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Jul 18, 2011

Politicians are too scared to push for more media diversity

The problem for any inquiry into media diversity is politicians won't act to retrieve what we've lost.


The Greens’ call for a media inquiry won’t get up, and nor should it.

There’s a key difference between politicians inquiring into how we regulate media, and inquiring into the media itself. The issues the Greens want addressed veer over into the latter. And the potential for favours, anticipation of future reward and get-squares is too great. Moreover, the whole thing will look like a Murdoch-bashing exercise. The problems of Australian media aren’t confined by any stretch to News Limited, especially when you take into account that newspapers are a declining, ageing medium with significantly less influence than the major television networks in shaping voters’ perceptions.

But more to the point, the two key issues to emerge from both the phone-hacking affair and the way News Ltd’s newspapers debase and defile public debate in Australia — the need for a statutory right to privacy and an examination of media diversity — are already the subject of separate processes. The government has yet to outline how it will respond to the ALRC’s 2008 recommendation about the need for a statutory right to privacy (strongly opposed by all the mainstream media, not just News Ltd). The phone-hacking scandal and the growing threat of super-injunctions in the UK couldn’t have come at a better time from that point of view — anything less than Labor adopting a statutory right to privacy (with a public interest exception) will look a profound misjudgment.

And as previously noted, the remit of the convergence review covers media diversity. There’s more potential from an independent review of diversity than from a Senate inquiry, although the last serious independent review of media regulation, the Productivity Commission’s Broadcasting review in 2000, was simply ignored by the Howard government.

The right to privacy is the easier issue. The ALRC has made its recommendations; either the government accepts them or it doesn’t. If it does, it can seek to legislate. It is likely the Greens would support a right to privacy. Tony Abbott, because he’d oppose motherhood if Labor proposed it, and because he’s keen to retain News Ltd’s favour, would oppose it. It would be down to the crossbenches.

Diversity is a more complex issue because, whether you’re an embittered veteran of the media regulatory wars or a misty-eyed neophyte who thinks a “public interest test” would solve everything, sooner or later you run up against the problem that Australia lacks media diversity and the only way to get it back is to force some of the six big media groups that dominate the Australian media landscape to divest some assets.

That’s a step well beyond anything previous parliaments have been prepared to come at — telling the Murdochs, or the Packers, or the Stokes, or the Gordons, that they’ve got to sell some newspapers or broadcasting licences or shareholdings. And, I’d venture, there’s no way either of the major parties would ever contemplate forcing divestiture.

That’s the threshold issue for media diversity. At best, politicians will only ever preserve the diversity we’ve got left, not go out and create some more.

There’s an analogous problem, though, with regional media diversity. People living even in large regional centres have significantly less media diversity than people in the capitals. Radio, particularly, is almost devoid of local content — regional radio is rife with networked, sometimes out-of-state content, ruthless minimum wage employment and cosy deals between notional competitors. While the Howard government made a half-baked effort to save regional radio content at the behest of the Nationals, its de facto solution was to fill the hole left by the abandonment of regional communities by radio licence owners with the ABC.

The ABC takes local communities seriously, takes its role as an emergency broadcaster very seriously, and has long effectively married local radio with local online sites. Its regional radio network expanded under the Howard government courtesy of additional funding for regional content.

Unlike forced divestiture, additional resourcing for news and current affairs for the ABC is not merely within the government’s control — it doesn’t even need to legislate for it beyond a budget bill — but politically acceptable, except inevitably to the Friends of the ABC, whose Fair Trade soyaccinos will surely froth with fury at the notion of “tied funding”. It’s a second best option, but in the absence of more voices, improving the publicly funded voices is the next-best option.

The ABC’s news and current affairs coverage is extraordinarily patchy and frequently acts as an echo chamber for News Ltd. Radio National Breakfast routinely relies on that day’s edition of The Australian to shape the program’s political coverage. The ABC’s online news coverage is often sloppy, with opposition press releases frequently run almost verbatim as news. Insiders’ “conservative” panellists are primarily drawn from News Ltd outlets, which ignores the substantial number of far better conservative and libertarian commentators outside their pages. And its “Online Investigative Unit” seems obsessed with replicating News Ltd campaigns against Labor, from the BER to the NBN. A substantial injection of permanent funding might enable the ABC’s editors and producers to lift their game and contribute more effectively as an independent news outlet.

Where would the funding come from? Well, for starters, dumping the Australia Network would free up a substantial amount of funding.

As has been made plain by News Ltd’s long-running  campaign against the ABC, and James Murdoch’s splenetic and, in the context of recent events, comic railing at the BBC in his 2009 MacTaggart Lecture, the Murdochs fear and despise a well-funded, independent public broadcaster. For anyone interested in media diversity, that’s a clear guide to a diversity strategy.


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69 thoughts on “Politicians are too scared to push for more media diversity

  1. paddy

    [Where would the funding come from? Well, for starters, dumping the Australia Network would free up a substantial amount of funding.]

