Do we need a media inquiry?

Well…yes…I should say so.

Rupert Murdoch owns 70% of Australian newspapers. One of his UK operations has been shown to use unethical practices on an unsettling scale. Those two seem fair enough reasons to me.

On the first, the concentration of ownership in newspapers is both a competition issue and a social-democratic one. Many of you will no doubt point out that sites like MacroBusiness are living examples of how the internet is redefining both public discussion and competition. And it’s true at the margin. But it’s far more true to say that the national print discussion is dominated by a very limited number (2) set of owners and that this has led to a tribalisation of political coverage around each political party. Of course newspapers always have a line. But a few more lines would be more than useful.

On the competition front, Australian newspaper customers (that is advertisers, not readers) have bugger all choice between owners and hence pretty limited choices within the options offered by the two owners. There’s been a kind of frozen stasis in the print media for at least a decade in which the duopoly revolves around the Roy Morgan Readership Survey monopoly on print media data for advertisers. For instance, advertisers still pay for every reader that a newspaper offers, not for the number that actually read the particular section in which they find themselves.

The stasis works in other ways too. The process of fragmentation of media (read the internet), which is often used to defend the concentration of big media, is retarded because the drum tight embrace between the duopoly and the Roy Morgan monopoly prevents a more elastic assessment of micro audiences from filtering through to advertising decision makers. No party has any real motivation to reform this situation, even though News tries now and again.

More diverse ownership might help break this down by creating new demand pressures of scale.

There is one further question we have to ask, though. Would an inquiry achieve anything? It might if it has the right terms of reference, which are apparently to be announced soon. But, if they are anything like those suggested in the FT today, we are in for a half-baked approach that will thrill the armchair commentator:

The inquiry is likely to examine media standards, regulatory oversight, the powers of the nation’s press complaints body and privacy laws. But it is not expected to investigate Australia’s concentrated media ownership where News Limited controls close to 70 per cent of the newspaper market.

All about values. Yet it’s the context of ownership that determines the values.

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


    • “We need more free press, we need more vigorous media. As Thomas Jefferson said hundreds of years ago and I agree with him “Government functions best with a strong and independent press, but if given the choice of no Government or no newspapers, I’d rather have no Government.”

      Let’s not kid ourselves. You get abuses of media power – that’s the price you pay of having a free society. Not every speech in this Parliament is objective or wise. Not every newspaper editorial, oped or news story is fair. But what’s the alternative? Having everything written by a bunch of bureaucrats in Canberra? Senator Conroy might like that. I’m for freedom. I’m with Thomas Jefferson: A free press is absolutely vital to a democracy and any attempt by Government to trammel that freedom has to be viewed with the greatest suspicion. Now that’s what this inquiry is all about

      above from The Catallaxy Files

  1. In my opinion this is nothing more than government harrassment of newspapers that oppose government policy and a waste of taxpayers money

    Based on the same reasons for this media inquiry, surely as UK MPs fiddled their expense accounts, there should be an investigation here of the accuracy of our MPs expense claims? (After all we have a current case of how one MP has in his previous job supposedly not used his credit card correctly)?

    • +1 If they were fair dinkum they’d be including the ABC with all its political bias.

      It’s just another show pony waste of money.

      • Yeah, they need to do something about the ABC’s right wing bias.

        Actually, I’ve noticed that they do have a right wing bias in some areas. Murdoch’s stuff on the other hand, is just right wing and nothing but.

    • Are you implying there are newspapers out there which agrees with the current government policy? 😛

      The problem is media concentration. When 70% of our print media controlled by one company, there is very little media diversity. There is also the issue of the Australian publishing about a terrorism raid operation BEFORE it happened.

      Of course, none of this is included in the term of reference.

      • Take the case of Adelaide where the only broadshite is The Advertiser; this local market is cornered completely – no diversity of opinion.

        An argument from (is your) News Limited is that the national broadsheet is also available – however another Murdoch vehicle…

  2. I doubt it will achieve anything much. Our media do a pretty good job at exposing corruption and malpractice whenever allegations surface. And there’s no evidence of phone hacking here in Australia. If there were, then an inquiry would be required. But there is not one single incident of phone hacking. The inquiry will, however, give us something to talk about at the office water cooler. And it’s something for journalists to write about. And when the media write about the media it’s usually compelling reading. But it’s a waste of public money from a government searching for a scapegoat.

