Australia has long had one of the most monopolised media industries in the world. Indeed, when Green Left Weekly was launched in 1991, one of our key slogans was “Break the media monopoly — support Green Left Weekly”. Today it is even more relevant.
Last September, the Malcolm Turnbull government — with the support of the Nick Xenophon Team and One Nation — removed key restrictions that previously prevented companies owning newspapers, television and radio stations in the same city and prevented a single TV broadcaster from reaching more than 75% of the population.
This latest deregulation prepared the ground for the Nine–Fairfax merger. When the bill passed through the Senate, Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood said the company "will act in the best interests of shareholders to take advantage of any opportunities created by the changes".
And on July 26 it did just that.
Fairfax's money-making assets, such as Domain.com.au and Macquarie Media — an ASX-listed company that operates radio stations in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and regional Queensland — will become part of Nine’s empire. Reports are that the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, and the Australian Financial Review will continue as usual in both their printed format and online — for now.
Former prime minister Paul Keating canned the Nine–Fairfax deal, accusing Nine of “cheque-book, foot-in-the-door journalism”. Other commentators have warned that media diversity and quality investigative journalism is being sacrificed in the name of commercial survival, and some are warning that this may be the beginning of the end of free-to-air broadcasting.
Keating’s comments are galling when you consider that the cross media ownership laws introduced in 1987 by the Hawke-Keating Labor government led to “the greatest media carve up” in Australia’s history.
Media commentator Anne Davies said: “Television licences were traded like confetti, with some licences changing hands four or five times in the space of two years. New networks were assembled, only to be pulled apart by the 1990s. One result of the changes was a rapid concentration of programming power in the hands of Sydney and Melbourne stations owners. Far from the regional networks growing bigger to compete with the city stations in the provision of programs as initially hoped, the regionals were force to affiliate with one of the ‘big three’.”
While a lot of media commentary has focused on the Nine–Fairfax merger, let’s not forget the perilous situation for the ABC and SBS. Both are in the government’s sights. Since 2014, the ABC has been hit with $254 million in cuts and the 2018 budget effectively ripped another $84 million out of the ABC over the next three years.
In community media, the situation is also perilous. Community broadcasting is largely self-funded. Government funding, distributed via Community Broadcasting Foundation grants makes up just over 10% of income for the sector.
The federal government coughed up almost $19.5 million to fund community broadcasting for 2018–19 in this year’s budget, which was welcomed by the sector. But compared to the $30 million that went to pay TV broadcaster Foxtel, owned by News Corp and Telstra, in the 2017 Budget (to spend on women's sports coverage), this is a pittance and shows the government is more interested in subsidising a multinational media conglomerate rather than adequately funding community and public media.
This is all the more reason to get behind Green Left — a truly people-powered media project.
Green Left Weekly is a proudly independent voice committed to exposing the lies of the powerful, helping us to better understand the world around us and building the movements for radical social change.
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