‘Information is power’ the teal independent said this afternoon. ‘Disinformation, unfortunately even more so.’
Debate has begun on an inquiry into media diversity in Australia. Introduced by independent Member for Goldstein Zoe Daniel shortly after Lachlan Murdoch announced his decision to sue Crikey for defamation, the motion was debated in the Federation Chamber this afternoon.
Below is an excerpt of Daniel’s speech.
“The committee recommends the establishment of a judicial inquiry, with the powers of a royal commission … It is clear that the current regulatory framework is not fit for purpose and significant changes are required.”
This is a quote from the Senate committee on media diversity in Australia that reported last year with the support of Labor Senators.
To quote from the report again: “The committee heard significant evidence that Australia’s system of media regulation is not effective…” including lack of oversight for digital media.
“The committee heard extensive evidence that the complaints processes for traditional media are insufficient and slow. There was clear evidence that the self-regulation model for print media through the Australian Press Council is woefully inadequate. Equally, the Australian Communication and Media Authority’s (ACMA) oversight of broadcast media is slow, complex, onerous for complainants and often inconclusive.”
This was a majority report, supported by Labor Senators, and yet, like the last government, this government refuses to face up to and tackle one of the biggest existential threats to our democracy.
Information is power. Disinformation, unfortunately even more so.
The contraction of media means that sources of conversations around the country are fewer and less diverse; there is less scrutiny, especially at the local level, with consequences for the quality of governance.
In some parts of the country, there are no local print outlets at all. In others, there are several, but they’re all run by the same company.
According to the Public Interest Journalism Initiative’s Newsroom Mapping Project, 31 LGAs [local government areas] have no local print or digital outlet at all.
In just the last few weeks, for example, ACM [Australian Community Media] closed the print editions of the Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser, Camden Narellan Advertiser, Fairfield City Champion, Liverpool Champion and Wollondilly Advertiser, leaving residents of much of western Sydney and its southern outskirts less well informed.
In the United States, a study by PEN America found that as local newspapers closed local government corruption, costs and inefficiency rose while spending and environmental checks went down.
From my own observations, having reported extensively in the US, the lack of local media means that political debate is had at the national level, without reference to local community impact, cost or benefit.
This is highly destructive, disconnects people from their government, and in some cases the void created sends people down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and makes them vulnerable to disinformation.
The storming of the US Capitol in January 2021 was one example of this.
In Australia, changes to the Broadcasting Services Act in 2017 have accelerated the trend to concentration and closure.
The “two out of three” cross-media control rule was abolished as well as the “75% audience reach” rule.
Now, just two owners are responsible for more than 80% of the circulation of all daily newspapers — an oligopoly if not a monopoly.
My intention by proposing this motion is that this be the start not the end of a process.
It will not come to a vote, but I appreciate those who are contributing to this important discussion.
I will conclude with a number of steps designed to give us the media framework to enhance our democracy:
- ACMA, at the very least, reformed so it has teeth with the resources to initiate its own inquiries
- Equally, for the Australian Press Council, including releasing regular updates on complaints received and resolved
- A framework to ensure truth in media reporting
- A fit and proper person test restored to the Broadcasting Services Act
- Adequate and long term support for the Australian Associated Press
- Support to restore broader reporting of affairs at the local, regional and rural levels
- Tax deductibility status for not-for-profit media organisations.
As the Senate report articulates: “Public interest journalism is essential to a democracy. Active
citizenship requires access to reliable information, and democracy cannot flourish without a
diversity of media sources…”
These are the facts, and they go to the stability of our country.
We ignore them at our peril.