By Jim Hayes
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has lifted its war on the ABC and SBS, by pushing for the Australian government to review the charters by which the two operate.
The rational. The media monopoly insists that the two public broadcasters unfairly compete with its empire of newspapers, television and radio stations and websites. The second reason, is that by taking up a section of the market, New Corp is denied an avenue to make profit.
It is all in a submission into the government established inquiry into the competitive neutrality of the national broadcasters. An inquiry that had been pushed by News Corp and the Liberal Party connected Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which has made no secret of its ambition to have the two broadcasters defunded and privatised. Pauline Hanson had put in her bit, by insisting on it, as a condition for supporting other government policies.
The inquiry is supposedly briefed to pinpoint barriers to competition. But this will remain a farce, unless there is an examination of all media. Australia is burdened with the most monopolised private media in the world. News Corp controls the bulk of it. This means that talk of a competitive industry is nonsense, unless the main focus, is on taking on News Corp’s own capacity to exclude others and substantial control over the news and information made accessible to the Australian public.
In this context, there is something for the argument that the funding of the ABC and SBS, rather than restricting competition, actually enhances it by mitigating monopoly control. Unfortunately, the Inquiry is not looking at this bigger picture.
Another and important part of News Corp’s IPA assisted campaign, is to place itself in a position to extend its monopoly into digital media. It is the ultimate prize. To help this along, there is a call to bar the public broadcasters from publishing its stories online using Google ads. This means that they would not be able to buy search terms to market these stories. There is a further call, to ban public broadcasters selling their stories to third parties and advertising its content.
The Inquiry is being conducted by the pro privatisation Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, economist Robert Kerr, commercial television lobbyist Julie Flynn and former ABC TV executive and producer Sandra Levy. The panel has been stitched up with members likely to sympathise with News Corp.
Considering of monopoly control over Australian media should be at the forefront, and the aim of any inquiry should be to come up with recommendations to counter monopoly control and its negative impacts on media and Australian society.
This would inevitably come up against another matter, and this is the democratisation of the media. A big problem is that having a voice requires a hell of a lot of money and having access to a platform.Those who do not have these things are, by definition, excluded.
The existence of and proper operation of public broadcasters provides part of the answer. How can this be extended? Perhaps by guaranteeing through law, forms of access to commercial media. Maybe News Corp and that small portion not under its control can be made to share their resources?
By this means, media in Australia can be democratised, and hold back its use by a very few, as a tool for political manipulation for very narrow interests. A democratic media is crucial for a truly democratic society.