James Murdoch’s resignation is the result of News Corp’s increasing shift to the right – not just on climate



In happier times: Lachlan, Rupert and James Murdoch at Rupert’s marriage to Jerry Hall in 2016.

Rodney Tiffen, University of Sydney

James Murdoch is not the most obvious candidate for editorial heroism. His route to resigning from the News Corp board because of “disagreements over certain editorial content” has been circuitous and colourful.

James’s first major managerial role in his father’s media empire was to run the Star satellite services and News Corp’s Asian operations in Hong Kong from 2000 to 2003. He had mixed commercial success in this period, which is best remembered for his determination to gain access to the Chinese market by currying favour with the government.

He accused Western media of painting a falsely negative portrayal of China through their focus on controversial issues such as human rights and Taiwan. In 2001, he advised Hong Kong’s democracy movement to “accept the reality of life under a strong-willed absolutist government”. In one of his dealings with China, he agreed that Murdoch’s cable channels around the world would take China’s propaganda channel CCTV9.




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In 2003, he was promoted to run BSkyB in London, where he lived for the best part of the next decade, and where he successfully expanded Murdoch’s satellite services.

He gained early notoriety with a confrontational speech at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Here he celebrated the digital age and the dynamism of the market, and equated people who still believed in regulation with “creationists”. There was no doubt about his primary target:

To let the state enjoy a near monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.

Yet we have a system in which state-sponsored media – the BBC in particular – grow ever more dominant. That process has to be reversed.

It takes a particularly agile propagandist to find the Beijing regime so benign and the BBC so sinister.

James’s main aim at the time was to effect a total takeover of BSkyB, raising News Corp’s current share of 40% to 100%. The importance of BSkyB to the Murdoch empire was demonstrated by James’s boldest and most ruthless action. In 2006, the newly formed Virgin Media group was negotiating a merger with ITV. The new group’s cable operations would have the potential to provide tougher competition for BSkyB’s satellite service.

Overnight, James swooped, buying 17.9% of ITV for a cost of GBP 940 million. This made News Corp ITV’s biggest shareholder and messed up the intended deal.

News’s move was always likely to be deemed illegal, but by the time this was finally decided nearly four years later, the challenge was dead. News lost GBP 340 million pounds on its forced sale of ITV shares, but no doubt Rupert and James thought this had been a good investment to protect BSkyB’s market share.

After the 2010 election of the Cameron government in the UK, BSkyB looked to be within reach, but James was increasingly impatient with any procedural obstacle or criticism of the attempt. His mentality at the time was on show in an incident in the lead up to the election. The Independent newspaper ran a series of advertisements proclaiming its independence and urging its readers to consider their vote. One such ad ran “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election, you will”.

James’s response was bizarre. He and Rebekah Brooks arrived unannounced at the paper, and James yelled at the editor, Simon Kelner, in front of bemused journalists that he was a “fucking fuckwit”, among other things.

AAP/AP/Sang Tan
James Murdoch with Rebekah Brooks in 2011.

Phone hacking scandal

James’s hopes for BSkyB were about to be washed away by a scandal, which did him and the company enormous damage. After the outstanding investigative efforts of Nick Davies, the Guardian published that Murdoch’s News of the World had hacked the phone of a kidnap victim Milly Dowler. This not only created immediate outrage but opened the door for many further revelations about the illegal methods and invasions of privacy by the tabloids to follow. Parliamentary hearings, court cases, and eventually the Leveson inquiry all put the company’s illegal and unethical practices into public view.

At first the arrogance of the Murdoch camp was undented. In private, chief editorial executive Rebekah Brooks said the story was going to end with Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger on his knees begging for mercy.

James, as News Corp’s senior executive in Britain when the scandal broke, found his own actions under scrutiny. His denials, prevarications and lack of remorse did not help the company’s cause. His appearances before the parliamentary committees were disastrous. At the end of his testimony, Labour member Tom Watson said

Mr Murdoch, you must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.

Climate change denial

James left London for New York and his promised promotion in the company. But his reputation was in tatters, even with other members of the family. His public persona at this time consisted of neo-liberal politics and corporate ruthlessness, with his actions untroubled by ethical considerations.

Yet, now, this corporate and family loyalist has resigned from his last official position with the company. James has long seen the urgency of combating global warming. As early as 2006, largely at his urging, Rupert also embraced the issue. Rupert soon retreated from the cause, but James’s commitment continued.

Rupert’s conversion had surprisingly little impact on the company’s journalism. Its upper editorial echelons contained a large number of climate denialists, and Rupert seems to have never made any effort to change their views.




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In addition, James’s wife, Kathryn, is by the rather special standards of the Murdoch family, a liberal and a progressive. She has been involved in several environmental organisations, and James and Kathryn have donated to several Democratic candidates, including most recently the presidential campaign of Joe Biden.

James made a rare public criticism of the company last Australian summer. He accused News Corp of promoting climate denialism during its coverage of the Australian bushfires.

Out of step

However the key events are probably in America. At the same time that James and Kathryn have been edging left, the Murdoch organisation has been moving ever further to the right. The commercial success and political impact of Fox News have doubtless shaped Rupert’s thinking and the whole company’s journalism has become more Foxified.

There has rarely if ever been an alliance of president and media company like that of Trump with Fox News. He is their chief publicist and they an uncritical avenue for his views, especially to his base. So far, it has probably worked out well for both.




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However, the dangers are acute, especially as Trump’s popularity wanes. Moreover, an erratic president such as Trump poses problems for the credibility of those who seek to embrace his every twist and turn.

This year’s pandemic, economic and racial problems have given a new urgency to these issues. Over the past six months, there have been more than double the fatalities Americans suffered in over 12 years in the Vietnam War. It is hard to remember any leadership failure approaching Trump’s catastrophe on COVID-19. Some early studies suggested Trump’s denialism, echoed by Fox, meant their viewers had more false beliefs about the pandemic than Americans who consumed mainstream media.

