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Government Funding and the Free Press

By Jay Smith  

In the domain of politics and state government, the relationship between media and the state needs to be constantly examined. Journalists in the past have served to both promote politicians and government initiatives while investigating and scrutinising politicians and the government of the state. This relationship between the media and politics has changed over the last decade due to new influences in the form of new advertising and communication mediums. In this piece, I am going to discuss the inadequacy of the free press as a result of changes in the information-seeking behaviour in the new forms of advertising and communication mediums. While in the past the media has looked predominantly to the interests of the public by way of funding and creating quality investigative journalism, media organisations have had to increasingly look towards their own interests to maintain their capacity to function. The result has been the incapacity of the press to adapt and to be able to fund itself and sustain quality unbiased investigative journalism. I will be suggesting a new method by which media organisations can attain funding through assisting government initiatives while remaining neutral in terms of government influence over what the funding is used for and its bias towards or against the government. This method, of course, will require close examination and strong restrictions on government overreach that has yet to be put in place. There are a number of restrictions that need to be put in place to sustain a government-funded free press.

When writing of the concept of a free press it is important to define what a free press is, as all press organisations are ultimately governed by either the interest of the audience, editors, journalists, beneficiaries and advertisers or all of the above. Ultimately if a press organisation is not governed by an audience, beneficiaries or advertiser’s freedom, in general, is not about being able to do as one pleases, freedom is about having as few restrictions as possible where one can do as they please while abiding by those few restrictions. Ultimately a free press is unfiltered by a government organisation. A free press cannot operate under the suspicion of having its funding docked if certain information is published or not published. A free press has a right to protect its sources. However, press is always governed by the prerogative and inflection of the journalists and editors.

It is key to a functional society to have a free and unbiased media in regard to government initiatives. Media organisations have influence over public opinion which allows the media to sway elections and influence the popularity of political parties and government initiatives. A free press serves to without bias investigate politicians and government initiatives. Bias within the media in relation to politics and government initiatives serves to ignore and permit corruption within a government. When a media organisations funding is controlled by government organisation it serves to propagate a government’s message. This commonly is referred to as propaganda. The dangers involved with a society that is seduced by propaganda and a government that coverts corruption can easily be illuminated with a quick history lesson on dictatorial governments. Dictatorial governments in the past century have committed some of the worst atrocities against human rights climate change Governments that only need to pay lip service to the democratic process.

In the current decade privately owned and funded, trustable journalism has suffered from funding cuts. The age of trustable free market news organisations have suffered due to budget cuts resulting from the rise of social media that offers a cost-effective and more efficient advertisement medium to market products, services, and initiatives. Mediums such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have become more effective in communicating with an audience and building trust and carrying a brand’s message to an audience. Companies whose advertising funds that once went to the media have become aware of the new trend of information-seeking behaviour. Having become aware of this, companies on a large scale have followed suit in their advertising spending habits. Leaving copious gaps in the funding of free press news organisations.

The creation of reliable and trustworthy news has suffered due to its limited profitability. Media organisations have taken to looking to their own interests in order to function and employ journalists. This has resulted in the rise of trends such as dubious news stories that have been given the name ‘fake news’ additionally advertorials in order for news organisation to function and to gain profit. Becoming a mouthpiece to propagate biased and untrustworthy news. With the advent of dwindling paying subscribers, news organisations have had to rely on the use of the advertorial where articles are written and paid for by companies to favourably promote a brand. I for one assume that all news articles freely acquired contain dubious content or advertorial. For one I believe that all journalists need to and deserve to be paid for their work, however, the process by which the journalist acquires funding needs to be examined thoroughly.

A popular method of subsidising income for news media is that of the advertisement separate from the article. This has been proven to be the most effective way of generating income for news organisations. Additionally, it is the most ethically sound method of news production. However, for those that wish to pursue paper-based news mediums of advertising, online advertising through organisations such as Facebook and Google has by far surpassed as a more effective form of advertising, with the possibility to niche partition an audience, monitor feedback and click through rates and cost per action accountability.