    Bernard…… and I say this in the nicest possible way.
    You’re a rolled gold sh*t stirrer. 😀

  2. Pamela

    Whats wrong with Rupert-Bashing? It is good for the soul if nothing else.
    God knows we have listened to enough Greens bashing, Refugee bashing, Environment bashing to last a lifetime.
    What goes around comes around- ENJOY.

  3. SimsonMc

    The big test would be are the media in Australia too scared to have a similar system like Canada’s? Under the Canada’s Radio Act “a licenser may not broadcast … any false or misleading news.” This provision has kept Fox News and right-wing talk back radio out of Canada and helped make Canada a model for liberal democracy and freedom. As a result of that law, Canadians enjoy high quality news coverage, including the kind of foreign affairs and investigative journalism that flourished in this country before News Ltd brought in their American news model.

    Political dialogue in Canada is marked by civility, modesty, honesty, collegiality, and idealism that have pretty much disappeared in countries where Murdoch resides. When Stephen Harper (Canada’s Prime Minister) moved to abolish the anti-lying provision of the Radio Act, Canadians rose up to oppose him fearing that their tradition of honest non-partisan news would be replaced by the toxic, overtly partisan, biased and dishonest news coverage familiar to American citizens who listen to Fox News and talk back radio. Harper’s proposal was timed to facilitate the launch of a new right-wing network, “Sun TV News” which Canadians call “Fox News North.” It appears that because the proposal failed, Canadians might have dodged a bullet considering the events in London and America.

    Bob Brown – It’s not rocket science FFS.

  4. T.D.G.

    Giving the ABC a heap of new money to do some worthwhile reporting could be a good way to get a greater diversity of views. With a better resourced and more interesting news service the ABC would undoubtedly get more viewers/listeners/readers and could take a lead in setting the news agenda.

    The problem with News Ltd controlling 70% of newspaper circulation is not just that Murdoch’s views dominate print, but also that the rest of the news media tends to takes its lead from what is printed in the morning papers. In addition to controlling most of the country’s newspaper circulation, Murdoch also controls news organisations that have limited audiences, but a national reach and a disproportionate level of influence over politics, business, and the general news agenda – namely The Australian and Sky News. A better resourced ABC would be able to challenge this domination in the way that the BBC does in the UK.

    I, however, disagree with dropping the Australia Network. Certainly, the government needs to work out its priorities about what it wants the service to achieve and what sort of programmes it should be broadcasting. Whilst ending the Australia Network would be barely be noticed in Asia, it could have devastating consequences on the state of the media across the Pacific. In many small Pacific countries, TV only first appeared at around the time that Australia started international TV broadcasting and many local TV channels rely very heavily on rebroadcasting Australia Network content for most of the day. The only other groups interested in providing affordable TV content to the Pacific seem to be the PRC government and evangelical Christian groups – with no Australia Network a number of Pacific countries could end up with no TV service or with one that presents propaganda funded by foreign interests.

  5. geomac

    The Canadian model sounds like a good alternative to what we have at present. I will have to look into it.

  6. Stiofan

    1. The ABC already has a sh*tload of money. If it wants to fund more news and current affairs, it could fund them by dropping its latest legal soapie (Crownies), its ABC1+ digital channels and JJJ (or whatever it’s called these days).

    2. The problem with Radio National Breakfast is not that it takes its agenda from The Australian (what a bizarre notion!). It’s that it has a not particularly bright presenter in Fran “Bee Gees” Kelly. On almost every topic other than national politics, she is clueless. There is nothing better than waking up on a summer morning to hear that Fran is on leave for the duration. Things are also improved by the temporary absence of The Political Editor Of The Age Newspaper (who seem to regard her job as something between an attack dog for the ALP and a summer-up of the bleeding obvious).

    3. Since when has it been the job of all newspapers to act as cheerleaders for the incumbent Government? Isn’t that the self-appointed role of the ABC and the Fairfax press?

  7. Stiofan

    Oh, and your responses are purely for your own relief: they will be so bloody predictable.

  8. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    I’ll add my amen to taking guidance from the Canucks. “A licenser may not broadcast … any false or misleading news”? Can’t see anything wrong in that. Of course, the usual suspects are going to cry foul on any attempts to legislate this.

  9. Just Me

    “the need for a statutory right to privacy and an examination of media diversity”

    “The problem with News Ltd controlling 70% of newspaper circulation is not just that Murdoch’s views dominate print, but also that the rest of the news media tends to takes its lead from what is printed in the morning papers.”


    Plus, as noted in another comment above, a legal obligation not to lie, and to take reasonable steps (due diligence) to avoid serious misrepresentation (and to promptly and clearly correct it when it does). The news and current affairs section of the commercial media is not just the advertising arm of the corporate world, they have some responsibilities here that extend beyond the bottom line.

  10. Just Me

    “3. Since when has it been the job of all newspapers to act as cheerleaders for the incumbent Government”

    Who is arguing for that?

    Answer: Nobody, except in your fevered partisan brain.

  11. Daniel

    Aren’t we all lucky to have Stiofan here to tell us how it is.

  12. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    so bloody predictable.

    Said Mr. Pot to Mr. Kettle.

