Media reform deals will reduce diversity and amount to little more than window dressing


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The latest reforms will do nothing to prevent further concentration of Australia’s media landscape.
AAP/Dean Lewins

Tim Dwyer, University of Sydney

The breakthrough in negotiations with the Senate crossbenchers that the government has been chipping away at over media reform has finally arrived.

The deregulatory legislation, the Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Bill 2017, required 38 votes to pass the Senate, where the Coalition controls 29 votes. It had already secured the support of three crossbenchers and four One Nation senators, but was waiting for just two votes to get it over the line – until Nick Xenophon did the deal.

After protracted negotiations with Xenophon and his NXT party, the Coalition has arrived at a quid pro quo deal that sees the repeal of the remaining cross-media diversity rules, after the government agreed to NXT’s proposal to introduce funding grants for small and regional publishers. Clearly, though, they are not the “substantial quid pro quo” for public interest journalism that Xenophon has trumpeted, which had previously included tax breaks.

The main features of the bill are:

  • repeal of the “two-out-of-three” rule and the 75% reach rule;

  • the creation of a one-off A$50 million innovation fund for smaller and regional publishers, whose turnover is between A$300,000 and A$30 million. This is capped at $1 million per publisher and available from mid-2018; and

  • the creation of 200 cadetships and 60 scholarships.

The government will also direct the ACCC to conduct an inquiry into the advertising practices of Google and Facebook and their impact on journalism.

Funding for these publishers will require them to meet specific eligibility criteria, including membership of the Australian Press Council and having ethical guidelines in place. It will need to be for the purposes of news production, and civic and public interest journalism from a local perspective. The Australian Communications and Media Authority will oversee the distribution of the funds.

Recipients of the grants must be majority Australian-owned, pass an independence test, and not be affiliated with a political party, union, super fund or lobby group.

These eligibility criteria means some publishers will not have access to these meagre funds. For example, offshore controlled or owned online publications such as The Guardian and Buzzfeed, or a publisher like The New Daily, which is closely affiliated with super funds, would miss out.

Other horsetrading has led to amendments that assist community television, a welcome rescue measure for the sector. It includes a controversial measure such as the A$30 million gift to Fox Sports for women’s and niche sports – a commercial broadcaster that can be accessed by less than 30% of the Australian population.

A major A$90 million gift to commercial free-to-air broadcasters in the form of licence fee removals raises the question of whether something was given in return.

The obvious quid pro quo here is an agreement secured to remove gambling advertising in prime time.

In the wider frame of high industry concentration and the dominance of US-based hegemons, Xenophon’s measures are a minimalistic band-aid response, which will do nothing to prevent further concentration of Australia’s media landscape.

The NXT “wins” are really only window dressing. The One Nation “wins” in relation to further scrutiny on the ABC are a ludicrous attempt at payback for critical coverage.

The more principled approach of Labor and the Greens, who did not support the repeal of the two-out-of-three diversity maintaining rule, is laudable – and may yet form the basis of real media reform in their next federal election campaigns.

The earlier proposed tax breaks for genuine public interest journalism reporting the news and informing the public had the potential to help keep some small players afloat. But one-off grants of A$1 million are hardly going to save struggling publishers.

On the face of it since eligible beneficiaries will be News Corporation and Fairfax Media competitors, many would think this must be a step in the right direction. However, it really is a drop in the ocean compared with the resources of the majors. It will do nothing to remedy the major problem of longer term concentration which needs a complete redesign of the regulatory framework fit for the 21st century.

The opportunity for a root-and-branch analysis of media consumption by Australian audiences, an agency tasked to effectively do that and tracking the transitioning news industries, with commensurate resources and diversity mechanisms has, once again, been sidestepped.

These latest negotiations follow a decade of attempts by conservative governments to dismantle media ownership restrictions.

These minor funding measures do nothing to address the underlying problem of an increasingly concentrated media landscape (where the vast bulk of the eyeballs are anyway). The more serious mechanisms that have been ventilated in the Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Future of Public Interest Journalism — such as direct financial subsidies — have not got a look in.

A 2014 study prepared for the London School of Economics looked at countries with direct financial support for their news industries (the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Austria, France). The support was for up to 50 years, no matter the party in power. The report concluded that:

Policymakers can support private media organisations with mechanisms such as tax relief or even direct subsidies to specific media companies. Such support need not compromise media independence if safeguards such as statutory eligibility criteria are in place.

The authors’ view was that the reality of convergence meant support of private media should be extended to online media.