Politicians and governing bodies have in the past used the medium of advertising to promote their interests, political party and affiliations. This particularly is used in the run-up to elections when a politician needs to promote themselves or at the time of a referendum. The money used to purchase these services comes directly out of the taxpayer’s pocket charged to the government to foot the bill. While working for news organisations I handled sales of political advertising during peak and off-peak election seasons. The flow of funds from the government to the media directly for the purchase of advertising. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds are spent on political advertising each election cycle.

Government organisations outside of the promotion of politicians and political parties serve to create policies and initiatives that provide products and services to the people they govern. From healthcare to social welfare, social security to disability support, a government must engage its citizens to promote and markets government subsidised products and services. Government funds are spent to market products and services to see that they are used correctly and reach the right people. The question I considered was is there a more ethical way of governments putting copious amounts of money into media while remaining unbiased as to news content. A way for taxpayer’s funds to be spent on media outlets, while aiding governments in promoting their subsidised products and services.

In 2016, while working as part of the media I developed the basis for a model for news journalism to acquire funding through government initiatives while remaining relatively unrestricted as to government interference. While a news organisation can specialise in the production of news, in order to subsidise funding a news organisation can produce niche market supplementary services to raise revenue. This service can be applied to a limitless range of industries each focused around a common interest or clientele. This can take the form of a directory service supported by advertising and relevant important news and information. The supplementary services are completely separate from the news organisation however aid in funding the operation of the news organisation.

While looking for a potentially profitable niche market to advertise within I was able to gain firsthand access to the roll-out and implementation phase of a new government initiative. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) an Australian government department that provides products and services to support the disabled. The department began a new initiative where for the first time the disabled in the country’s history were able to choose from a range of registered private service providers. The department had a registered list of service providers companies whose operations are subsidised by the government. The capacity for choice allowed for a new competitive market to take place amongst government-funded companies.

The funding model which was implemented was for the media to approach government subsidised companies for advertising opportunities, while assisting in the promotion of a government initiative. This allowed for private companies to choose their prospective advertisers. The key component of choice by private organisations un-interfered with by the government allowed for funds to be channelled to a free press organisation from the government which removed the ability for government to influence the media. This allows for the free journalism to operate outside of the restriction of government interference.

The capacity for the client of government faculties to choose their perspective advertising agent under this model would allow for the associated journalists the freedom to operate within the use of government funding without government interference. This un-interfered operation of the free-market choice would provide a press free from the constraints of the interest of the government, an audience, and beneficiaries. The operation of the press under this model would appear superficially as the best possible outcome for news journalism, the alternative relying on philanthropy. However, the beneficiaries of these organisations that fund a press of this nature would have to be paid attention to.

For the funding model to operate without government interference, restrictions on government overreach need to be put in place. These restrictions will help to safeguard free press media organisations and stop funding from being manipulated by the government.

The free choice of government-subsidised businesses under the free market is key to the success of this model. Any government-subsidised companies that advertise through free press organisations need to be allowed to choose their avenue of advertisement without manipulation. Government interference at this level could allow the government to choose the direction of funding, directing funds to a favoured associated press news organisation. Laws need to be created to stop the restriction on choices by the government on government-subsidised organisation in regard to their choice of advertising service.

To further protect the free presses’ capacity to operate without restriction, more than one if not as many as possible separate free press organisations need to be involved in the assistance of advertising in relation to a single government initiative. The revenue raised from the product of advertising if not governed by the free market needs to be shared equally amongst free press news organisations. The capacity for the government to choose which media organisation to channel its subsidised funding through would allow for bias in regard to funding. Alternatively, if one organisation is to undertake the advertising and marketing of one government initiative the government has the capacity to withdraw channelled funding from unfavoured organisations.

Additionally, for a government-subsidised free press to operate transparency is key. Information is needed to be freely available in regard to details of the companies that are receiving government-subsidised funding. If a media organisation is shut out from accessing the details of a government-subsidised company, then the media organisation will be unable to receive the revenue raised through marketing and advertising the government initiative. This would be an ideal way for a government to manipulate funds and exercise bias. Openly available information is key.