  13. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    Just Me, I don’t recall Stiofan complaining when News Ltd were cheerleading the last government.

  14. fredex

    A bit of divergent thinking.
    Instead of doling out public money in thousands of little drips to community groups try giving them money in a different way.
    There must be hundreds of such groups in Oz, probably thousands, my local council has a directory of dozens just in a population base of less than 10,000 people.

    How is this a partial solution to the current media oligopoly?

    Give these community groups shares in a restuctured broken up ex-Ltd News.

    The groups get the income from their share, the bright spanking new “News” gets oversight from a complex range of public groups that gets away from the current corporate ethos and the public benefits from the breakdown of the current Noxious News.

    Sure, its maybe a piddle in the ocean as far as a complete answer to the problems but it could help a little.

  15. Sharkie

    The Greens call for a media enquiry has already had a couple of major wins. Firstly it is politically smart and can only attract more voters. Secondly a handful of Labor MPs now have enough guts to say the bleeding obvious that, News Limited political coverage is a joke.
    After being a news limited punching bag for the last year, Labor has finally thrown a punch back. The big question is, are Labor going to go down swinging (with the off chance of winning an election with a lucky punch)? Or are they going to lose by meekly hiding in the corner, deludedly hoping that Alan Jones, Chris Mitchell, Piers Ackerman, Andrew Bolt et al will stop kicking the sh*t out of them for the next two years?

  16. klewso

    What guarantees are there, that letting go of Australia Ntework, would result in more funding to resource their (ABC) news department? Considering how cheap it is now to simply “parrot Limited News” and let them set the agenda?
    And you don’t think Limited News, with their market share, have quite a bit to say about “what consitutes news”, still – with that thrall they have over the ABC?

  17. Rich Uncle Skeleton

    Or are they going to lose by meekly hiding in the corner, deludedly hoping that Alan Jones, Chris Mitchell, Piers Ackerman, Andrew Bolt et al will stop kicking the sh*t out of them for the next two years?


  18. drmick

    The real problem now is we know what we dont want; but do we know what we want?

    FWIW, If the poms bugger up this current investigation we may never know what exactly murdochs employees were doing under the authority of “the public needs to know, they have a right to know.”
    Never forget that; they were looking after OUR interests by listening to a dead girls voicemail. They also used that defence when telling us about infidelities of people they decided were worthy of us knowing about.
    We already have here in Australia the “great big coppers raid” in melbourne that was advertised in the paper the morning of the raid. When the crims need to know, they just open up a murdoch online news point and avoid the dangers of getting raided or caught.

    Knowing the news before it happens? Think NSW RugbyLeague.

  19. Mobius Ecko

    Abbott would be shit scared of anything to do with media diversity and especially media honesty and fairness. Heaven forbid he would actually have to elucidate policy and be made accountable for his string of lies and distortions.

  20. Venise Alstergren

    PADDY, PADDY: I have to take issue with you….’rolled gold’ is the cheapest form of gold and no one could call Bernard cheap. How about 18K gold? 24K gold?

  21. Venise Alstergren

    I’m still in favour of Rupert bashing. Do not forget Rupert Murdoch owns nearly all our suburban media. The ones with the word ‘Leader’ in the title. Think of the abuse he could cause here.

  22. david

    Stiofan you make 3 points

    Your point 1 = cr-p
    Your point 2 = cr-p
    Your point 3 = unadulterated cr-p

  23. GocomSys

    Thanks Bernard, you covered it!
    Compliments to above switched on poster’s, as always easily ignoring the few obligatory odd one’s.
    FYI: My latest correspondence with the ABC.
    Program: NEWS
    Program Date: 16 JULY 2011 NOON
    ABC Service / Network: Radio National
    ABC Recipient: Audience & Consumer Affairs
    Subject: Australia
    RE.: Unprofessional News Reporting
    When I switch to ABC Radio National NEWS I do not expect lazy “he said” – “she said” gossip reporting or as in this instance a repeat of blatant political party sloganeering. Who wants to hear: “No tax collection without an election”? Purely self motivated politicians and the gutter press are doing a good job already to mislead the public. Why is it necessary for the TAX PAYER FUNDED NATIONAL BROADCASTER to join in? Who decides at the ABC what is newsworthy? Shouldn’t it be paramount for the ABC to consider the NATIONAL INTEREST and the impact their sloppy reporting has on the general public?

  24. Peter Wear

    In Queensland, at least, the biggest blow to media diversity occured in the mid-90’s when the ABC canned the local editions of the 7.30 Report, and nationalised it. There never was, and never will be, a forum as good as the TV interview for exposing politicians at their worst. The creme of the ABC interviewing crop learned their trade outside of Sydney – Kerry, O’Brien, Andrew Olle and Quentin Dempster, being a couple of Brisbane’s more obvious examples.
    The ABC pretends that talkback on ‘local radio’ somehow fills this void. It doesn’t – the arrogance and complacency of Queensland state policitians is testimony to the abscence of any agency able to pester and provoke them to the point where they have to do any more than mouth a prescibed sound bite.

