a bunch of inner-city journalist types whose
PC views dominate the ABC and the Fairfax press. These are the people
who set the agenda, argues Flint, and they’re out of touch with what
the punters think and want.

It’s hard to imagine a better
demonstration of the profound silliness of this theory than the
response to the Roy Morgan survey published in yesterday’s Crikey. The
survey showed more than 80% of journalists think the federal
government’s changes to cross-media and foreign ownership laws will
reduce the quality and diversity of reporting. A further 71% said the
laws would give media owners too much influence in determining the
political agenda.

Surely, you would think, if the vast majority
of journalists are opposed to something that affects them directly and
has serious implications for Australian democracy they would jump at
the chance to use their power to publicise their concerns. Yet the
story, which was picked up by AAP and distributed to newsrooms across
the country, rated a tiny snippet in just two News Limited newspapers,
the Hobart Mercury and the Townsville Bulletin. So far not a peep out of the ABC, SBS and Fairfax types, who allegedly foist their agenda so vigorously upon us.

Contrast
this with the acres of newsprint from leading commentators such as
Terry McCrann on what the reforms will mean for the proprietors, and
the copious reporting of Rupert Murdoch’s views on the issue, or those
of Fairfax chief David Kirk.

It’s not hard to see why this is
the case. In Australia there is are extremely limited number of
employers for journalists. Alienating even one player in the small pool
of people who might be willing to give you a job is a dumb idea,
especially when you can rationalise that you’ve bigger and more
important fish to fry. Why shoot yourself in the foot?

So
journalists self-censor. You’d have to search pretty hard to find a
journalist who doesn’t grumble at the pub about what Helen Coonan’s
reforms will do to the profession, but in the newsroom anyone who wants
to cover the story is seen as grandstanding, and just a bit
self-indulgent.

So here is the result: the vast majority of
journalists have serious concerns about a major reform that will
significantly concentrate the power and influence of a handful of media
owners, but very few will cover it or even talk about it publicly.

On this one, their lips are sealed.

The full results of the Roy Morgan survey are now available here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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