By James Moylan
In the 80s and 90s we often discussed the need to rid Australia of the dead hand of our media monopolies. It was becoming apparent to even Blind Freddy that having only three or four large media conglomerates owning all facets of the Australian media was simply not good for the health of our society. However, the public interest lost the argument. Now even the topic is hardly ever mentioned. In Australia we have simply given up on the idea that we may ever be able to have a media marketplace that is free of undue corporate and political influence.
Instead of having a regulated media market, for the last decade and a half the Australian media marketplace has been effectively deregulated. Yes, there are some ‘rules’ left but in reality these are only the ‘rules’ that the media moguls have not had to flout (yet). In reality our big media owners have been allowed to purchase whatever they want and then reformulate their delivery of services in whatever manner they decide is best for their own corporate and political interests. For a decade and a half every acquisition that has been proposed by a large owner has been allowed. They even get to fund and direct their own complaints mechanisms.
So during the last twenty years all the small newspapers in Australia have been bought up by the big three. Which became the big two. While at the same time these behemoths have also swallowed up virtually every radio, television and cable outlet available. Under the cover of the myth that ‘the newspaper industry is dying’ our media outlets have effectively convinced everyone that they have to be able to own every media outlet in our country otherwise they will have to strip down and close all of our newspapers. (Even while the moguls have been stripping down and centralising all the news gathering facilities across all of our marketplaces and sacking more than half the journalists in the country).
So where are we after two decades of letting the marketplace have its head? Where once we had a host of regional variations in our news we citizens now have access to the output of just two editorial newsrooms that are feeding their content into cookie-cutter mastheads all across the country. Our newspapers have been ‘saved’ by turning them into bland mass-produced carbon copies of each other. In Australia our commercial news now only comes in three flavours. Hard-right wing capitalist booster (The Australian, Courier Mail, West Australian), right wing populist BS (Territorian, Telegraph) or centre-right populist BS (SMH, The AGE). Any topic or issue which is covered in any of these outlets will be coloured with the editorial slant which is common to that outlet. It may or may not contain facts but it will certainly contain a host of arguments for or against a particular position. If a topic is not of interest to one of these major news outlets it will not be considered.
So we arrive in 2016 with an election in prospect and every Aussie shudders at the thought. We all understand that the journalists who are reporting the news will not be neutral or dispassionate. Many of the reporters and editors working for our newspapers will have worked for the very same politicians they will be reporting on. The readers will not be told this. ‘Information’ and ‘stories’ will be traded and swapped in an incestuous manner and then employed for reasons that the readers will not be privy to. The story of the day will be determined by the journalists and their editors. The ‘narrative’ of the ‘election’ will be retailed despite the actual events unfolding before our eyes.
Election campaigns in Australia are our Groundhog Day. The coverage of the very same event being provided by one of the two ‘owners’ will be entirely different to that provided by a paper controlled by the other big ‘owner’. The policies and statements that are reported by one reporter will be seen through their particular political lens. The ‘commentary’ will be biting and incisive. The reporting will be slick and biased. And the Australian public will once again be shut out of the conversation entirely.
We know we will be fed the same crap by the same people for the same reasons and yet we simultaneously know that we cannot do anything to alter the shape of the inevitable tidal wave of bullshit. Apparently all we are allowed to do is brace ourselves and try and bear the stink. Once again the press will ‘get it all wrong’ in retrospect. Once again the press will engage in three days of self-flagellation then all will be quickly forgotten by both the media outlets and their flunkies. Thence anyone who questions the quality of their reporting will be howled down or utterly ignored.
At the coming election one in three voters in Australia will want to vote for someone who is not connected to one of the major parties or their media boosters yet they will be told that they do not matter. All of our mainstream press will continue to be loud in their condemnation of even the idea that smaller parties might be engaged in our political processes. Every media outlet (including the ABC) will continue to smear anyone who wants to see an end to the corporate ownership of every politician and media outlet in our society. They will be described as being marginal voices that threaten to disrupt the orderly running of our country.
The Australian media is owned, lock stock and barrel, by vested interests. So we continue to get only the politics and politicians that our media moguls decide is best for us. So get ready for another tidal wave of bullshit (brought to you by the big political parties, News Corp., and Fairfax). You will be allowed to lap it all up and vote for one of the selected candidates. Your vote may not be counted. The media will likely have lied to you all the way during the campaign. The politicians will change their minds soon after being elected. But you will be allowed to vote. You will also be allowed to swallow the result and then shut the hell up. After all: democracy will have spoken!
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