  25. Scott

    I think you guys get confused between an “opinion/editorial” and “news” content.

    There is not a lot of misleading or incorrect news being reported generally, especially in the print media. Both Fairfax and News do report the news accurately, albeit with a little bit of left/right slant, but I think both would pass the Canadian rule if it was in force here. I mean Media Watch usually has to resign itself to dealing with type-o’s and swearing on breakfast television.

    Opinion/editorial pieces in newspapers are a different matter entirely (a fair bit of skewed info being put into those), but again, the bias does seem depend on the reader’s own political slants. The Greens probably think SMH is too pro-business and no doubt One Nation voters believe “The Australian” is written by a bunch of communists.

  26. Cuppa

    If you want to help push the ABC to return to its Charter, please vote and comment on the petition.


  27. eric

    It looks to me that more and more “ABC News” is lifted straight from News Corp newspapers esp The Australian.

    Is it just lazyness by the editors at the ABC or do they also have an anti Gillard agenda.
    FFS one of the lead items on ABC radio news yesterday was the the Government was spending $25 million on TV ads!.
    What happened to truth in reporting “my” ABC?

  28. Venise Alstergren

    SCOTT: Owing to my coffee loving I get to see what other people leave in the way of newspapers. The Hun prints nothing but anti- Gillard garbage. Once I even came across a gardening mag-printed by the Murdoch press-which somehow managed to print an anti-Labor spray.

    Media Watch isn’t given to typos and swearing at all. Their main attack is to the lies and entertainment found in the what TV stations, 7, 9, 10 laughingly refer to as their news section.

    If the SMH is the same as the Herald Sun I can’t imagine any businessman buying it.

  29. Barry 09

    Venise , its MIS – LEADER Papers from Rupert hacker Ltd News.

  30. davidk

    Giving the ABC more money might enable it to employ some intelligent, independently minded news editors for a change. Haven’t seen that for a long time. I can’t see any harm in introducing a no lying provision as a prerequisite for holding a licence to disseminate information to the public. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

  31. freecountry

    I think the Australian certainly went through a recent period of allowing some editors (perhaps just one key editor) to get confused between their private political activism and their professional detachment.

    Far from undermining the government, in my opinion this seduced the opposition into a foolish complacency in the lead up to last year’s federal election. A bit less front-page activism, a bit more separation between news and editorials, would have done the Coalition a lot more good and would have led to a federal Coalition victory last year.

    I’m not the only person who has realized this. If any of you care to take a look at the Australian more recently, it seems to me that Tony Abbott’s three-year honeymoon with the flagship is now over.

    If the tabloids and radio jockeys are so anti-Labor and so influential, how come Labor has dominated a decade of state governments and is in its second term of federal government? Maybe those who try to be opinion makers fool only their own side.

    And which would you prefer, a press that errs on the side of being hostile to the government, or one in which editors are best mates with cabinet ministers and staff reporters subsist on a drip-feed of ministerial press releases?

  32. freecountry

    Make that two-year honeymoon, not three-year. Time flies.

  33. News Blues

    %%%%% Insiders’ “conservative” panellists are primarily drawn from News Ltd outlets, which ignores the substantial number of far better conservative and libertarian commentators outside their pages. %%%%%

    …and Halleluyah to that!

  34. SimsonMc

    Scott – I beg to differ. Many of Media Watch’s stories pick up on lazy journalists who use a press releases and “so-called” research from political parties or lobby groups and don’t cross reference its claims or scrutinise its detail. Considering that most press releases usually involve pushing some agenda where they usually are loose with the facts or distort them all together to suit their view, then many of these news reports that are published or broadcasted would not pass the Canadian test.

    In relation to opinion pieces, again the shock jocks are no where near as indignant or extreme as they are here and in America so there must also be another section that makes them more civilised and balanced.

    Not a bad outcome from where I stand.

  35. News Blues


    You mean there is something good come out of Canada? I think you confuse Canada with Novascotia..(sp)

  36. Nobs of Mullion

    “The ABC takes local communities seriously”… Bernard you can’t be serious! In Orange a large regional city in NSW. Our “Local Breakfast” presenter could be here or in Dubbo. The Morning Presenter is often networked from somewhere else and the afternoon presenter is always networked from somewhere else, often somewhere with as much relevance to our ‘local’ area as Lismore or Tamworth and then we have “Statewide Drive”. ABC ‘Local’ Radio is as much a joke as our ‘local’ commercial radio.

  37. AR

    I’m constantly amazed by BK’s astonishing purview – a real renaissance reporter, able to ascertain what he doesn’t know and provide a 1st class analysis of known & unknown aspects – well done.
    Unfortunately I think he is correct that the majority of the apparatchiks & timeservers in the major parties will shrink from doing anything that might result in less iron control of press opinion, because someday they may need them. (It’s a good example of how stuck in the past they are to be so concerned about a dying medium – pity that it hasn’t yet stopped moving, probably just the worms eating the innards.)
    Legislate against LYING? Considering that there was bi-partisan support for the exclusion of politicians and their parties’ manifesto from the truth in advertising legislation, I think we can forget that until the Greens have sufficient strength in the Reps.