  3. Aussie media has become like this.
    Almost every other story is just an opportunity for product placement and spruiking, on media commentator’s own behalf or on behalf of their keepers.
    There are a few exceptions – Fairfax’s investigative journalism is excellent and so is ABC’s. But I can’t be bothered paying for whole other crap that comes with the investigative journalism side of the media.

  4. I dont have a problem with media having bias, except ABC which receives govt (ie taxpayer) funding.

    As long as they are transparent on where the bias lies and not pretending to be centre when they are clearly not.

    If one considers the internet as a source of competition i dont think its too heavily skewed/monopolised, one would have to look at the trend into print subscriptions to see if the internet is providing real competition.

    I wonder if the balance of media ownership, in Australia, was in some MSNBC type organisation with a heavy left slanting, would have brought about this same article or if its just a dig at anything Murdoch..

  5. MSM is broken and Murdoch’s control of the industry is obscene BUT that doesn’t change the fact that people still read the shite!

    The problem isn’t that we’ve got some outdated crony controlling an old industry; the problem is that the majority of Australians aren’t making an effort to read more broadly… If ever there is a classic example of this then surely it is the growth of this awesome MacroBusiness community?!

    Thanks to the internet we’ve got more media than we can poke a stick at… The Government should be focusing on helping people find that info, rather than picking fights with a media baron with an anti-Govt agenda… Help people find alternative (independent, unbiased, informed) media and the Murdoch problem will vanish — survival of the fittest, Rupert!

  6. I’m not sure what the readership of MP in Australia, but you don’t have to agree with them. Most don’t. Most people now get news from other sources so this come out of a phone hacking in the UK, and now it’s revealed that others (Guardian for one)were up to it.

    Tony Windsor wants blogs to be included in this. Some blogger got under his skin I guess, but it’s a bad sign IMO.

  7. For a real understanding of what is happening with the media (includes any form of print, TV, internet,radio etc) in this country you should google “information warfare” and have a read. Most of it is not about delivering factual “inform”ation but about disinformation, misinformation, misleading, and generally getting the target audience to behave in a certain manner or to agree with a point of view. Truth disappeared a long time ago!

  8. The MSM is now newsfotainment & nothing more. I am more concerned with individuals (Gina Rheinhart etc) buying into media organisations & using their power to influence content editorially.

    • Both serious concerns. When Greg Hywood took over Farifax recently he said something like it was the job of newspapers to inform a positive view of the world. Positive? What happened to reality?

      • I have no problem whatsoever with buying into media to make money but not with using media influence to make money.

      • HnH, the generally poor analysis skills evident at most Oz Newspapers (except on most occasions The Oz!) are what has given rise to the blog.

        Press Release Journalism has been practiced in this country increasingly over the past decade or two (curiously corresponding with the rise in Media, Journalism and PR courses in tertiary institutions…) and a pet hate of mine. It’s everywhere. Rehash, print it, no questions asked.

        But questions of the kind raised above extend to all ‘Reports’ to some extent. Whether from the Minerals Council (clearly flagging agenda) or from The Australia Institute (clearly hiding behind agenda); care should be taken when reporting from all sources. Check, cross-check and seek alternative views.

        It remains that for many, newspapers are to check the sports results, glance over headlines to ‘be informed’ and see what the celebs have been up to. Sadly media has descended to this level because it seems that is what most want. Those that demand more will seek it out. It is more concerning to me to have a national broadcaster, taxpayer funded, failing a little to often to present objective unbiased news and current affairs – failing not always, but often enough.

  9. Good journalism costs more money than bad journalism, and sells less. Media as a functional component of democracy is therefore incompatible with capitalism.

    The ABC is one of the last bastions of decent investigative journalism in the country. It is also one of the few places where people in power get asked tough questions. The only reason it is able to maintain higher standards of journalism is because it is publicly funded.