After Trump’s comments after a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, James donated $1 million to the Anti-Defamation League.

James has taken a principled stance, but it is also pragmatic. Since the sale of the bulk of Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox assets to Disney (of which James was chief executive), there is no future role for him in the corporation.

By also resigning from the News Corp Board, he will be freer to express his own views, and perhaps have the chance to watch from a distance as Trump is defeated and Fox heads into decline together in the coming months.The Conversation

Rodney Tiffen, Emeritus Professor, Department of Government and International Relations, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

In a world first, Australia plans to force Facebook and Google to pay for news (but ABC and SBS miss out)


Rob Nicholls, UNSW

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released its draft news media bargaining code, announced today by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

The draft code allows commercial news businesses to bargain – individually or collectively – with Google and Facebook, in order to be paid for news the tech giants publish on their services.

According to ACCC chair Rod Sims, the code aims to address the bargaining power imbalance between news publishers and major digital platforms, to bring about fair payment for news. As Frydenberg said:

We want Google and Facebook to continue to provide these services to the Australian community which are so much loved and used by Australians. But we want it to be on our terms.

The ACCC has previously found Google and Facebook’s failure to pay for news content is eating into the advertising revenues which fund journalism.

But what’s ‘news’?

The code is set out as exposure draft legislation and an explanatory memorandum.

These set out the rules for who can bargain. To be eligible, a news business must have employed journalists, earn more than A$150,000 per year in revenue and be registered with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

And they must provide “core news”, defined as:

journalism on publicly significant issues, journalism that engages Australians in public debate and informs democratic decision making, and journalism relating to community and local events.

How will bargains be struck?

The code does not specify how much news businesses should be paid. Instead, it provides a negotiating process in which Google and Facebook must take part. The negotiating phase lasts three months and includes at least one day of mediation.

If there is no agreement at the end, the process moves to compulsory arbitration (by an ACMA appointed panel) which both parties pay for. The arbitration panel will then select one of the final offers in a process sometimes called “baseball determination”. Their decision will be binding.

The range of Facebook services subject to arbitration include Facebook News Feed, Instagram and the Facebook News Tab. The Google services are Google Search, Google News and Google Discover.

WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) and Youtube (owned by Google) are not included. But if both parties agree, arbitration under the draft code could include other relevant digital platform services, too.

The ACCC will also be able to make submissions in the arbitration process (which the arbitrator can decide to consider or not). Under limited and unlikely circumstances, the arbitrator may adjust the more reasonable of the final two offers.

Algorithmic change notices

The draft code introduces a series of “minimum standards” for digital platforms to meet in their dealings with news businesses.

These include a requirement for Google and Facebook to give 28 days’ notice of any algorithmic change that will affect either referral traffic to news or the ranking of news behind paywalls.

This gives news businesses the opportunity to adapt their business models to ensure their content retains its prominence. More importantly, it means their negotiated revenue will not drop. It may also help in decisions about what content stays behind paywalls.

The same notice period is required for substantial changes to the display and presentation of news and advertising directly associated with news.

There will be an obligation on Google and Facebook to give businesses clear information about the nature and availability of user data collected through users’ interactions with the news.

This does not mean Google or Facebook must share the data itself — only that news businesses will be informed of what kind of data are being collected.

More moderation opportunities

There are also obligations on the tech giants to publish proposals which appropriately recognise the media business’ original news on their platforms and to provide those businesses with flexible tools for user comment moderation.

In addition, Google and Facebook must allow news businesses to prevent their news from being included on any individual platform service. For instance, they may choose for an article to appear on Google Search but not Google News.

News businesses will be able to moderate comments more easily. This is important considering they can be sued for comments published on their posts via platforms such as Facebook.




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ABC and SBS lose out

The ABC and SBS only benefit from the minimum standards imposed on digital platforms under the code. They are excluded from the remuneration process. The government said this is because advertising revenue is not the principal source of funding for public broadcasters.

Anti-discrimination provisions are expected to prevent Google and Facebook from prioritising publicly-funded news to take advantage of this.

Not a windfall, but still good news

The draft code won’t result in a A$600 million payday for news businesses, as Nine’s chair proposed in May. However, the negotiation and arbitration process does provide certainty of a positive commercial outcome for news providers relying on advertising.

There will also be more work required for Google and Facebook to give notice of algorithmic changes, which are managed in the United States. This obligation will mean adjustments to both the tech giants’ business models.

Google has already taken steps down this path by successfully negotiating revenue sharing with some Australian news businesses. In effect, it has created a benchmark for its position in the new negotiation framework.

Meanwhile, Facebook has argued “news does not drive significant long-term commercial value” for it. However, it said it was committed to following “sensible regulatory frameworks for digital news”.




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Penalties for breach

A breach of the code by Facebook or Google could have a few potential outcomes. The first is an infringement notice which has a penalty of A$133,200 for each breach.

If the ACCC takes one of the tech giants to court, the maximum penalty is the higher of A$10 million, 10% of the digital platform’s turnover in Australia in the past 12 months, or three times the benefit obtained by the tech giant as a result of the breach (if this can be calculated).

The ACCC has previously had success against franchisers for breaches of the mandatory Franchising Code. It will likely be just as vigilant in policing the news media bargaining code.

The draft code is open for public comment until the end of August. The final version will likely be considered by parliament in September.The Conversation

Rob Nicholls, Associate professor in Business Law. Director of the UNSW Business School Cybersecurity and Data Governance Research Network, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Whether a ratings chase or ideological war, News Corp’s coronavirus coverage is dangerous



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Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, in significant parts of its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, has become a clear and present danger to the welfare of Australian society.