Serious diversity mechanisms such as indirect tax measures and direct measures like subsidies did not pass muster in the historically cosy relations between politicians and media proprietors.

Real alternatives with impact are possible. In the Swedish subsidy scheme, for example, eligible print or digital newspapers need to have less than 30% market share.

While subsidies contribute only 2-3% of total industry revenue, they amount to 15-20% of revenue for weaker titles that are their main beneficiaries. For a handful, the subsidy represents up to 33% of total earnings.

Of greater importance to the survival of smaller publishers, these minor funding measures do very little to address the fact that 90% of new online ad spending is controlled by Google and Facebook. So why doesn’t the government introduce a levy on these two players to fund public interest journalism as suggested by the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism?

While there are still some ownership controls (minimum of five media voices in metro and four in regional and rural markets), and local content requirements that remain in place, these will not stop further media concentration.

A single person cannot control more than two radio stations or more than one television station in a single market. In regional markets there is still a requirement of 21 minutes of local content a day – a fairly low bar most agree. However, News Corp Australia, for example, which already owns around two-thirds of the print media sector, would be allowed to buy up all the traditional categories of media (TV, radio, and print) in any single market.

The ConversationIn cities such as Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart, where there is already only one daily newspaper, the consequences of further concentration are stark.


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Tim Dwyer, Associate Professor, Department of Media and Communications, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Government set to win Senate support for media deregulation


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The government on Wednesday finally clinched a deal with the crossbench Nick Xenophon Team.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government is set on Thursday to secure Senate support for a major deregulation of Australia’s media rules, clearing the way for a sweeping shake-up of the industry.

It will be the biggest overhaul since Paul Keating’s 1987 changes.

The government on Wednesday finally clinched a deal with the crossbench Nick Xenophon Team (NXT), which secured A$60.4 million for a “regional and small publishers’ jobs and innovation package”.

Under the government’s new rules, a company will be able to have TV, radio and print outlets in the same market – at present it is limited to two out of the three.

Commercial media groups have been strongly in favour of the change, which is set to spark a flurry of mergers and acquisitions.

In an earlier deal, the government some weeks ago locked in the support of Pauline Hanson by agreeing to measures that would potentially clip the wings of the ABC.

It promised an inquiry into whether the ABC and SBS are operating on a “level playing field” with their commercial competitors, and to introduce legislation this year to insert the words “fair” and “balanced” in the requirements for the ABC’s news and information. But the NXT has said it will not support this legislation, which would mean it would fail.

The media changes will also abolish the 75% reach rule, under which TV licence holders cannot reach more than 75% of the Australian population.

The future of the financially embattled Channel 10 has been in play in anticipation of the scrapping of the two-out-of-three rule.

News Corp’s Lachlan Murdoch and Bruce Gordon, who owns the Win regional television network, were favourites to acquire Channel 10. The aim was to put onto Ten content and staff from News Corp’s pay TV station Sky News.

But the bid required the new rules to be passed, and the legislation had been delayed by the prolonged haggling with the crossbench. This allowed the American giant CBS to get in ahead of them. Murdoch and Gordon are now contesting the sale in court.

In Wednesday’s Senate debate, Labor senator Helen Polley said the government was “hellbent on destroying media diversity in this country”.

She accused Nick Xenophon of a “dirty deal”, and said he had given the green light to the Hanson-Turnbull plan to undermine the ABC.

One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts said the ABC was running “rampant and out of control”.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said that while there was a need to ensure that Australians had access to a diverse range of media, the legislation had the potential for further concentration. “The ABC looks like it’s going to be screwed over,” he said.

His Greens colleague Sarah Hanson-Young said the competitive neutrality review was “to hobble the ABC”. She said Hanson had a “personal vendetta” against the ABC because of stories she didn’t like. “Suck it up, sunshine,” she said.

In an angry outburst, crossbencher Jacqui Lambie lashed the government as “a disgusting bunch of individuals”, saying their going after the public broadcaster was “a disgrace”.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said that in 1988 the only platforms were print, radio and TV. Now “the internet is all-pervasive” – people “have an unprecedented range of options”.

The greatest threat to diversity would be the failure of a significant media organisation, Fifield said.

The new rules would allow media organisations to have a “broader range of dance partners”. The changes had the support of the entire media industry, which was “unprecedented” and reflected the challenges faced by the Australian media, he said. The government package would provide “a shot in the arm” for the industry.

The deal for the NXT, funded over three years, includes a $50 million one-off regional and small publishers innovation fund.