  38. freecountry

    One of the consequences of the Milosevic government’s intimidation and gradual capture of the Serbian news media in 1992 was, ironically, that pro-Serbian news was no longer propagated to the West.

    For those who remember the news coverage from the outside looking in, there was a distinct before and after. Before about September 1992 or thereabouts, Serbs were reported to be defending themselves against violent rebellions and seizures of state resources, trying to hold together their peaceful, cosmopolitan federation. This wasn’t good enough for the Milosevic federal government apparently. Government spokesmen accused journalists of being “biased”, “untruthful”, and “unpatriotic”, and started naming and shaming some journalists for being agents of foreign forces like the CIA or whatever.

    Afterwards, as many proud Serb journalists disappeared or fled the country, the Serbian news became useless for overseas syndication. International news coverage became dependent on overseas journalists who had no clue what was going on and didn’t speak the local language, and a small number of non-Serbian news agencies supported by various militia organizations.

    I think it’s silly when journalists say, “the first casualty of war is the truth”. That’s bollocks, the first casualty of war is usually some hapless civilian who gets clubbed to death in the street by a lynch mob. Truth comes way down the list of casualties, but once the government gains the power to define it, you’re up sh*t creek without a paddle.

    It’s all very well for peaceful, prosperous Canada to experiment with legislating trendy little motherhood statements into their national laws. If those laws are ever put to the test by real political problems, the Canadians may find that what once seemed like such a fine idea is actually worse than useless.

  39. News Blues

    I am not saying they were angels, who is during times of war? but The Serbs were never reported truthfully in the MSM, and such was the mind-set created by the MSM, that rank & file would have believed anything about them, including” alledged” atrocities.

    Lets not forget that International kangaroo Court that tried Milosevic and refused to accept the evidence presented. I don’t know many lawyers who did n’t cackle at that. A disgrace.

  40. Kristen Smith

    It amazing to here from arch green stalinist Keane who supports the wholesale forceable movement or slaughter of country and working Australians in support of the current green mirage hold forth on the morals of other media players.

  41. Daniel

    I like Amira Haas’ philosophy: ‘A journalists job is to monitor power and the centres of power’.

    News Intl. in the UK obviously ignored that quote. Is there anybody more powerless than a murdered schoolgirl? News Ltd. newspapers have ignored this adage for some time with their constant slander against the powerless and vulnerable in our society – asylum seekers, the unemployed, ethnic minorities etc.

    I just wish News Ltd. newspapers, talkback hosts were as hostile towards the Coalition as they are the Greens. The lack of media diversity means far too many politicians get a free ride, and too many positions and statements go unexamined.

  42. Daniel

    “It amazing to here from arch green stalinist Keane who supports the wholesale forceable movement or slaughter of country and working Australians in support of the current green mirage hold forth on the morals of other media players.”

    I want to frame and keep this comment. I want to read it when I wake up, and read it before I go to bed. I want to comment to be the preamble of the Constitution. This is Peak Comment people, it’s all downhill from here.

  43. AR

    Daniel – it WAS pretty special wasn’t it? So many wrong boxes ticked in so few words – they must be giving the trolls lessons & crib sheets of how to be total morons.

  44. drmick

    Daniel, AR
    Now that’s funny.
    Media balance at its best; delivered by trolls. Fair and balanced

  45. Kristen Smith

    Hey AR u said
    “Daniel – it WAS pretty special wasn’t it? So many wrong boxes ticked in so few words – they must be giving the trolls lessons & crib sheets of how to be total morons.”

    Name calling is a classic green tactic. The modern Australian Greens openly trace their origins to the green left from Germany in the 1970’s who grew out of the pre war German Party known as the Nazis. They the Nazis prefered name calling to real debate and we all know how that ended.
    God help Australia.
    Tony Abbotts first move on becoming PM should be to sack 50 % of the public service including 90 % of the Treasury (surely there must be 10 % of Treasury who care more for average Australians than Wombats) The Treasury that is, who get nearly all there forecasts wrong.

  46. Kristen Smith

    I should have added sacking 50% of public servants would really hurt Crikey readers and so Crikey. I guess that would be bad for media diversity but good for the country’s overall output and well being.

  47. Rob Johnson ( not the DH WA Police Minister )

    *it amazing to here from arch green stalinist Keane who supports the wholesale forceable movement or slaughter of country and working Australians*

    So his mother never gave him any soft toys as a baby, get over it.

  48. SimsonMc


    “It’s all very well for peaceful, prosperous Canada to experiment with legislating trendy little motherhood statements into their national laws. If those laws are ever put to the test by real political problems, the Canadians may find that what once seemed like such a fine idea is actually worse than useless.”

    I am trying to comprehend how making an organisation tell the truth would actually be worse than useless.

  49. News Blues

    What if I started posting links about the mysterious disappearance of thousands of indigenous Canadian children, links that cast a spurious shadow over govt cover-ups and links that go all the way to the top? Was that a question or a statement?