Aping the worst of the American media – notably Murdoch’s Fox News – it rails against science, ridicules the measures being taken to suppress the outbreak, and tries to politicise a germ.

It also propagates hate speech, vilifying ethnic and religious minorities in whose suburbs, schools and housing towers clusters have broken out.

In all these ways, it drives divisions in Australian society and sows doubt in the minds of an anxious population about the need for lockdowns and other precautions.




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This critique is directed primarily at its opinion articles and television commentaries, rather than at its news coverage.

The news coverage has been extensive, has included many voices, and has kept its audiences up to date with what is going on. It has also been vigorous in holding governments to account for their mistakes, which is exactly what the media should do.

But the racism, ridiculing of science and ideological warfare that has disfigured much of the commentary have nothing to do with holding governments to account or providing the community with essential information.

On Sky, Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff, Peta Credlin, launched an attack on Muslims and South Sudanese people over Melbourne’s second wave of COVID-19 that was a toxic mixture of vitriol and ignorance.

She blamed South Sudanese people living in Coburg for a cluster of 14 new infections, which she said were triggered by a feast to mark the end of Ramadan, the Muslim season of abstinence.

The Society of South Sudanese Professionals pointed out to her that more than 90% of South Sudanese in Victoria are Christian, not Muslim. Moreover, very few of them live in Coburg and the cluster did not consist of South Sudanese people.

For those errors of fact, Credlin apologised. But her fairmindedness did not extend to an apology for a nasty rhetorical question about the character of South Sudanese immigrants in general, linking well-worn tropes about gangs, unemployment and alleged inability to speak “Australia’s national language”.

Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph was onto the same immigrant-bashing exercise. He noted that three of the worst COVID-19 hot spots in Melbourne were the Flemington towers, the Islamic Al-Taqwa College and the Cedar Meats abattoir.

Here was a trifecta for divisiveness: African immigrants, Muslims and a meatworks that, according to Bolt, employs many immigrants and donates money to the Labor Party.

Most recently, as mask-wearing was made compulsory in Victoria, Bolt and Alan Jones turned their attacks against that too. That represented a significant change and was based on new data.

In June, The Lancet, one of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world, published an article based on a meta-analysis of 172 observational studies and 44 comparative studies into the efficacy of physical distancing, mask-wearing and eye protection as ways of reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection.

It found face mask use could greatly reduce risk of infection.

The breadth and authoritativeness of the study persuaded health experts in Australia and elsewhere that mask-wearing was now a more important part of the armoury against COVID-19 than had been previously thought.

Bolt likened this to a kind of political backflip. Jones called it “alarmism”.

They might do well to recall the remark of economist John Maynard Keynes:

When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Jones proclaimed on Sky (July 20) that he had a pile of medical data stating that mask-wearing was ineffectual. He said he had done some research of his own over the weekend to support this proposition.

He went on to declare that government responses to the pandemic were shafting ordinary hard-working Australians.

Bolt stated he no longer trusted what Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said about coronavirus. Like Jones, Bolt questioned the medical basis for the decision to make mask-wearing compulsory.

There has also been a party-political dimension to the News Corp coverage.

This has been evident in the contrast between The Daily Telegraph’s coverage of the Ruby Princess debacle (Coalition government in New South Wales) and the Herald Sun’s coverage of the hotel quarantine debacle (Labor government in Victoria).

My analysis of 464 articles in the Telegraph on the Ruby Princess showed the coverage was extensive, quoting many voices trenchantly critical of the way the government handled the case. However, the newspaper itself made no direct personal attack on Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

A similar analysis I undertook of 411 articles in the Herald Sun about hotel quarantine and subsequent second wave likewise showed extensive coverage quoting many voices trenchantly critical of the government. But there was an additional dimension: direct personal attacks on Daniel Andrews, which has become a speciality of Credlin’s.

While the Murdoch organisation’s approach stands out as systematic and sustained, Channel Nine has also made episodic contributions to this dark side of Australia’s media performance.

Its Today program has twice disgraced itself. First it gave Senator Pauline Hanson a platform from which to make a racist attack on the people in Melbourne’s public housing towers. Then Today hosted an extreme right-winger, DeAnne Lorraine, from the United States, who says COVID-19 is a conspiracy to change the world.

Her stream of consciousness in support of this proposition included a reference to the Caduceus, symbol of medicine since time immemorial.

Fake science. And look at the snake. The snake is their logo. That should tell you everything you need to know, right there.

Whether the motive is to chase ratings, as with Nine, or to prosecute ideological and cultural warfare, as with Murdoch’s News Corporation, the consequences for Australian society are dire.

The coronavirus pandemic has created well-founded anxiety in people for their health and economic well-being. In times like these, there is always a tendency in human nature to look for scapegoats or to deny reality.




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Media coverage of the kind described here exploits that anxiety and feeds those natural human impulses, leading to social division and resistance to medical advice.

Both these consequences work against suppression of the virus. That is why it represents a clear and present danger to society.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Malaysia’s media crackdowns are being driven by an insecure government highly sensitive to criticism



AHMAD YUSNI/EPA

Ross Tapsell, Australian National University

The recent police interrogations of six Al Jazeera journalists in Malaysia – five of whom are Australian – was not about shaping international reportage or a diplomatic rift.

Rather, it was part of a troubling pattern of crackdowns on the media and freedom of speech in the country, driven by the domestic concerns of an insecure government highly sensitive to criticism.

While the previous government led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was by no means consistent or perfect, Malaysia was hailed just last year as an example of a country improving on press freedom.

This started to change in March, however, as Muhyiddin Yassin’s new government came to power. Tolerance for criticism and dissent has since been in short supply.

Al Jazeera’s documentary on the plight of migrant workers during COVID-19.