    Those with right leaning ideologies are quick to accuse the ABC of bias, however, there is no documented evidence of this. At least one academic study showed that overall the ABC had a Coalition bias (not sure on the details, only that the study exists). The ABC is also found to be in breach of codes of practice far less often than commercial networks.

    While I abhor blatant editorial bias, my problem with it diminishes with increased diversity. However, since a large percentage of the population gets their “information” from a very small set of resources, I currently have a big problem with editorial bias in those sources.

    • That pro-coalition bias on the ABC report was probably prepared by the Australia Institute…

      BTW check out Sky News (Agenda, Showdown and others) giving the ABC a run for its money, challenging questions asked, genuine attempt to provide participants from each side of a debate – one to watch – a real threat to ABC hegemony for the chattering class.

      • I agree that the ABC carries a leftist line. But it doesn’t help your argument to then turn around and defend the Murdoch stable, which clearly carries the other end of the barbell.

        • I diagree. The ABC only ever criticises both parties from a Leftist perspective. The Oz on the other hand editorialized in favour of Kevin Rudd and had printed articled for and against a carbon tax even though it has taken an editorial line of supporting a carbon tax. The same impartiality could not be said of the guardian on the Yarra (as Henderson call it) or the Sydney Morning Hysterical (my own humble contribution).
          However, surely, as economists’ MBloggers would agrue the final arbitar lies with people who allocate their own resources. And my understanding is that Fairfax sales are in possibly terminal decline while News is looking ok. Fashionable leftists like to think of the masses as the great unwashed but I like to think of them more in terms of not everyone being fooled all the time.

      • Other than the odd Four Corners, Big Ideas, Foreign correspondent and 7:30 report, I watch very little of ABC. Their News Breakfast show has marginally better “news” content compared to Kochie’s Sunrise.
        I am a lefty. So I can’t tell which of the ABC programs have a lefty bias. Can you tell me?

        • I have to say I’m very impressed with Chris Uhlmann. i think he is the most impartial senior journalist on the ABC. Maybe he is consciously impartial because he is married to a Labor politician. We could only hope for the same impartially from Whitlam’s ex media advisor Kerry O’Brian. Ex-Hawke staffer, Barry Cassidy tries to be impartial but he doesn’t always succeed. The have also been moves in the other direction from the ABC to Labor ranks like the member for bennelong Maxine McKew.
          I’m unaware of any ex-Liberal staffers who work for the ABC or and ex-ABC employees who moved into Liberal ranks. Also, I believe the ABC’s Insiders program just sacked Glenn Milne for saying something unkind about the PM. I’m not sure if anyone at the ABC has ever been sacked for saying something unkind about a Liberal. Maybe you could enlighten me?

          • Nearly forgot to mention that Maxine Mckew’s long time partner Bob Hogg is a former ALP National Secretary. Are there any ABC presenters married to former liberal party Federal presidents?
            PS. Sorry about typos above. Hit the submit button too quickly.

          • Copied and pasted from :