  50. Rob Johnson ( not the DH WA Police Minister )

    Spurious? …dunno bout that one. Not saying it’s not true – just choice of words.

  51. freecountry

    News Blues – I wasn’t there … was Milosevic cruel, or just opportunistic and banal? As a measure of failed leadership it doesn’t get much worse than presiding over the disintegration of one’s country into civil war. The buck stopped with him, and maybe that required somewhat tougher justice than just being voted out of office.

    But I did meet some Serbs who felt the need to preserve their federation against some of the mobs of serial killers marching around the countryside, and I thought many of them were decent, thoughtful people with reasons for doing so that I respected. And my recollection is that the international news in the early part of the war did reflect this, largely because at that stage it was coming to us from the domestic media in Belgrade.

    There was a strong tradition of media independence in Yugoslavia, without any need for truth-in-journalism laws, and the TANJUG news agency was until then internationally renowned as a professional outfit, from its beginning after the German retreat in late 1943 to its slow and clumsy degradation by Milosevic 50 years later.

    As to SimsonMc’s question, I partly answered it in the previous post. As a direct result of more or less stomping the domestic media into his subjective version of truthfulness, ironically he turned it into something that was useless to foreign newspapers, and so lost all opportunity to have his side of the story heard in London, Paris or New York. A lesson that trying to control the truth is not always as simple as it seems.

    Furthermore, when you take away some people’s voices because you don’t like what they’re saying, what do you think’s going to happen, they’re all just going to sit back and do crosswords? Some of them may find other ways of expressing themselves.

  52. Daniel

    “I should have added sacking 50% of public servants would really hurt Crikey readers and so Crikey. I guess that would be bad for media diversity but good for the country’s overall output and well being.”

    Scathing! Ouch! Take that Crikey!

  53. Sancho

    We don’t have to choose between outraged hostility and cosy propaganda, Freecountry. We can ask for news services that report what, when, who, and where alongside a balanced range of commentary.

  54. Sancho

    Ugh. Didn’t refresh my browser in six hours. That last post was in response to the one at 5pm.

  55. News Blues

    You were n’t there? Do you always use that line every time you want to cast a dispersion on someone elses point of view knowing full well they were n’t there.?..come on now, I was n’t in Armenia either, during their great holocaust and I was n’t in Spain during the Inquisition for that matter, nor Wounded Knee either, to know that many indigenous Americans were butchered for the sake of white Anglo Saxon expansion ,but I know at least somewhere there is an accurate historical record that can be trusted and leads to the truth, so I dig it out….or do you prefer to read the newspapers for the daily clap-trap about some “home-grown” street-level revolution that’s taking Europe, the Middle East and North Africa by storm, when it’s really the US and CIA/Mossad inspired. Do you want your cake and eat it too? Can we afford be selective about this or is it the truth or a pack of lies?

    The same thing applies to Serbia and Milosevic. Milosevic’s attempt to apply some sort of balance with the media reports was due to the lies and distortions put out by the MSM.

    What’s happening in North Africa and the Middle east is a repeat modus operandi of Serbia..the pretext justification is set in stone by the MSM and followed by military action until he resigns or is killed or he is voted out..the exact same pattern is right across North Africa. The methods In Spain, Portugal and Greece is not hob-nail, it’s financial, banking to bring them to their knees, but if that does n’t work it will be some sort of other MSM/US inspired revolution…you mean well.

  56. BookerC

    Murdoch needs bashing in Australia! He needs to be overthrown in the name of democracy! I agree we do not want to create a situation where by journalists are unable to dig and do their job. Changing media ownership laws is a completely different issue, however, and needs to be taken up with gusto while the old man is hot in the face!

  57. jeebus

    It’s time to split up News Corporation. Rupert Stalin and his propaganda machine have corrupted our media and poisoned the public discourse.

    Democracy cannot sustain a corrupt media, because the function of a free press is to police the powerful and hold them accountable.

    With the debasing of the media by Murdoch, we’re seeing the rise of political extremists who spread fear and lies with no accountability, and the spread of influence by greedy corporations who pretend to act in the interests of the country.

    What do the Labor party, the Greens and the Independents have to lose by attacking the greatest threat to our country head on? It’s time to fight back!

  58. Cynic

    As well as media diversity being an issue, we must also consider the influence of media players when they invest in non-media buinsesses. Consolidated Press arenow actively investing in businesses so that they can promote them via their own media. This takes advertorials to a new level. A perfect example is the way News hushed up its own part in the Ansett downfall – not so much hushed up as any journalist who dared comment on it put their career in danger, without so much as a word being said. The Herald Sun journalist who wrote a book on the collapse only dedicated 6 pages to the 8 years that New controlled Ansett from 1992 to 2000, when all the damage was done. Funny that.

  59. SimsonMc

    Freecountry: Comparing Serb experience with Canada has a bit of Andrew Bolt logic about it. You are comparing apples with oranges. “Truth in the media” doesn’t stop you writing what ever you like, it just puts the onus on the writer to tell the truth. The power comes from a piece of legislation so therefore a case of whether the truth has been told would be determined in a court of law. Something the courts have been doing quite successfully for hundreds of years. The Serbian example is about an individual cracking down on the media for their own ends. Completely different.