Pattern of repression

The Al Jazeera journalists have been accused of sedition and defamation over a documentary about the government’s treatment of migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malaysian officials and national television claim the documentary was inaccurate, misleading and unfair.

But these journalists are hardly the only ones to be targeted by the new government.

Steven Gan, chief editor of the trusted online news portal Malaysiakini, is facing contempt of court charges and could be sent to jail over reader comments briefly published on the news site that were apparently critical of the judiciary. Gan’s lawyer warned the case could have a “chilling effect”.

Steven Gan arriving in court this week.
AHMAD YUSNI/EPA

South China Morning Post journalist Tashny Sukamaran has been investigated for reporting on police raids of migrant workers and refugees.

Another journalist, Boo Su-Lyn, is being investigated for publishing the findings of an inquiry into a fire at a hospital in 2016 that left six dead.

A book featuring articles by political analysts and journalists has been banned over the artwork on the cover that allegedly insulted the national coat of arms. Sukamaran and journalists from Malaysiakini have been questioned by police about their involvement.

Opposition politicians have also been questioned by police for tweets and comments they made in the media prior to the new government taking power.

Whistle-blowers are included in this, too. For example, the government this week cancelled the work permit of the migrant worker who was featured in the Al Jazeera documentary.

Why the recent crackdown?

Malaysia’s current coalition government – Perikatan Nasional – was controversially formed earlier this year. The alliance came to power via backdoor politicking and support from the Malaysian king as Mahathir’s dysfunctional coalition imploded.

The new government coalition includes the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the party voted out of power in 2018 following a massive corruption scandal. This was the first time Malaysia had changed government in its 60-year history.

With UMNO now back in government, it is perhaps no surprise there are again more crackdowns on the media, as their previous rule saw regular attacks on journalists, activists and opposition figures.




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Malaysia has also become known for its “cybertroopers” – social media commentators similar to “trolls” – who drive heated nationalistic and race-related agendas, and target government critics.

After the Al Jazeera documentary, these cyber-troopers provided fervent support for the government’s actions, arguing it had every right to round up migrants and evict them if it sees fit. Al Jazeera said its journalists were also targeted by cyber-troopers, saying they

faced abuse online, including death threats and disclosure of their personal details over social media.

Shaky government looking to firm up support

There’s another reason for the return of media crackdowns and online-driven activity beyond just the government’s desire to control the media.

It is also tactical as it allows government ministers to respond with firm statements asking security forces to intervene – enabling them to look strong, coherent and nationalistic.

Muhyiddin’s coalition is on shaky ground. It holds a slim majority in parliament and internal party factions have come to dominate political debate, with “party-hopping” becoming increasingly common. Malaysiakini even has a rolling news page regularly updated to track politicians’ changing alliances.

Malaysia’s parliament also finally resumed this week after a long and unstable hiatus, and was described as a “circus”. Politicians shouted over one another, with some trading racist and sexist remarks.

The house speaker, who was part of Mahathir’s administration, was also
controversially replaced. There has been consistent talk of snap polls.

In this environment, politicians who don’t respond forcefully enough in the “culture wars” over documentaries and controversial artwork on book covers, or conform with the online mob on immigration, risk looking weak.




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A ‘new normal’ settling in

A snap election won’t necessarily help Muyhiddin strengthen his position, as parties within the coalition can become rivals during a campaign for certain seats.

But no matter who rules Malaysia in the coming months, the result will likely be a government that is fragile, insecure and worried about its legitimacy. For Malaysians, this is their “new normal”.

The risk for journalists in this “new normal” is further repression and harassment of independent media. As we have seen elsewhere in Southeast Asia, as well as in Australia, the state seems increasingly willing to use legal and regulatory pressure to make sure journalists and whistle-blowers are afraid to speak up.The Conversation

Ross Tapsell, Senior Lecturer in the School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific., Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

When The Today Show gave Pauline Hanson a megaphone, it diminished Australia’s social capital



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Denis Muller, University of Melbourne

In the early 1990s, Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam embarked on a series of studies that were to make his name synonymous with the concept of what is now widely referred to as social capital.

He has written a few bestsellers about it, including Bowling Alone and Better Together.

The idea, basically, is that societies with lots of networks – sports clubs, churches, community organisations – have higher social capital than do societies in which people are not joined in these ways. Putnam assembled a large body of evidence to support his case.




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High social capital brought with it norms of reciprocity: people looked out for each other and acted in ways that enhanced the common good. It was especially valuable in times of trouble.

On television on the evening of July 5 2020 we saw social capital being accumulated: ordinary Melburnians bringing carloads of food and other essentials for the 3,000 people locked down in the residential tower blocks of Flemington and Kensington.

On television that same morning, we had seen social capital being destroyed: Senator Pauline Hanson delivering a divisive and ignorant rant, with racist overtones, excoriating those same 3,000 people.

They couldn’t speak English, said Hanson. They were drug addicts who were now having their habits fed at public expense.

Channel Nine’s Today show, on which this atrocity was broadcast, thought it was great sport. It put out a tweet promoting the rant and inviting people to say what they thought. Life, you understand, is measured in analytics – ratings, engagement and eyeballs.

This unleashed a social media backlash, so after studied reflection Channel Nine announced Hanson would no longer be a regular guest on the show. It also deleted the tweet mentioned above. Perhaps Hanson will just be an irregular one when an opportunity arises to ventilate hate speech.

Nine’s director of news and current affairs, Darren Wick, said in a statement:

We don’t shy away from diverse opinions and robust debate, but this morning’s accusations from Pauline Hanson were ill-informed and divisive. At a time of uncertainty in this national and global health crisis, Australians have to be united and supportive of one another.

By then, naturally, the analytics had been harvested.

Predictably, Hanson was then reported in The Australian as saying her right to free speech had been infringed.

No. She had exercised her right to free speech, and now she had to wear the consequences. That is the way it works in a democracy: speech that does unjustifiable harm brings consequences.

