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Aug 16, 2011

Yes, News Limited owns far too much of the Australian media. And yes, there should be a government inquiry into media ownership now that the fiasco at the News of The World has laid bare the anti-social culture that resides within the same organisation that owns far too much of the Australian media.

But no, there is no democratic or economic rationale to support suggestions that News Limited should be forced to divest any of its Australian newspapers.

There is an obvious way, though, for federal and state governments to address the dilemma of concentration of media ownership. And that’s by a policy of encouragement, not discouragement. Helping people start and run media, not forcing anyone to sell media. Supporting the growth of media diversity, not suppressing what’s already there.

It would be entirely logical for governments, concerned about the damage inflicted on democracy by one organisation with so much power, to use a sliver of their considerable resources — society’s resources — to create mechanisms to help fund diversity of media ownership. How? By such measures as offering seed funding to new media ventures, just as governments support the development of numerous industries. Or by providing tax breaks to investors in independent media. Or, heaven forbid, by directing a small portion of government advertising towards media that is not part of a near-monopoly (only if it can be justified by objective measurement). Or by allocating some existing funding from the ABC or the Australian Council.

Of course, such ideas would induce howls of protest, and indignant editorials, from News Limited newspapers. And of course, such suggestions are tainted with self-interest when they come from anyone involved in independent journalism in a country where such activities are regarded with contempt by the incumbent media establishment.

In Adelaide, for example, I am a shareholder in In Daily — a daily online newspaper that represents just about the only independent competitor to News Limited in the city. In Daily is banned from receiving any government advertising by the South Australian government — by personal order of the Premier, Mike Rann, who doesn’t like our editorial coverage (of him). Is that in the interest of media diversity in a city where one company, News Limited, owns every daily, Sunday and suburban newspaper?

Instead of posturing about the theory of media diversity, Senator Bob Brown and the Greens should use their political influence to do something about its practice.

*Eric Beecher is chairman of Private Media (publisher of Crikey, Smart Company, Property Observer and The Power Index), chairman of Australian Independent Business Media (publisher of Business Spectator and Eureka Report), and a shareholder in In Daily and the Byron Shire Echo newspaper.

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19 comments

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19 thoughts on “Beecher: logical for government to fund media diversity

  1. Meski

    Mike Rann should realise that ‘In Daily’ is the only SA newspaper I read, and if he want to get his message out, he needs to use it.

  2. Michael James

    So Crikey rails against special interest pleading by rent-seekers, as articulated in the article slamming Mitch Hooke as a rent seeker in today’s daily email, but special interest pleading by a rent seeker who happens to be the person who owns Crikey is OK.

    Can we have a little consistency please Crikey.

  3. Frank Campbell

    “independent journalism in a country where such activities are regarded with contempt by the incumbent media establishment.”

    Independent in what sense? Of Murdoch? Yup. No doubt about that.

    Independent in any other way?

    Held in “contempt by the incumbent media establishment”? Murdoch? Presumably. Fairfax? Their plight is nothing to do with Crikey. Do they have any opinion about Crikey? Does it matter?

    Isn’t the “contempt” from the Right generally, because Crikey is a progressive site? Crikey isn’t a threat to the rest of the MSM, is it?

    Sounds like a case of Little Red Crikeyhood to me…Crikey as victim. But Crikey is a comment site, too small for journalism. So what’s the complaint? The Right (including much of the ALP) may hate Crikey, but what else would you expect?

  4. michael crook

    Before the ALP saw fit to dispense with my services as a member, I did propose to various regional conferences, that the ALP itself launch a newspaper, in order to achieve a balance within the media landscape. Indeed, at one time the ALP actually owned a radio station in Brisbane, which it sold to allow Ian Brusasco to grow their campaign war chest, pity.

    There is a wonderful example of a success story with the Green Left Weekly, which for 20 years has reported the news unshaped by the demands of commercial interests.

    The only thing stopping the spread of GLW is the limited public awareness that it exists.

  5. Joceyln Tan

    Irony is lost on some people, isn’t it Mr Beecher? Surely Michael James realises that you’ve made his point for him?
    For no-one in their right mind would want a medium funded by Government for the obvious reason that Mr Beecher points to. People like Mr Rann want to control them. And they’re not at all above a good thwack.
    In any case the Italians have made the point for all of us.
    What we need is more profit-based, healthy independent voices. Like those of Mr Beecher and his poodle, Mr Crook.

  6. Meski

    Pointing out that governments favour NewsCorp at the expense of independents is rent seeking, MJ? Hmm, that’s an interestingly narrow definition.

  7. Cuppa

    On means by which governments can foster media diversity, an interesting article at Inside.org.au

    http://inside.org.au/right-time-wrong-inquiry/

    [… The healthy Norwegian figure partly reflects longstanding government programs designed to maintain and expand the newspaper industry and encourage diversity. Norway’s Media Authority provides subsidies to encourage local newspapers that compete with large, well-established papers. According to the American journalist John Nichols, Norway’s assistance program “promotes the development of newspapers in sparsely populated regions and helps sustain publications that may have an ideological following but are not necessarily popular with advertisers.”]

  8. Cuppa

    I for one would love to see Labor/the Unions own radio stations again. Democracy demands that progressive talk programming be broadcast in competition to the present conservative chorus on talk radio.

  9. The_roth

    It is lovely to dream, but a dream it is. Media concentration is a worldwide epidemic not just here.

    I think that we should consider ourselves lucky that Rupert doesn’t own weapons making companies like many of the US media owning corporations.

    Mind you by our slavish behaviour regarding US entanglements we don’t really need a self serving war mongering media driven by controlling corporations to keep us in endless war.

  10. Edward James

    I have fond memories of Workers on line!