  60. SimsonMc

    Clarification on my last point. Should read:

    The Serbian example is about an individual bypassing the rule of law and the judicial process to crack down on the media for their own ends. Completely different.

  61. freecountry

    New Blues – Actually I said I wasn’t there because a lot of people who are now in Australia were there, and it’s still pretty sensitive.

    Sancho: “We can ask for news services that report what, when, who, and where alongside a balanced range of commentary.”

    Of course you can. It’s called free choice–that exercising your own free choice, not taking away mine. And if you’re not satisfied with your choice of newspaper, you can even get a bunch of investors and journalists together and start your own. Once upon a time in this country that’s how people addressed needs that they saw: by doing something about it, not by calling on the government to break up somebody else’s creation.

    Why do you think Rupert Murdoch filled a void by creating a national newspaper in the first place? Why do you think Alan Bond created a university that John Dawkins wouldn’t be able to amalgamate and turn into one of his educational slot machines? Why do you think Russell Crowe rescued the South Sydney Rabbitohs? Why do you think Reverend John Flynn started the Royal Flying Doctor Service in 1928?

    Listen to yourselves, you bleat about the world not being exactly the way you would order it, but you would happily use the political process to help yourselves to someone else’s creation. Go and start your own newspaper, you whingers, see how easy it is to please all the readers at once while still paying all the staff and all the bills.

  62. SimsonMc

    Freecountry: You are missing the point. As I have argued before, news outlets have a privileged position in society whether they like it or not. They have the power to affect people’s lives and therefore need to treat that position with respect it deserves. I agree with you that I don’t believe Murdoch’s should be made to divest his interest. What I am arguing is a person/organisation who has been given such a privileged position within society needs to be held to high standards. Doctors, accountants, judges, etc must observe fairly, tell the truth and pass judgement without fear or favour. Are you arguing that in a free capitalist society that doctors should be allowed to run agendas which contradicts the good of society for their own ends? If you look at all the charters and codes of ethics for news media outlets, they talk about providing balanced reporting, reporting the truth and doing it without fear or favour. So legislating the supposed ethics that they all say they abide by is not such a big leap. Truth and fairness are the founding premises of what a civilised society is based on and we hold those who are given that privileged position within society to these very high standards. Is it fair to expect more from journalist, maybe, maybe not, but it is clear from the events that are going on that society does expect it. So as you inferred, if journalists and media organisations don’t like it, then they are free take their money or talent and go else where.

  63. jeebus

    @Freecountry, Rupert inherited millions of capital. Bond shystered millions of capital for his dodgy ventures. Crowe had a lucky break in Hollywood.

    So let me see what the moral of your story is… Win the birth lottery, make it as a hollywood actor, or con other people’s money out of them and you too can do great things!

    I hate to break it to you but the “American dream” is a load of crap nowadays.

    America’s golden age was the 50s and 60s, a time when the top tax bracket was 90%, and wealth & opportunity was distributed far more evenly across the economy.

    Wealth doesn’t trickle down. It trickles up, and the fastest way to destroy a strong economy and a strong country is for the government to allow and accelerate that process. America is now ruled by a class of self entitled, selfish aristocrats who manipulate democracy to serve themselves.

    Australia is not far behind them.

  64. Boo

    Australians elect a government to govern us. Any person or entity who threatens to subvert that is a threat to our democracy. Rupert is but one such threat. Such threats are as old as democracy itself; it has long been recognised that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    It is a measure of some to suggest that it is a fixture of democracy for such threats exist, and that it is the right of an individual, or group of individuals, to rise up and counter such a threat. One would then wonder what the usefulness of this activity would be when the government – a collective of the people – has failed to do so.

    In order for our system of government to survive we need to be able to ensure it functions without being unduly influenced by undemocratic means, whilst not itself becoming a tyrant. And we need to be able to be sufficiently wise as a people to understand this.

    Neutering Rupert, as satisfying and as necessary as this may well be, is not the solution to the broader problem. Indeed it serves as a convenient distraction from the broader problem. The hacking scandal is the latest spot fire, others going back over the years include the ‘political class’, ‘population’ and so on. People are getting angry, it’s a pity that there is so little quality information out there for people to people to educate themselves with. Thanks no end to Rupert and ‘Your Parrot’ ABC.

  65. freecountry

    SimsonMc – OK, so the defining characteristic of professions like law and medicine is that the complexity of what they do, and of the long term consequences of getting it wrong, are beyond the ability of outsiders to understand and judge so the profession must to some extent self-govern.

    For example, several years ago in the US there was a man suffering schitzophrenia whom the entire psychiatric profession refused to treat. The reason was that the patient was on death row, but the law required him to be cognizant of his crime and punishment before they could kill him. The psychiatrists, who are first and foremost doctors, refused to make the man sane just so the government could kill him, and not one practitioner could be found in the whole country to break ranks.