In this case there was an interesting sidelight to the free speech argument.

At 4.10pm on the afternoon of July 6 – roughly five hours after the story broke – a Google search yielded no link to any story on the issue in Nine’s two major metropolitan daily newspapers, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Two searches of their websites at that time yielded nothing either.

It was in The Australian – with reaction from Hanson; it was in the Guardian Australia; it was even in the Wauchope Gazette, perhaps the first time it has ever scooped the SMH on a national story.




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It finally appeared on the SMH and Age websites a little after 4.30pm.

Long before Hanson got into the act, the large number of Sudanese refugees who live in those towers had for years been stopped, searched and questioned repeatedly by Victoria Police.

Eventually, in 2010, the police were sued under the Racial Discrimination Act by a group of young Sudanese men, who alleged the police engaged in racial profiling. That is, the police took action against them based on their race rather than on anything they were reasonably suspected of having done.

On the basis of statistical evidence from the police force’s own data base, Professor Chris Cunneen, a criminologist from James Cook University who specialises in the policing of Aboriginal people, concluded that racial profiling was happening in Flemington.

In 2013, the case, Haile-Michael v Konstantinidis, was settled at the door of the court, with the police promising to introduce training programs designed to improve relations between the police and ethnic minorities, particularly African communities. However, the police always denied the charge of racial profiling.

It was a long and complex saga, an excellent summary of which can be found here.

Against this troubled background, the potential exists for tension in the towers to reach dangerous levels no matter how well the police on duty there perform now.

By giving rein to her ignorance and prejudice, Hanson has made their job, and the lives of the locked-down residents, even more difficult. She has diminished Australia’s social capital.

And Channel Nine gave her a megaphone to do it with.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Latest $84 million cuts rip the heart out of the ABC, and our democracy



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Alexandra Wake, RMIT University and Michael Ward, University of Sydney

At the height of the coronavirus emergency, and on the back of devastating bushfires, Australia’s much awarded and trusted national broadcaster has again been forced to make major cuts to staff, services and programs. It is doing so to offset the latest $84 million budget shortfall as a result of successive cuts from the Coalition government.

In the latest cuts, wrapped up as part of the national broadcaster’s five-year plan,

  • 250 staff will lose their jobs

  • the major 7:45am news bulletin on local radio has been axed

  • ABC Life has lost staff but somehow expanded to become ABC Local

  • independent screen production has been cut by $5 million

  • ABC News Channel programming is still being reviewed.

Even the travel budget, which allows journalists and storytellers to get to places not accessible by others, has been cut by 25%.

These are just the latest in a long list of axed services, and come off the back of the federal government’s indexation freeze.

Announced in 2018, that freeze reduced the ABC budget by $84 million over three years and resulted in an ongoing reduction of $41 million per annum from 2022.




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The indexation freeze is part of ongoing reductions to ABC funding that total $783 million since 2014. In an email to staff, Managing Director David Anderson said the cut to the ABC in real terms means operational funding will be more than 10% lower in 2021–22 than it was in 2013.

To be fair, the way in which the ABC executive has chosen to execute the latest cuts does make some sense, pivoting more towards digital and on-demand services. Right now, the commuting audience that has long listened to the 7:45am bulletin is clearly changing habits. However, with widespread closures of newspapers across the nation, the need for independent and trusted news in depth, that is not online has never been more important.

ABC Life is a particular loss. It has built an extremely diverse reporting team, reaching new audiences, and winning over many ABC supporters and others who were initially sceptical. The work they produced certainly wasn’t the type commercial operators would create.

Clearly the coronavirus pandemic has slashed Australia’s commercial media advertising revenues. But the problems in the media are a result of years of globalisation, platform convergence and audience fragmentation. In such a situation, Australia’s public broadcasters should be part of the solution for ensuring a diverse, vibrant media sector. Instead, it continues to be subject to ongoing budget cuts.

Moreover, at a time when the public really cannot afford to be getting their news from Facebook or other social media outlets, cutting 250 people who contribute to some of Australia’s most reliable and quality journalism and storytelling – and literally saving lives during the bushfires – appear to be hopelessly shortsighted.

The latest Digital News Report 2020 clearly showed the ABC is the media outlet Australians trust the most.

These latest cuts join a long list of axed services in the past seven years. They include

While not everyone will miss every program or service that has gone, and even with its occasional missteps, there is no doubt the ABC is the envy of the liberal democracies that do not have publicly funded assets, particularly the United States.

Has the ABC’s budget been increased?

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has continued to suggest the funding cuts are not real, are sustainable without service reductions for Australians, and has claimed the ABC has received “increased funding”.

The minister’s comments are not consistent with data we published last year based on the government’s own annual budget statements and the reality of the ongoing situation for the ABC.




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The government argues base or departmental funding is higher in 2020-21 than it was in 2013-14. The relevant budget papers do show that in 2013-14, the ABC was allocated $865 million for “general operational activities”. The most recent budget statement shows this has increased to $878 million in 2020-21.

So how can it be the ABC budget shows this increase when we have been arguing they are facing an overall cut?

First, we noted last year the complexity of the budget process, which means, for example, the reinstatement of short-term funding can be counted as extra funds, or the ending of such funds, while reducing an agency budget, will not appear as a reduction in allocation.

Second, the 2020-21 ABC budget reflects the inclusion of indexation for increases in CPI-related costs between 2013-14 and 2018-19. This is the funding that is being halted until at least 2021-22.

So despite statements to the contrary, nothing can change the fact the ABC has suffered massive cuts in recent years. The data published last year showed the reality of the ongoing situation for the ABC, with an annual cost to its budget in 2020-21 of $116 million. As the table below shows, taking into account actual budget allocations and adding the items cut, frozen or otherwise reduced, the ABC should have funding of approximately $1.181 billion in 2020-21, not the $1.065 billion it will receive.