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16 comments

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  1. Wobbley

    I’m sorry but to me the above article seems to convolute the situation between media and government. If the government we have now expends one cent on media propagander they want their pound of flesh. How will the above stop the scum like Turdoch from running his own agenda re policy?

  2. Kathryn

    The unspeakable, blatant ultra-right-wing bias of the Murdoch press in favour of the LNP is the HUGE elephant in the room here! Why isn’t the Murdoch’s name mentioned? The Murdoch’s unregulated control and influence over just about EVERY aspect of our media, especially the vile, unconscionable propaganda and relentless character-assassinating slander spewed out on a daily basis within such notorious Murdoch rags as Courier Mail, Daily Telegraph, The Australian and from ultra-conservative Murdoch-manipulated repugnant and truly offensive “Shock Jocks” (eg Alan Jones, Steve Price, Andrew Bolt, Ray Hadley, the ghastly Miranda Devine, Peta Credlin etc) is a criminal abuse of power! The verbal diarrhoea spewed out by these enemies of free speech and their determination to control everything we hear and see on every form of media is absolutely intolerable and getting worse. Now we have ongoing muzzling of free speech, the arrest of essential whistleblowers and the unlawful prosecution of journalists and protest marchers!

    Every day the Murdoch press, their spineless lackies in the LNP and their collaborators within the unelected swill of the undemocratic IPA, rage against the ALP, the Greens, unions, against the poorest most vulnerable citizens in our country, against LEGAL asylum seekers escaping from the tyranny of an illegal war Howard helped to create! Every day Murdoch and his salivating shock jocks are ramping up xenophobic racism, hatred, fear, misogyny and heaping verbal attacks against young, female climate change activists on SkyNews, 2GB or the vacuous talking heads on Channels 7, 9 and 10 (the airhead, Kerry Ann Kennerly is an offensive example)! Now we have politically-motivated raids and hugely expensive government-sponsored Royal Commissions against unions, the ALP and into the offices of the ABC without one word of protest in the Murdoch press who, in fact, cheered on the fascist campaigns against these hated opponents of the LNP/Murdoch/IPA agenda!

    How did all this start since the time when Labor introduced the regulation that more than 51% of our so-called democratic media could, and should, NOT be owned, managed and controlled by a single entity?

    Answer: the undemocratic, Murdoch sycophant and infamous war criminal, John Howard, rescinded the Media Ownership Laws in this nation and gave permission for the catastrophic bias, fascist lack of democracy, unashamed elitism and prejudiced right-wing bias by the LNP/Murdoch/IPA Alliance to be ramped up to a level which goes against everything our nation values and once understood about democratic free speech and our rights as a so-called democracy to expect and demand impartiality of the news! This unholy collaboration of totally corrupt, mutually benefiting elitists is, without any doubt, the worst, most dangerously fascist attack against our democracy in history – and it goes on and on unabated and, in fact, is escalating.

    Let’s never forget that Murdoch is a non-taxpaying, non-Australian who tossed his Australian citizenship in the garbage decades ago so that he could meet the American requirements of being an American citizen in order to get his world dominance of the American press to control public opinion (to his benefit) in the USA. The internationally-despised, power-obsessed megalomaniacal Murdoch dynasty – and their truly vile, self-entitled and callously inhumane sycophants – are the worst kind of undemocratic spinners of fake news, blatantly muzzling free speech, distorting facts and presenting a phony parallel reality to serve themselves and the agenda of the bible-thumping hypocrites in the extreme right-wing conservative end of politics.

    The fact that the LNP/Murdoch/IPA have staged non-stop attacks and venomous slurs against anyone and EVERYONE who has the courage to stand up and speak out against Murdoch’s remorseless lies, self-serving hyperbole and tyrannical, draconian influence over the right-wing Murdoch whores in conservative governments in the UK, USA and, especially, the LNP in Australia, is BEYOND criminal!