    So there are nuances in the ethics of a profession that sometimes only insiders are in a position to define and judge. For another, more everyday example, members of the public often ask defence lawyers, “How can you defend this terrible person, knowing he’s guilty?” That’s because a lot of the public don’t really understand the law, or how the whole thing would fall apart if some people could not get proper representation.

    The point is, professions make and discuss and enforce their own rules of conduct, which go above and beyond legal obligations, in ways which are sometimes beyond the understanding of the general public and of legislators, and they have their own ways of censuring colleagues who endanger the public’s trust in their whole profession.

    How about journalists? Like lawyers and doctors, they set and enforce their own code of ethics. Unlike lawyers and doctors, they have no problem with questioning each other’s integrity publicly on a daily basis. This honours John Stuart Mill’s concept of a marketplace of ideas, but does it also undermine the public’s confidence in what they read? And what else can they do? Should they cover for their colleagues in public and slap each others’ wrists behind closed doors?

    Suppose all journalists who belong to the Australian Journalists Association were encouraged to display an AJA logo against their byline on every story they produce, either in print, online, or on television. On radio it would be some brief phrase like, “This is AJA member Clark Kent reporting for ABC.”

    This would raise the visibility of the AJA and raise public expectations that some kind of professional accreditation is being vouched for. It would increase pressure on the AJA to take action, including if necessary withdrawing accreditation, if multiple complaints were upheld against a practitioner. It would remind journalists that they are representing a profession and something bigger than their ephemeral circulation or their activist opinion is at stake. There would be nothing to stop non-AJA members from writing stories, but the public would be educated to understand that no one except the publisher is vouching for the standard of conduct of the journalist. From there, it would be up to the public to judge.

  66. SimsonMc

    Freecountry: Your claim that “there are nuances in the ethics of a profession that sometimes only insiders are in a position to define and judge” which I agree with, however I would argue that journalists would also fall into that category. It is the reason why the media exist because they are privileged with a position that allows them to gather information that the general public don’t know about or have the means to acquire. One of the major points that Sarah-Jane Blakemore & Uta Frith alludes to in their study “How does the brain deal with the social world” is that social interaction is one of the most complex tasks the human brain has to deal with throughout its life time. I would argue that as an extension, politics is also complex as it consists of social relations and interactions involving authority or power.

    I would disagree with you in relation to your suggestion that “Unlike lawyers and doctors, they (journalists) have no problem with questioning each other’s integrity publicly on a daily basis.” Yes they would question more than doctors but they are no angels. They are either reluctant participants (such as the current NoTW scandal – News Ltd was essentially dragged kicking and screaming into the debate) or they want to settle an old score (such as public spats involving News and Fairfax). Generally they will let them go through to the keeper on the premise that you don’t soil in your own backyard. Hence the reason why Australia has the current media environment it does.

    I agree with your point about self-regulation, it is much better than paying government agencies to do it. Governments should only be there for when the market fails and considering the current events the market has failed. So the ideal scenario would be for journalist to have a strong professional body with powers to censure and discipline when there are repeated breaches of their code of ethics. However there should also be civil and criminal remedies in legislation to correct market failures. Exactly what doctors have at the moment.

    Thank you for the civil and respectful debate. I have enjoyed it.

  67. Venise Alstergren

    SIMSOMC: Self-regulation is one of the major reasons for the tripe printed in the tabloids owned by Rupert Murdoch. Terrified of causing their boss any angst they cut out anything which might offend him. The Hun (Herald Sun) in Victoria spent days ignoring the NotW hacking scandal. The first appearance of the disaster was days later than the rest of the MSM when it appeared in a very small paragraph tucked away on page 28.

    Surely if ‘They’ can run a footy club ‘They’ could run a decent board of people whose sole responsibility would be to see that the press/TV, whatever, maintains an even handed approach, and that shock jocks are forced to be balanced. I am naïve, I admit it.

  68. freecountry

    SimsonMc: “… however I would argue that journalists would also fall into that category.”

    Yes, I agree, sorry if I didn’t make that clear. For example complaints from the public (or more often from politicians) about lack of “balance” often take a very naive view of what comprises “balance” and whether every single news article should take a 50/50 approach to every controversial issue. (Assuming there are exactly two sides to every issue, which is also a common fallacy).

    Readers can go round and round on questions like this, but as you and I just agreed, to a large extent these are questions for journalists to settle within their own profession, along with other ethical standards such as invasion of privacy (notwithstanding any laws), and where’s the dividing line between selecting what’s newsworthy and lying by omission.

    That’s where I think putting an AJA stamp on stories written by AJA members would really put all journalists on the spot. After all, if you’re a journalist who’s proud of your professionalism, you’re a bit less likely to stand idly by if another writer is flagrantly trashing the very same brand of professional accreditation that you stamp on your own work.

  69. Jeremy Williams

    BK You said there shouldn’t be a media inquiry but just demonstrated how pervasive newslimited is. I agree with stephen mayne the most anyone print outlet should own is 50%. Then if that outlet wants to be a platform for vested interests and partisan coverage we have options.

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