Digital media and media diversity

The changes recently proposed to the Broadcasting Act will allow for a further concentration of media power in Australia.

While from a commercial point of view the traditional media most certainly are under attack from the digital media the fact is that the traditional media wield a far greater power over national politics than all the (international) digital media put together. To increase the power of the incumbent players through media reforms might not necessarily have an enormous effect on the everyday media diversity but it will allow organisations such as the Murdoch press to wield even greater power over Australian politics than is already the case.

We are in uncharted waters and it will be interesting to see what these media reforms will lead to; the trouble is once further concentration has been established it will be very difficult to wind back the clock.

While Nick Xenophon’s $60 million package for journalist cadetship is very noble, the question is whether that package will do anything for media diversity, and I doubt this very much. Most likely the money will be blown away on noble initiatives that won’t have any long-term effect on media diversity, in regional or national markets. In the end, these cadets need to be employed by somebody or start their own media company, and if we are lucky one or two might be successful there.

While the success of the Nick Xenophon fund is doubtful there is no doubt that the big media companies will profit from the reforms. But this will not change the underlying long-term decline of the industry. The companies might become bigger from a commercial point of view but the digital media trend is still against them. However, for the foreseeable future this will not undermine their political influence – on the contrary.

Another tradeoff is an Inquiry into the ABC – with the possibility, at least from Pauline Hanson’s point of view, of undermining the national public broadcaster. We will need to see if she is successful, but with an extremely conservative government and a very weak Prime Minister in place it does make me nervous.

In my view, there are limits to ‘fair and balanced reporting’ if that means providing equal room to white supremacists, climate deniers, bigots, racists and homophobics. These are exactly the categories of people that the policies of One Nation support (directly or indirectly), so if that party asks for a fair and balanced view from the ABC, warning bells should ring all around the country. At this stage it is just an Inquiry, and although there doesn’t seem to be strong political support for changes to the ABC legislation the current political climate in which this will be debated makes me nervous.

So, from a commercial point of view it is understandable that media reforms are necessary, but from a media diversity point of view we are entering dangerous waters as this all has more to do with political power and influence than with commercial issues.

Paul Budde

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