    Let’s not mince words: The Murdoch dynasty and their mates in Murdoch’s IPA OWNS the LNP lock, stock and two smoking barrels! They write the LNP agenda, compose the LNP’s elitist policies and dictate what these spineless, non-achieving lackies in the Abbott/Turnbull/MorriScum chaotic circus say and do! The Murdoch-owned media – and their disciples in SkyNews, 2GB and free-to-air TV – are as guilty for what they DO NOT REPORT as for the type of propaganda they do! No mention of the LNP’s current national debt and deficit disaster of MORE than one trillion dollars after they screamed blue murder about the moderate $240 billion debt left behind by Rudd and Gillard! Not one mention about the LNP using taxpayer funds, in the middle of one of the worst droughts in our history, to fund the construction of PRIVATE DAMS for the SOLE use of foreign-owned cronies of the LNP in the thirsty and unspeakably greedy cotton growing industry! No mention of the non-stop, undeclared donations handed to them by the non-taxpaying billionaires who sit on the Board of the IPA, eg Rinehardt, Twiggy Forrest et al. No mention of the evil, politically-motivated defundment of Australian taxpayer-owned ABC and SBS where the LNP/IPA is constantly threatening the ABC with further defundment and privatisation (against the wishes and best interests of the huge majority of the Australian public) if the ABC does not “toe the conservative line”! No mention of the fact that ever since Abbott crawled into power on a stack of Murdoch-published lies, broken promises and slanderous campaigns (like the horrendously misogynistic Ditch the Witch campaign that went on for months on end against Julia Gillard), the LNP/Murdoch/IPA have embarked on a deliberate, undemocratic campaign to “stack” the ABC Board with a long line of LNP/Murdoch/IPA sycophants (like Janet Albrechsten, Ita Buttrose and many more) to garnish full control of what Australians will hear and see on OUR taxpayer-owned television station – the LAST bastion of media not fully controlled by Murdoch ….. Yet! No mention about how the LNP/IPA are stacking EVERY panel with vile, self-entitled elitists peddling right-wing propaganda on every panel show, especially Q&A, with insignificant, repugnant grubs like James Patterson (also a member of the IPA), the awful serial liar Alan Jones and an array of other toxic conservatives.

    If there is ONE thing the LNP/Murdoch/IPA Alliance KNOW and follow to the letter is what the Nazi Propaganda Minister and Hitler espoused: “If you tell a LIE often enough and with enough conviction, in the end, people will believe it” and, very clearly: “When you CONTROL everything people see and hear, you can CONTROL how they think!” The Alliance are masters of manipulation, proficient snake oil salesmen, pushing filth, slander and lies, distorting facts and omitting any form of news that will damage their own fascist agenda or expose their criminal level of corruption, economic mismanagement, environmental vandalism and ongoing self-serving rorting and waste of hard-earned taxpayer funds!

    BRING BACK ESSENTIAL AND DEMOCRATIC MEDIA OWNERSHIP LAWS THAT WILL INHIBIT AND SILENCE THE BLATANT, ONGOING FASCISM OF THE LNP/MURDOCH/IPA ALLIANCE. This law MUST be enshrined by the judiciary to ensure that it cannot be changed or rescinded by ruthless self-serving LNP governments in the future!

  3. Henry Rodrigues

    Well said Kathryn. A plague on these hypocrites.

  4. The AIM Network

    Another great comment, Kathryn. I reckon that could be made into an article, with your permission.

  5. johno

    Bravo Kathryn. Well said.

  6. Kate Chaplin

    Ditto, Great statement Kathryn. Clear and insightful.

  7. Jon Chesterson

    It is so naive to think this model would work. Simply put, if the government of the day doesn’t like the funded provider’s choice of media outlet for advertising it has a hundred ways it can undermine the process and circumvent any legislation designed to prevent government interference or influence, from use of National security legislation, manipulation, re-interpretation or abuse of Freedom of Information and confidentiality laws to departmental burying of information, policy and decision making to funding an organisation on the next round, which it already does; and that’s assuming the government would censor itself with such legislation in the first place, which it won’t out of self interest, and that is just the covert punishment side of government operations.