It is against this background the latest funding freeze, due to a failure to meet the impact of inflation costs, occurs. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, the three year impact is $84 million, and has resulted in the cuts announced today.

But more importantly, these ongoing cuts represent an attack by the federal government on the broadcaster, its role in democracy, and in keeping Australians safe, informed and entertained.The Conversation

Alexandra Wake, Program Manager, Journalism, RMIT University and Michael Ward, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Facebook vs news: Australia wants to level the playing field, Facebook politely disagrees



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Tim Dwyer, University of Sydney

The Australian government is setting out to develop a “bargaining code” to address power imbalances between news media publishers and digital platforms such as Facebook and Google. The creation of this code was recommended last year in the final report of the Digital Platforms Inquiry held by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC).

The ACCC is planning to publish a draft version of the code at the end of July, but in the meantime it has asked interested parties to contribute their views. Most submissions won’t be made public until the draft code is released, but some stakeholders – including Facebook – have published their submissions themselves.

In Facebook’s submission, it sets out to rebut the ACCC’s understanding of the digital media landscape.

Facebook argues it doesn’t really need news publishers because news content is substitutable, and anyway the platform prioritises content from family and friends in people’s news feeds.

In effect, Facebook is saying it does more good than harm to journalism and news media businesses. The bargaining process hinges on a dispute over the value of news content and exactly what it contributes to the platform’s business – which is currently unclear, particularly to those outside the tent.




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No more negotiating: new rules could finally force Google and Facebook to pay for news


Valuing news

Facebook’s approach plays into a narrative about how consumers and advertisers migrated to the web in the early 21st century, collapsing the 150-year-old advertising model of newspapers.

Historically, news was the “poor cousin” in direct commercial arrangements between advertisers and newspapers (and later broadcasters). News evolved as byproduct of this exchange and so it remains, secondary to the main game, a kind of subsidy and a “filler” to be used by these giant digital machines of platform capitalism.

But news is also acknowledged as a public good with broader societal benefits. Platforms are slowly realising they cannot avoid regulation to reduce the harms that result from their own market dominance.

Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has identified the platform’s key problematic areas as “harmful content” (such as hate speech and inappropriate imagery) and “election content” (such as targeted political advertising).

Facebook itself has moved from strongly opposing external regulatory interventions to guardedly accepting the idea, as long as the particular regulation suits them.




Read more:
Media Files: ACCC seeks to clip wings of tech giants like Facebook and Google but international effort is required


A strategic rebuttal

In its ACCC submission, Facebook argues it hasn’t contributed to the demise of news businesses by hoovering up advertising revenue. Instead, it points out the rise of the internet had already sent news media into structural decline.

If anyone is to blame, according to Facebook, it is the news businesses themselves who didn’t see the digital tsunami on the horizon.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook does not mention its own substantial market power: with Google, the social media giant carries the bulk of online advertising. As US media scholar Victor Pickard has noted, Facebook and Google between them collect 85% of all growth in digital advertising revenue, leaving very little for news publishers.

Facebook’s take on the news market

Facebook argues the ACCC, the news industry and the rest of us are all suffering from “misconceptions”. In broad terms these are: that Facebook is responsible for the market failure of news; that it “steals” news content and news publishers have no control over its surfacing; and that there’s a value imbalance between the platforms and news media businesses which favours Facebook, and therefore Facebook should compensate the businesses at commercial rates.

However, Australians are increasingly getting their news via social media newsfeeds. Research from the University of Canberra shows the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted this trend, and Reuters has found older Australians too are increasingly using social media as a pathway to news.

Australians are increasingly getting their news via social media.
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Clearly, digital platforms and news media businesses have a symbiotic relationship. But it is far from an equitable one: with a market capitalisation of US$671 billion, annual revenue of more than US$70 billion, and around 1.73 billion users every day, Facebook dwarfs any news media business.

As social media platforms are growing more important when it comes to accessing news, and news is a social good, the ACCC is calling for a more sustainable, if not an aspirationally equitable relationship.

Facebook likes the idea of a new Australian Digital Media Council modelled on the Australia Press Council. It would arbitrate disputes between news media publishers and digital platforms.

But is this a reasonable comparison? Can news publishers be equated with individual complainants who seek remedies?

Trying to dodge responsibility?

The central theme of Facebook’s submission is a refusal to acknowledge there is a power imbalance between news media businesses and Facebook and Google that needs to be addressed.

Facebook questions the idea of even casting their relationship to the news media sector in that way. Indeed, the company appears to be in denial about the simple fact noted by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s comment on the handing down of the Digital Platforms Inquiry report:

Make no mistake, these companies are among the most powerful and valuable in the world.

If nothing else, Facebook has demonstrated its well-oiled PR machine and the phalanx of people ready to defend its surging revenue base. Its counter-arguments to the ACCC are evidence of this, and also a determination to maintain absolute algorithmic control over the news feed.

From Facebook’s perspective, a key impact of COVID-19 has been that people are now spending increasing amounts of time on their platform.The Conversation

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

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

When Trump attacks the press, he attacks the American people and their Constitution



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Peter Greste, The University of Queensland

Here is a line from the latest safety advisory for reporters issued by the US-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ):

Taking into account the increased levels of violence and tactics used by both police and protesters, ballistic glasses, helmets, and stab vests should be worn. If there is a threat of live ammunition being used, then body armour should be considered.

It is the kind of advice I used to be given before going on assignment to places like Baghdad, Kabul or Mogadishu. But the CPJ is aiming its latest note at US-based reporters more used to covering city hall than documenting running battles between police and demonstrators. It is deeply troubling that an organisation usually advocating for reporters in violent autocratic regimes decides it now has to support those in its own backyard.

