A certain slack-jawed wonderment ran around the room at yesterday’s afternoon session of the Media140 conference in Sydney, when a senior News Ltd journalist rose to speak and used the moment to pump her employers’ tyres in a way that seemed, well, a trifle direct.

The conference — and you’ll not have heard of it unless you’re a Twitter victim, or in some other way absorbed in the discussion of media futures — had to that point not been confronted by so direct a spruiking of vested corporate interest. Unless, of course, you count the morning keynote from ABC managing director Mark Scott, a further volley in his now-fascinating solo-reframing of the Australian online-and-elsewhere media discussion.

The writer from The Australian was there to tell us that News would stun us all in short order with its plans to reap profit from online content. She went a little far here, revealing that looming paywalled innovations from Rupert Murdoch’s international content empire would probably owe a lot to the successful adventures in proprietary cripple-wear and fashionable monolithism pioneered by Apple. It might also involve some sort of proprietary News Ltd reader, maybe a playback device for all Murdoch content. Perhaps they will call it the Murdle. Perhaps not.

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She also took a shot at Scott and the — from the News Ltd perspective — unseemly territorial ambitions of the ABC … just as James Murdoch swung hard at the BBC, just as local News supremo John Hartigan toed up to Scott last month. We are seeing a clash of the media titans here, with News appalled that its potential share of online revenue might be white-anted by taxpayer-funded public broadcasters with broad reach, great content and no profit imperative.

They would say that, of course. More likely it is Australia’s great good fortune in the current unsettled re-sorting of media that we have a robust forward-thinking public broadcaster to rebalance scales that in other territories teeter away from favouring public interest to spill for profit and information control.

The true great misfortune in the local discussion, the really sad deficiency in the debate is the utter absence of the country’s putative chief source of “serious” journalistic content. The war is being fought on a single front between News and the ABC. Fairfax, an organisation giving every appearance of chronic crippling decline, seems to have neither the intellectual organisation, will or resource to join the fray. And that is a great pity.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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