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Intervene: How the Government can secure media diversity

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Rupert Murdoch's influence remains powerful (image via Wikimedia Commons).

We can have a stronger, more varied media if the Government legislates to prevent further takeovers and mergers, writes Ross Thorley.

IN RECENT MONTHS, many questions have been raised over the degree of influence Australia’s media corporations are having on the day-to-day lives of Australians.

The latest Federal Election makes it clear that Rupert Murdoch remains powerful.

He and his News Corp entities have had an enormous grip on much of the news media, particularly in print and online formats, which we consume daily.

When joined by Australia’s television juggernauts Seven, Ten, Nine and Win, and radio broadcasting giant Macquarie group, it becomes increasingly alarming as to the lack of diversity displayed across Australia’s media landscape.

This growing concentration of media outlets has been no secret to the Australian public either, with surveys conducted between the 1980s to present time consistently showing respondents are more than aware of Australia’s oligopolistic media market. This lack of diversity in Australian media corporations and lack of trust by the public in Australia’s media landscape has become growingly detrimental to the country’s ability to function democratically.

Recent reports into the diversity of the media landscape have found that Australia’s media is severely lagging behind in comparison with that of other liberal democracies — with print media within the country becoming so concentrated that it ranks just above countries which are almost completely reliant on state-controlled media. Print media protections would be also be strongly-backed by the majority of Australians, with one study in particular reporting that 58% of Australians believed that the Government shouldn’t allow one company to own the majority of newspapers in the country.

With the ever-growing power and influence of Australia’s major media outlets and further cuts expected to hit Australia’s public broadcaster the ABC, isn't it time that we start thinking of ways to protect and legislate against the further concentration of media corporations through mergers and shareholdings?

Australia’s Media Landscape

One option that is useful to analyse is protective legislation which was introduced in another one of Australia’s industries which, at the time, was becoming increasingly concentrated. In 1990, the Labor party enacted legislation with the intention of protecting the diversity and integrity of Australia’s increasingly monopolised financial sector.

The legislation, originally named the “six pillars” effectively blocked Australia’s "big four" banks – ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac, and two insurers, AMP and National Mutual – from any future mergers or acquisitions. This move sought to safeguard citizens from an overconcentration of financial institutions and reinstall confidence back in the Australian banking sector — which was clearly lacking in politicians and the general public alike. 

Similarly, legislation of the same nature could be enacted at a federal level to actively forbid the countries major media corporations from monopolising Australia’s most influential industry. It would be a step in the direction of a well-diversified media landscape and most of all protect the Australian public.

Global trends show that smaller news and media companies have become extremely susceptible to takeovers and buy-ins form larger corporations who have the financial backing to exert their power and influence over their smaller competitors. With intelligent and well-thought-out legislation, it is not unimaginable that Australia could protect itself from such instances as these and operate with a diverse arena of media which is enjoyed by some of the world’s best democracies.

Media diversity has been noted by numerous scholars as a crucial element to any well-functioning democracy, and this diversity can only be assured through stringent protections and thorough regulations. The media is, and always will be the greatest tool for communicating information to large populations, with its influence having far-reaching implications on people’s lives and the numerous issues impacting the country.

The "six pillars" legislation provides a cogent model to follow and if well-implemented could have resoundingly beneficial implications on the lives of Australians and the generations that follow. The onus for the introduction of sensible media policy lies with the Australian public’s ability to influence their elected officials to protect one of the country’s most useful resources: the media industry.

Ross Thorley is a writer who has a Bachelor of Communications, majoring in the social and political sciences.

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Intervene: How the Government can secure media diversity

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