One organisation, Bellingcat, has been tracking assaults on journalists since the riots broke out over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. In the first four days of protests, its chief investigator counted more than 100 incidents. (The CPJ counts closer to 200.)

The 101st involved an Australian news crew from Channel Seven. They were beaten while filming outside the White House, as riot police used tear gas and batons to clear the peaceful protesters so President Donald Trump could walk across the street and hold a Bible in front of St John’s Church. (In a speech moments before, Trump had – without irony – declared, “I am your president of law and order”, and “an ally of all peaceful protesters”.)




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The startling number of attacks on journalists does not appear to be an accident. Inevitably, anyone reporting in violent places risks being caught in crossfire. But the numbers suggest something more troubling.

Bellingcat’s investigator Nick Waters, wrote

although in some incidents it is possible the journalists were hit or affected accidentally, in the majority of the cases we have recorded the journalists are clearly identifiable as press, and it is clear that they are being deliberately targeted.

The police actions against journalists might seem futile in our social media age when everyone with a mobile phone has the power to act as a reporter, but that doesn’t stop individual cops from lashing out at those they see as actively monitoring them.

There does not appear to be a coordinated strategy. In the United States, policing is generally a state and city affair, so collusion seems unlikely. The CPJ’s Courtney Radsh said the organisation’s experience of tracking violence towards journalists in some of the world’s most hostile regimes shows that the police step up their attacks when they believe they can get away with it.

In the US, the president himself has frequently derided journalists as “the enemy of the people”, who peddle “fake news”, and on Sunday he issued a tweet describing them as “truly bad people with a sick agenda”.

There is no doubt some journalists have behaved unethically or been loose with the facts, and the news business more broadly has not always covered itself in glory.

But as imperfect as it may be, it remains a vital part of the way a free and open democracy works. It acts as a watchdog on behalf of voters, monitoring the behaviour of institutions like the police and government who are supposed to be acting in the interests of the public.

In so many cases in the protests, journalists have clearly identified themselves verbally, with accreditation, with vests labelled “press”, carrying professional-standard cameras, and by their actions, observing rather than participating in the protests. That observation is rarely comfortable for those in authority, but it is a necessary part of the system.

As a recovering journalist and press freedom advocate, I am of course concerned about assaults of my colleagues. But to be clear, this is not about them. What we are seeing in the United States is an attempt to make the public blind to heavy-handed police tactics.




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The founding fathers of the United States understood that when they wrote the First Amendment into its Constitution, guaranteeing “congress shall pass no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. (The First Amendment also guarantees freedom of religion, the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.) Attack the press, and you attack the very system that has made places like the US and Australia among the safest and most prosperous in the world.

The reason autocrats in Turkey, the Philippines and Egypt throw journalists in prison with such enthusiasm is because they know a free media empowers the public, and threatens their survival.

If Trump is the patriot he claims to be, he will honour the Constitution and defend the press rather than accuse reporters of “doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy”.The Conversation

Peter Greste, Professor of Journalism and Communications, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Digital-only local newspapers will struggle to serve the communities that need them most



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Chrisanthi Giotis, University of Technology Sydney

This week News Corp Australia announced the end of the print editions of 112 suburban and regional mastheads – about one-fifth of all of Australia’s local newspapers. Of those, 36 will close and 76 become purely online publications.

Getting the chop entirely are small regional newspapers such as the Herbert Valley Express in far north Queensland (with a circulation of less than 3,000). Those going digital include free suburban papers such as Sydney’s Manly Daily, established in 1906. (Until as recently as 2017 it came out five times a week. Since 2018 is has been published twice a week.)

Whether the online-only papers can survive remains to be seen. But our research at the Centre for Media Transition suggests it will be hard for them to match what local print editions offered communities.

Losing readers and advertisers

Like print media in general, local newspapers have been squeezed by readers and advertisers moving online. Most of the revenue, even for those with a cover price, has come from advertising. This has been eroded by the likes of Google and Facebook as well as localised classified sites such as Gumtree.




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While this has has happened at slower pace than the loss of the “rivers of gold” for metropolitan newspapers, the “desertification” of local news has progressed steadily. In the decade to 2018, 106 local and regional newspapers closed in Australia, leaving 21 local government areas – 16 in regional areas – without a local newspaper.

Those that have survived have seen their staff slashed, with reporters expected to produce more “content” at the cost of doing the serious reporting that made local newspapers so valuable to their communities.

Local media ‘keystones’

As Danish researcher Rasmus Kleis Nielsen notes in Local Journalism: The decline of newspapers and the rise of digital media (IB Taurus, 2016), local newspapers have been the “keystone” of “local news ecosystems”.

No other local media comes close to the local coverage they provide. “Most of the many stories about local politics produced by the local paper never appear anywhere else,” says Nielsen. Local radio and television have tended to piggyback on their work.




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Without this reporting, local democracy suffers. Research in the United States shows local papers are essential to keep local government accountable.

Local news doesn’t scale

Given declining revenue for traditional print, and the cost of printing, moving to digital-only platforms was perhaps inevitable.

But the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the move by killing off advertising from local businesses such as restaurants and pubs. In April News Corp suspended the print runs of 60 local papers. Just three – the Wentworth Courier, Mosman Daily and North Shore Times, serving Sydney’s most affluent suburbs – will resume, thanks to their lucrative property advertising.




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Making the rest viable as digital-only local news services is going to be tricky for two reasons.

The first is to do with how online advertising works. The second is how readers in these areas relate to the news, and their willingness to pay for online news.

A key characteristic of the historical readership and advertising markets for local newspaper is their “bounded” nature. But the defining characteristics of online news and advertising is “scaleability”.

Once all newspapers could largely dictate prices to advertisers. This was particularly the case with local papers, often the only game in town. But the game has changed. What they can charge for online advertising is a fraction of what they once could for print.

