Doctor and activist

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Category: Media Ownership

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Fake Facebook Pages Allow Dictators to Rule

1 May 2021

A Facebook whistleblower, Sophie Zhang, says that in many countries fake pages are distorting perceptions of politicians and trolling opposition leaders.  She says that while there is some interest in this in the Western Democracies there is not much interest in countries like Honduras, Azerbaijan, Mexico and the Philippines.  Clearly if action is delayed in these areas politicians may win elections, distorting whole nations’ futures. 

Sophie Zhang was a low-level data analyst who found this and tried to get Facebook management interest, but was continually rebuffed and finally sacked. 

Marx said that ‘Power is control of the means of production’ in that it gave access to money, but now it would seem that power is control of the means of information.  This is why Murdoch and Fox are so powerful.  With 70% of Australia’s print media a drip-feed of negative stories can get rid of governments. 

My personal view is that the fact that Rudd would not change the media ownership laws in Murdoch’s favour was why Rudd fell, though of course his two other key policies, a carbon tax, and royalties on mining offended the mining lobby.  Offending both Murdoch and the miners was terminal.

Apart from the mainstream media (MSM) the other significant media player, which the population think that they control, is the social media, particularly Facebook.  We might ask whether it determined the 2016 US election that elected Trump, or the 2016 Brexit vote.  My more recent view is that my own personal lack of awareness of the power of social media probably cost me my seat in NSW Parliament.

Be all this as it may, Sophie Zhang has raised a very important issue in the power of Facebook and the clash between its commercial interests and its social function. Like many whistle-blowers, she is a hero who has suffered for her efforts.

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Make Google Pay for Content? But who does the money go to? 29/1/21

I searched for something on google today and first up came a message from them on why they should not have to pay for content. Hey, it was like me telling a neighbour where a coffee shop was and then having to pay for having done so. Not quite!
There was no feedback to google- hey we are used to one-way communication these days. Most emails have a ‘No reply’ address and the rest of advertising has been one-way communication since BUGA UP stopped spraying on billboards in the mid-1980s.
But after the google position there was this video by Kevin Rudd, which talks about how the ACCC, which is now claiming to be doing this for media diversity, a.k.a. competition, happily approved Nine buying Fairfax and Murdoch buying almost all Australia’s rural newspapers to get an effective monopoly. They have not looked at media monopolies in Australia and do not seem to want to.
Rudd asks what has changed in media diversity and suggests that Scotty from Marketing is actually just collecting revenue to give to Murdoch. He points out that the legislation does not say where the money will go, and if it goes to existing media, principally Murdoch, it may do nothing at all for media diversity. He also points out that exempting the ABC from getting any money will mean that he can continue to defund them, while subsidising Murdoch, an American citizen who he just gave a gong to in the Australia Day honours. The message is clear from Scotty to Murdoch, ‘Those nasty Labor people want to investigate monopoly in Australian media, but we will support you and give you money- support us next election’.
Google and the multinational tech companies, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Expedia, the gambling websites and the rest that live overseas and pay no tax should be taxed on their turnover in Australia. The ABC should be better funded, and I am open to suggestions as how to support media diversity. The worry is that the extra revenue could just to used to favour sources that suit the government.

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Media Diversity Inquiry 22/11/20

The inquiry into media diversity is now a reality, and submissions close quite soon- 11 December.

Please make a submission, even if it only short- we need to show that a lot of people care about this issue.

It seems to me that the funding model s broken. Years ago, the wealthy Fairfax family got all the ad revenue and were relatively happy to let the journalists write what they liked. When the ad revenue started to fall, the stories were more to please the advertisers so that they would use this paper. Of course stories that were against their interest simply did not happen, so self-censorship got worse. As the paper got thinner, there was simply not enough space for many stories, which worsened the situation.

Finally a senior financial journalist told me that rather then headline writers putting headlines on his finished stories, he was being told the (catchy) headline and asked to write the story to under it. There was naturally some pressure to make sure that the story was at least consistent with the arbitrarily chosen (click inviting) headline.

The rise of social media has of course siphoned off a huge percentage of the ad revenue, and stories can be posted and accessed free, so those funding journalists have a problem.

Democratic ideas and the social media have made many people think that an ignorant opinion has the same value as an informed one. The algorithms that are to keep us watching give us the friends who think like we do, so as we think we see the world, we actually see our own sub-cultural bubble.

Since the funding mechanism is broken, this must be admitted and a new model found. Putting money into existing structures that work, like the ABC and SBS is obviously a good start, but not popular with the commercial media, who see them merely as subsidised competitors.

The idea that google and Facebook should subsidise the commercial media is also a convenient one for Murdoch. It is a massive government interference in the market. Presumably if the ABC is not involved in this subsidy scheme the algorithms would favour free information sources, which would in itself not be a bad thing, though it may also favour blogs of indifferent quality.

It would seem that if Google and Facebook had to pay a ‘turnover tax’ based on their revenue from Australian consumers we could have a sensible debate about how the money should be allocated to inform the population. As well as the ABC and SBS, entities like the Australian Bureau of Statistics might be worth considering, so that they can generate information and then distribute it to inform debate. The idea of evidence-driven policy is not dead, merely very ill.

If the government believes in competition as it professes to do, it must make rules that level the playing field. Chapter One of the economics books tell of open markets, which are modelled on some sort of medieval village where many farmers come to the square on market day, and the consumers have to spend all their money wisely and choose how much of each product they will buy. This is a very limited model and the rest of the textbooks tell about the development of monopolies, oligopolies, collusion, barriers to entry and other distortions to this simplistic market model. It seems that the politicians never get past chapter one. They need to this time. If you want a competitive market there need to be regulations that just stop big fish eating little fish.

It is important that a lot of submissions are received, and it would be good if they had a range of suggestions. Please put one in.

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The Murdoch Party

1 May 2020 Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd do not agree on much, but both Malcolm and Kevin agree that Rupert Murdoch is effectively a political party in Australia and by controlling information gets whatever government and policies that he wants.Kevin Rudd may have been a religious, egotistical, micro-managing nerd, but probably what brought him […]

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