“The grants will be able to be used by publishers for initiatives that support the continuation, development, growth and innovation of Australian civic journalism, including initiatives that explore and expand the journalism funding model,” the NXT said.

Australian publishers with an annual revenue turnover of between $300,000 and $30 million would be eligible for grants.

The package also includes support for 200 cadetships, under a regional and small publishers program. Most of these will go to regional areas.

As well, the government has agreed to direct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to conduct an inquiry into the impact of the new digital environment on media.

Nick Xenophon said the result of his negotiations were a good outcome for diversity and journalist jobs. “We support the legislation as necessary reforms that effect the very large changes,” he said.

** Post script **

The ConversationThe Senate on Thursday passed the bill. It now has to return to the House of Representatives when Parliament resumes in a month, before becoming law.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/fr3g9-72ed6d?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

‘A government without newspapers’: why everyone should care about the cuts at Fairfax<



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Fairfax Media journalists are on a week-long strike in response to the company’s latest round of staff cuts.
AAP/Joe Castro

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. The Conversation

This is an oft-used quote by one of the Founding Fathers and the third US president, Thomas Jefferson. He penned it in 1787 in a letter to soldier and politician Edward Carrington – 230 years ago. That’s how long the concept of the need for independent scrutiny of power has been around.

And this is why we should care deeply about the suggested cuts of 125 editorial staff at Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian Financial Review.

These cuts are the latest in several redundancy rounds. Editorial staff reacted on Wednesday by going on a seven-day strike. The journalists are doing this at great risk: the strike is classified as unprotected industrial action, and they risk losing their jobs.

The journalists, though, have clearly had enough. The latest savings round is the last straw in creating an unsustainable workplace and journalistic environment.

Those left in the newsroom after the cuts will be asked to produce more content for more publishing platforms, further diluting the journalism created. This undermines the core Fairfax business model of providing quality and in-depth journalism – including investigative reporting – that can be summarised as public-interest journalism.

Imagine an Australia where clickbait and trivial content rules, and public-interest journalism has died due to lack of funding. The Australian public would likely be unaware of the following:

These examples are just from the last few years. A full inventory of the revelations by Australian investigative journalists in recent decades would create a list several pages long.

Many of the malpractices revealed in these stories should have been discovered and dealt with by government watchdogs. For various reasons, political or financial, they were not. But without in-depth journalism, these issues would still be unknown – and corrupt and dishonest individuals still in their jobs.

Is this really what Australians want?

Picture a world in which politicians are given free rein to communicate only their good news stories, and no proper scrutiny or accountability of them existed. And a world in which the corporate sector was not questioned about its lobbying efforts of government, and no-one independently monitored if their production polluted the environment.

Imagine, for a moment, if there were no independent journalists left to decipher PR spin.

Doesn’t sound too good, does it?

What for alternative funding models?

At the core of the current funding crisis for public-interest journalism in Australia and globally sits the collapse of the old advertising business model caused by digital disruption.

It is now clear that the so-called “rivers of gold” advertising revenue supporting the growth of large newsrooms from the 1950s until now is at an end. In retrospect, it seems this golden era of high-profit margin media companies based on journalism was a historical anomaly.

It is unclear what the new business model is. So, how do we fund public-interest journalism?

Clearly, the market cannot do it on its own. You could say the market model has failed, but that’s too harsh. We probably had unrealistic expectations.

The market model will, most likely, make up one part of the funding. But some other options worthy of serious discussion are:

  • Making sure we keep funding the ABC properly so it can carry public-interest journalism while market-funded journalism transitions.

  • Australian governments have to take the funding crisis in journalism seriously. In other parts of the world, like Scandinavia and France, governments have already acknowledged the importance of supporting public-interest journalism via tax breaks, subsidies and other measures. If Australian governments ignore this, they clearly disagree with Thomas Jefferson.

  • Altruistic funding. This is easier said than done in Australia, which does not have the US tradition that sees wealthy individuals and foundations backing entire legacy news organisations and funding start-up and established public interest journalism. It is time for Australia’s super wealthy to step up and fund public interest journalism.

The funding issue won’t go away. It is high time Australia had a serious discussion about the democratic consequences and what should be done to tackle the current situation.

Senator Nick Xenophon is trying to start this discussion. He should be commended. For the health of Australian democracy, his fellow elected representatives ought to listen.

The choice is quite clear: do we want cat video journalism only? Or do we want it mixed with the odd disclosure of corruption and malpractice, and in-depth journalism that explains society to itself?

Johan Lidberg, Associate Professor, School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Alan Jones & the Social Media Fightback