Most metro newspapers responded with plans to grow their readership by providing their content free online. The idea was that more readers would help maintain them as an attractive advertising platform.

This has generally not proved the winning strategy they had hoped. So papers from The Age to The Daily Telegraph have been moving to paywalls, enticing their print buyers to online subscriptions.

Unwillingness to pay

Our research suggests doing the same with non-metropolitan newspapers is likely to be harder. Readers in rural and regional areas are less willing than those in cities to pay for online news services.

As part of our report Regional News Media: State of Play published in 2019, we surveyed 266 people living in regional and rural areas, demographically representative of the population of country Australia.

Just 14% indicated willingness to pay for news online, with 49% saying they would not (and 37% unsure).



The News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra has found similar reluctance to pay. The results of its Digital News Report Australia 2019 show just 12% of regional news consumers had paid for online news, compared with 16% of urban news consumers. More detailed research produced for our report shows the difference is starkest for subscriptions.



Poorest communities hurt the most

That unwillingness to pay for online content may change if it’s the only way to get local news. Attitudes to online subscriptions are shifting, and people do value local news. Research commissioned for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry found 71% of the population rated it as important as national news for social participation.

But the portents aren’t great for quality local news coverage – particularly in regional areas. The likelihood is further desertification of the local news landscape, with poorer communities most affected.

This is confirmed by US research that shows the people with the least access to local news are often “the poorest, least educated and most isolated”.

As Matthew Hindman of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy has noted: “Even the clearest local digital success stories employ only a few reporters – far less than the number laid off from the papers in their own cities.

“Worrisome, too, is the fact they have found the most traction in the affluent, social-capital rich communities that need them least.”The Conversation

Chrisanthi Giotis, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Communication, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Another savage blow to regional media spells disaster for the communities they serve



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Kristy Hess, Deakin University

With swift and savage force, the COVID-19 pandemic has inadvertently attacked Australia’s local news media ecology, which was already battling a weakened immune system.

As a researcher working on Australia’s largest academic study into the future of local newspapers, the phones have been running hot in recent weeks. We’ve had calls from everyday people, journalists made redundant, cadets surviving on JobKeeper, and independent news proprietors, all navigating their way through the crisis.




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News Corp has announced plans to close or suspend printing operations of more than 100 suburban and small community titles. Its more successful publications, such as the Geelong Advertiser, Gold Coast Bulletin, Hobart Mercury and the iconic Northern Territory News, will remain with print and digital editions.

Other independently-owned newspapers across rural and regional Australia are still breathing: they are gasping for air, but they are breathing. They’ve either temporarily suspended operations, cut back the number of print editions or shifted to a digital-only model to “see how it goes”.

Since the COVID-19 crisis emerged, there have been two key funding schemes introduced (or re-introduced) to support news providers – the government’s $50 million Public Interest News Gathering Program and a $5 million Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund.

The federal government has also announced plans to force Google and Facebook to share advertising revenue with producers of quality journalism in Australia. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is now seeking views on its new draft mandatory code that will address bargaining power imbalances between Australia’s news media businesses, and Google and Facebook.




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This has been met with some initial concern from the Country Press Association of Australia amid fears the modelling may only benefit big companies and not the little players that serve small towns and cities.

The Victorian government has waded in to provide more than $4 million in additional advertising support for local and regional print publications. Our preliminary research indicates Victoria leads the way with this type of support for local news. Other states, such as South Australia and New South Wales, lag behind or have announced changes to legislation that provides government authorities freedom to advertise on their own sites or via social media.

The problem is, social media sites like Facebook don’t put the interests of local communities first, whereas local news outlets do (or at least they should). Facebook has gone to great lengths to distance itself from the types of local content posted on its platform. In the local news ecology, it tends to feed from traditional local news providers or the goodwill of citizens who moderate and upload content of local importance and reap the advertising rewards. One off, $10,000 grants from social media juggernauts to local news entrepreneurs won’t fix this systemic problem.

In some local areas, business owners are offering donations or advertising support to preserve the journal of record during COVID-19. JobKeeper is keeping many cadet journalists on the payroll, and there are some keen reporters doing their bit to report on the news, even if they are not getting paid.

There’s also stories of new start-ups emerging – like Matt Dunn in Victoria’s South Gippsland region. He was made redundant by the local newspaper, which is planning to close its doors permanently. He immediately set to work developing his own digital news platform, “The Paper”.

Dunn is confident elderly residents who have little experience with technology will come on board because they will be hungry for good quality local meaningful news. It’s about the content, not the platform.

However, digital-only publications are problematic in areas of rural and regional Australia that struggle with broadband connectivity. It’s even more worrisome for those areas with ageing populations, where reading the local paper is a daily or weekly ritual to maintain a sense of connection to their community.

I’ve spoken with several elderly residents in recent weeks who are distressed about the decline of Australian Community Media’s local content and the reduction of the print edition. Without the newspaper and technological capabilities, they feel “lost”. And importantly, they can’t read the death notices, so have no idea who has died.




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Perhaps that is the key for policymakers, researchers and industry in a post COVID-19 world. Big news conglomerates around the world have been accused of building a plethora of zombie newspapers that are local in name only – full of syndicated content, without really being attuned to the needs and wants of a community or helping people to develop shared social connection and purpose to place.

My hunch is zombie papers will be the first to fall.

Audiences aren’t stupid. It’s the newspapers and community individuals determined to provide news that are the heart of their communities and should survive into the future. Policymakers, researchers and industry need to be acutely aware of the types of news outlets and individuals that best provide – or are willing to provide – real, credible and meaningful local news and information for their communities in areas of Australia big and small.

They are the ones that should be at the front of the queue for any type of media vaccine.The Conversation

Kristy Hess, Associate Professor (Communication), Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.