Wendy Bacon, a journalist for the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at the University of Technology, writes in New Matilda that now is the time to seriously investigate the power of the Murdoch empire in Australia. It’s called democracy, hacks:
There are two main ways of thinking about freedom of expression in the context of a democracy.
One way concentrates on freedom of the press. This tends to emphasise the importance of an unrestrained press to hold others accountable. From that point of view, the more power the press has the better.
The other way puts the emphasis on communication — access to information and a voice for all groups. This second way assumes that the media marketplace is not an even playing field and that some steps may be taken by governments to protect the rights of less powerful groups and individuals.
Not surprisingly, press owners and journalists often react negatively to any suggestion that could impinge on their freedom. Take the Weekend Australian’s vehement defence of its editorial performance and its attack on Greens leader Bob Brown’s call for a media inquiry into media ownership. The Saturday editorial accuses News Limited’s critics of wanting to swap a robust media for “a monocultural media” which is ironic as that is exactly what critics of Australia’s ownership laws say they want investigated. While failing to come to grips with critics’ key concern, which is the potential abuse of media power gained through concentrated ownership, the paper says it will debate media regulation on its merits — provided, it seems, that the underlying preference for the profit motive is accepted by us all.
Meanwhile, across in the tabloids, the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt announced to the readers of Australia’s biggest newspaper that Greens Leader Bob Brown’s “jihad” on freedom of speech was “totalitarian”.
In fact, in a long press conference on Friday, Brown said he was in favour of free speech and had no predetermined ideas about the answer to what he sees as threats to diversity. He supports a legal right to sue for breach of privacy. (In fact this would only benefit those few with resources to take action and should have a public interest defence.)
It’s understandable that Australian News Corp journalists have mostly concentrated on explaining that they do not systematically break the law like their peers at News of the World. But doesn’t this sidestep the key point in this saga for Australia — that there is no competition here? Tabloid journalism in Australia is controlled by News Ltd, each paper having its own city market to itself.
After the phone hacking scandal broke, few commentators thought about how much of the results of News of the World unethical practices ended up being served up to Australian audiences. There are lots of advantages of being part of a global “integrated media company” as News Corporation describes itself.