Doctor and activist

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.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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