    The obverse covert reward side will have its own abuses of the process to favour the usual culprits. Besides the government does much of its funding and contracts behind closed doors on whim and mercenary policy rather than legislation or merit – Look at all the ridiculous money it has thrown at untouchables and hitherto disreputable organisations particularly in the offshore detention industry, Centrelink, welfare, mining, Great Barrier Relief and Adani to name a few at the demise of our public sector, good governance and management.

    And of course, the extrinsic factors and evils of the likes of Murdoch’s News Corp who will stop at nothing to continue its class war on society, democracy, its competition, monopolistic, bad behaviour, contracting arrangements, dirty tricks, false news and advertising. News Corp will simply use its freedoms to abuse others, the news, journalism, in the absence of regulatory practices and exercise of commercial advantage to destroy any attempt at transparency, decency and civility to maximise profit and its illegitimate use of power.

    Judicial oversight would be nigh impossible in such a neoliberal political climate, as it is already just a lame duck right now; and there is no public service left to follow any reasonable, ethical or constitutional processes in the execution of these decisions.

    There is only one solution to all this – A complete overhaul of our constitution and government – It is totally fucked and broken period. The dismissal and destruction of that savage we call neoliberalism or capitalism, where all forms of government must be re-constructed, reformed and re-designed to outlaw and prevent any forms of concentration of power, abuse of power and totalitarianism, whether it emanates from the right or the left, private or public sector, religious or sectarian, commercial or economic.

    Either that or we need to redefine the desirable elements of human nature and empower them from the bottom up, from childhood to the grave and embed them in all corners and levels of society – particularly political, legal, educational, informational, institutional, economic and social.

  8. Jon Chesterson

    And bravo Kathryn, yes we need that article to post on Facebook!

  9. Glenn Barry

    As coincidence would have it, I’m reading this passage from the 1989 Queensland Fitzgerald Inquiry, it was so very prescient

    It is obvious….that confidentiality….provides a ready means by which a Government can withhold information which it is reluctant to disclose. A Government can deliberately obscure the processes of public administration and hide or disguise its motives. If not discovered there are no constraints on the exercise of political power. The rejection of constraints is likely to add to the power of the Government and its leader, and perhaps lead to an increased tendency to misuse power.

    The risk that the institutional culture of public administration will degenerate will be aggravated if, for any reason, including the misuse of power, a Government’s legislative or executive activity ceases to be moderated by concern for public opinion and the possibility of a period in Opposition….

    The ultimate check on public maladministration is public opinion, which can only be truly effective if there are structures and systems designed to ensure that it is properly informed. A Government can use its control of Parliament and public administration to manipulate, exploit and misinform the community, or to hide matters from it. Structures and systems designed for the purpose of keeping the public informed must therefore be allowed to operate as intended. Secrecy and propaganda are major impediments to accountability, which is a prerequisite for the proper functioning of the political process. Worse, they are the hallmarks of a diversion of power from the Parliament.

    Information is the lynch-pin of the political process. Knowledge is, quite literally, power. If the public is not informed, it cannot take part in the political process with any real effect

  10. Kathryn

    To the AIM Network, yes you have my permission to print my comment as an article …. thank you.

  11. Kathy

    That certainly was a top comment Kathryn. It’s time for more people to realise the truth about the Murdoch media and the IPA. I can’t wait to see your article published.

  12. wam

    our paper has not shown any fair reporting.
    It is so one sided that the labor government should not place any adverts, beyond a monday morning $25 announcement advising job seekers to check government websites, should not bother to invite the journalists to press conferences and should rely on the abc and internet

  13. The AIM Network

    Thank you, Kathryn. It will be up mid morning.

  14. Kronomex

    Murdoch and his gang are the necrotising fasciitis of democracy, politics, and just about everything else, of Australia.

  15. Zathras

    It’s not just the intimidation of journalists and censoring of facts via FOI restrictions that are the trademark of this government.

    The blatant resistance to science and promotion of religion, the political use of xenophobia and scapegoating, the increased public surveillance of the population and limitations on personal freedoms, a growing police state with a compliant media actively working against public protests and the building of off-shore concentration camps are typical trademarks of a growing oppressive regime rather than a healthy open democracy.

    It’s only a free press that can limit or prevent a further decline.

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