            Gary Hardgrave, a former minister in the Howard government, is a former journalist with the Brisbane bureau of the ABC’s 7.30 Report.
            Peter Collins, Leader of the Liberal Party in NSW for several years, was also a former ABC TV journalist.
            Peter McArthur, a former current affairs reporter and TV newsreader for the ABC served several years in the Victorian parliament as a Liberal member.
            Bruce Webster was a sports broadcaster for the ABC and later the Liberal member for Pittwater in the NSW parliament.
            Jim Bonner, after leaving the staff of Malcolm Fraser, held senior editorial positions with ABC radio and television in Canberra and Adelaide. He later resumed his connection with the Liberal Party when he assumed the position of Director of the Liberal Party in South Australia.
            Pru Goward, a Canberra based high profile ABC journalist reported on federal politics for a number of years. She recently won Liberal Party pre-selection for a seat in NSW.
            Cathy Job, a current affairs presenter for ABC radio in Brisbane became a media adviser to David Kemp after resigning from the ABC.
            Vicki Thompson, a senior political reporter for ABC radio in Adelaide became Chief of Staff for John Olsen, Liberal Premier of South Australia.
            Ian Cover, a member of the ABC’s Coodabeen Champions crew, served as a Liberal member of the Victorian Parliament between 1996 and 2002. (Note: the Coodabeens focus was on sport rather than politics).
            Rob Messenger was ABC radio broadcaster in Bundaberg. He is now the National Party member for Burnett in the Queensland parliament.
            Grant Woodhams, National Party member for Greenough in WA worked with ABC radio in Tasmania, South Australia, NSW and Victoria.
            Ken Cooke, State Director of the National Party for 13 years, and a close associate of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was an ABC journalist before taking up his position with the National Party.
            Chris Nicholls, an Adelaide ABC journalist, broke a story revealing that Barbare Wiese, a minister in the Bannon Labor government in South Australia, was involved in a conflict of interest. He was accused of improperly obtaining details of Weise’s financial affairs, but was acquitted. Nicholls, and his story, were defended by the ABC’s News Editor, and the ABC State Manager. Some time later he left the ABC to work for Liberal Senator, Grant Chapman.
            Eoin Cameron,the former Liberal member for the federal seat of Stirling, presents the breakfast program on ABC local radio in Perth. He is a popular and respected broadcaster.
            Cameron Thompson worked for the ABC in Longreach and Darwin before winning the seat of Blair for the Liberal Party.
            The current State Director of the ABC in Queensland, Chris Wordsworth, is a former press officer for one time Liberal Defence Minister John Moore.

            In March 2009 Scott Emerson, a former ABC journalist won the Queensland seat of Indooroopilly for the Liberal National Party.

          • Well, obviously not enough of them. Left leaning bias remains fully functional limiting the capacity for a consistently objective position.

          • “Well, obviously not enough of them. Left leaning bias remains fully functional limiting the capacity for a consistently objective position.”

            Why is this obvious? I am only seeing assertion after assertion without even anecdotal examples. It is the job of the media to extract information and report. Not to have a “position”, left, right or centre.

          • It is so widespread that you must be accustomed to the bias, actually coming to believe you are receiving objective reporting.

            An anecdote: The Parliament is in the process of debating the merits of the carbon tax Bill. An important, divisive and vexatious issue, particularly as the elected Government quite clearly assured the public there would be no such tax. One would think free and open debate on this topic be welcomed and an opportunity to present such to the public embraced by the national broadcaster.

            Recently IPA-Spectator hosted a sold-out debate on the carbon tax. The debate was taped by the ABC and assurance given it would be broadcast at 1pm on consecutive Sundays.

            This did not eventuate as advised – the ABC instead chose to broadcast selective excerpts from the debate at 4am on a Monday! A debate on an issue of national interest relegated to a time least likely to attract an audience – why? Bias is the likely answer: to question the merit of the carbon tax offends the sensibilities of the green left leaning ABC.

          • Nogen, Just in case you are wondering:
            China Fanboy and 3d1k are all different aliases of the Mining PR Bot, a high tech black-ops project sponsored by the Miners lobby group.
            As you can see, there are a few bugs that need to be ironed out 🙂

          • I believe the ABC’s Insiders program just sacked Glenn Milne for saying something unkind about the PM.
            Before that, The Oz fully retracted Glenn Milne’s column and posted an apology in its place to the PM! I guess The Oz is a left leaning paper too!!

          • “It is so widespread that you must be accustomed to the bias, actually coming to believe you are receiving objective reporting.”

            So an assertion and then a personal value judgement based on an assumption of truth of the assertion.

            So, 3d1k, are you saying the bias concerns editorial issues only or extends to the way that existing programs are delivered? There are all manner of reasons why the debate may not have been screened at the original time, and while bias is amongst those possibilities I think its a long bow to draw to say “likely”. Lucky for everyone you can watch anything on the ABC at any time with iView…

      • I haven’t watched Sky News, however I will comment that it is only readily available to 1/3 of the population and requires you to spend a fair amount of money to do so. It could well be a great product but if it is inaccessible then it is ineffective in fulfilling its civic role.

        Why do you feel the ABC doesn’t make “genuine” attempts to get participants from both sides? I wouldn’t spend so much time shouting at the television if it was group thinking me in this manner.

        Q&A usually has equal representatives from the left and right and shows stats on the makeup of their audience. Or is this a left wing conspiracy like the pro-coalition bias report?

        • For a start, audiences for programs like Q&A are entirely Sydney based. Even supposedly right wing people from Sydney have a very different world view to, say, farmers from North Qld, or miners working in the Pilbara. Sydney “right wingers” tend to be economic right wingers but socially liberal. Country “right wingers” are the reverse, if anything.

          Confusing the economic and social streams of right wing thought has led to more political confusion in this country than any other issue. John Howard’s greatest achievement was to co-opt (for a while) the social right wingers to an economically right wing agenda. But it didn’t last, as the profligate budgets towards the end of his reign revealed.

          • I find this helps with the confusion :p


            Your point works in both directions though. What you are talking about is a geographical bias rather than strictly a political one. Q&A already fields video questions and questions through social media (which also have a bias to tech-savvy people). I don’t know what other solutions they might use. Perhaps you should increase their budget to allow them to fly in a more representative audience? *removes tongue from cheek*

            In any case the “A” part is far bigger than the “Q” part. So what are some of the problems with the panel makeup?

          • Perhaps, like cabinet meetings, Q&A sessions could move around the country? The ABC probably has more studios than any other media organisation.

            On the panel makeup, although the quality is variable, I don’t think there is a particularly obvious bias. I think Tony Jones shows his colours too obviously and too often, though. Chris Uhlmann would be a great substitute.

    • The breaking of the world! But seriously, I know it’s awful difficult to unscramble an egg but a start would be some public acknowledgement that media ownership concentration has its costs.

  10. There ARE alternatives. Consider Canada’s laws prohibiting “broadcasting false or misleading news” (which the right-wing Harper government attempted to scrap).

    Or the much-vilified Singapore Media regulations. The latter, when you get past the MSM hysteria, are well-considered and have produced largely positive results.

    My guess is that any serious democracy must have protection against mendacious media. We don’t and we’re losing our democratic shirts as a result.

  11. So Murdoch owns 70% of the print media and presumably Fairfax owns the other 30%.

    If there were a biggger appetite for the garbage Fairfax prints, then perhaps they might be in a position to own a greater share? You know, more readers = more advertising = more income = more money to buy a few more papers.

    If the problem is only two companies owning this much of the print media then perhaps there is room for a third player to produce something of better quality than what we are currently being fed?

    There is absolutely no need for an enquiry into this and it boils down to a few people having stuff written about them that they would prefer be kept quiet.

  12. Correction. News Ltd only owns 30% of newspapers in Australia. They sell 60%.

    This media inquiry is nothing but a direct attack on News Ltd papers daring to publish against this government. It is a large threat to them and the largest attack on free speech that I have ever seen in Australia. Read what the Governments puppet master, Bob Brown, has been saying. Will they question Fairfax and ABC (publicly funded) unbelievable bias to the left? At least News Ltd actually has some left wing commentators, that is FAR more than can be asked of Fairfax. The Australian has repeatedly asked Robert Manne (VERY left) to publish in their newspaper but he has refused every time.

    There is a very good reason why News Ltd have become the most popular publications, that’s because they give people what they want, so people buy. The Age and SMH started going down hill when they neglected balance and went hard for the left.

    The hypocracy is shocking.

    • “The Australian has repeatedly asked Robert Manne (VERY left) to publish in their newspaper but he has refused every time.”

      Give thanks for small mercies.

    • Strong on cliché and rhetoric but light on facts. Straight off the top of my head – Paul Sheehan, Gerard Henderson, Peter Costello, Julie Bishop, Amanda Vanstone, Miranda Devine are all regular contributors to Fairfax opinion pages with overtly right wing views.

      There are similarly a number of lefty commentators. The majority as far as I can tell tend to drift left and right depending on the issue and those with memories long enough can recall them sticking the boot into the government of the day.

      I am still waiting for any evidence of this “unbelievable” ABC left bias…

    • The Age and SMH started going down hill when they neglected balance and went hard for the left.
      I wonder why you say that when it was the Fairfax journalists who dug up and broke the Craig Thomson story.
      Meanwhile, The Oz journalists just sat on their ar$e and indulged in a bit of ineffectual smear attacks on the government.