Billy MacTold writes:
On the critical, indeed parlous state of today’s newspapers I offer the following: the presentation of news was once soundly embodied in Adolph S. Ochs motto for the New York Times: “All the news that’s fit to print.”
Sounds sadly hollow by today’s standards.
It also reminds me of something I read recently, an appraisal of the way things have gone, that the media are institutions central to the functioning of the democratic process – yet it is worth noting that there is nothing democratic about these institutions themselves.
And the added comment that the products produced by media companies are as dominated by profit maximising strategies as those of any other company.
Australian government urged to promote, and fund, media diversity
The concentration of media ownership in Australia has assumed a new significance since the phone hacking scandal tainted Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation empire.
There have even been calls that Murdoch should be forced to divest some of his Australian newspaper holdings.
But the influential Australian media analyst Eric Beecher argues that despite News Corp’s disproportionate ownership “there is no democratic or economic rationale to support suggestions that News Limited should be forced to divest any of its Australian newspapers.”
Instead, he calls for the country’s federal and state governments to redress the imbalance in media ownership by “helping people start and run media” and “supporting the growth of media diversity, not suppressing what’s already there.”
He writes on his Crikey blog:
“It would be entirely logical for governments, concerned about the damage inflicted on democracy by one organisation with so much power, to use a sliver of their considerable resources — society’s resources — to create mechanisms to help fund diversity of media ownership.”
In practical terms, he suggests that government should provide “seed funding” for new media ventures or provide tax breaks to investors in independent media. He continues:
“Such ideas would induce howls of protest, and indignant editorials, from News Limited newspapers. And of course, such suggestions are tainted with self-interest when they come from anyone involved in independent journalism in a country where such activities are regarded with contempt by the incumbent media establishment.”
Gillard: no evidence of hacking in Australia
The Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, insists that there is no evidence of phone hacking within News Limited.
She has also commended the decision by its chairman and chief executive, John Hartigan, to audit the company’s record of payments to contributors.
It was a change of tune from late last month when Gillard said News Limited had “hard questions” to answer.
But she does believe in having a “legitimate discussion” about privacy laws and has asked home affairs minister Brendan O’Connor to prepare a discussion paper.
Sources: Crikey/The Australian
• Meanwhile, it just gets worse for Rupert …
Phone hacking: News of the World reporter’s letter reveals cover-up: Disgraced royal correspondent Clive Goodman’s letter says phone hacking was ‘widely discussed’ at NoW meetings
• Full story in The Guardian, HERE
• PLUS: The Importance Of Pseudonymity & The Dangers Of Requiring ‘Real Names’:
And yet, there are times when being able to say whatever they want to say, but can’t when associated with their real names, is incredibly important. Kirrily “Skud” Robert has started putting together a list of reasons why people prefer to use pseudonyms — and there are numerous legitimate reasons that go way, way beyond “I want to be a jackass online.”
“I am a high school teacher, privacy is of the utmost importance.”
“I publish under my nom de plume, it’s printed on my business cards, and all of the thousands of people I know through my social networks know me by my online name.”
“I have used this name/account in a work context, my entire family know this name and my friends know this name. It enables me to participate online without being subject to harassment that at one point in time lead to my employer having to change their number so that calls could get through.”
“I do not feel safe using my real name online as I have had people track me down from my online presence and had coworkers invade my private life.”
“I’ve been stalked. I’m a rape survivor. I am a government employee that is prohibited from using my IRL.”
“I work for a private club. I have to carry a card around which states I will not share any element of the club with any sort of media. So, If I want to talk about work (and I do) on the net, I have to use an alias.”
“I’ve been using this name for over 10 years in the “hacking” community. There are a nontrivial amount of people who know me *only* by that name.”
“As a former victim of stalking that impacted my family I’ve used [my nickname] online for about 7 years.”
“Under [this name] I am active in a number of areas of sexual difference for which it would not be wise for me to use my flesh legal name.”
“My actual real name is utterly non-identifying, as 1) it is the name of a character in a movie (Girl, Interrupted), and that overwhelms google search results 2) it’s not unique at ALL.”
“[this name] is a pseudonym I use to protect myself. My web site can be rather controversial and it has been used against me once.”
“I started using [this name] to have at least a little layer of anonymity between me and people who act inappropriately/criminally. I think the “real names” policy hurts women in particular.
“I use the pseudonym to maintain my online anonymity because I am polyamorous and have no desire for professional acquaintances to discover this.”
“I enjoy being part of a global and open conversation, but I don’t wish for my opinions to offend conservative and religious people I know or am related to. Also I don’t want my husband’s Govt career impacted by his opinionated wife, or for his staff to feel in any way uncomfortable because of my views.”
“I have privacy concerns for being stalked in the past. I’m not going to change my name for a google+ page. The price I might pay isn’t worth it.”
“We get death threats at the blog, so while I’m not all that concerned with, you know, sane people finding me. I just don’t overly share information and use a pen name.”
“This identity was used to protect my real identity as I am gay and my family live in a small village where if it were openly known that their son was gay they would have problems.”
“I go by pseudonym for safety reasons. Being female, I am wary of internet harassment.”
Danah Boyd, in typically insightful fashion, has also explained how a real names policy is actually an “abuse of power,” and often harmful to the most marginalized people in society.
• Tim Dunlop, The Drum: … most people underestimate the level of error and misinformation wittingly and unwittingly committed by the media because of a misplaced sense of trust …
As a society, we realise that we as individuals can’t check the health-and-safety status of every car we buy or office block we walk into or restaurant we eat at or plane we fly in, so we demand that government does it for us.
And it’s a system that works pretty well.
The point is, even if we don’t understand the law precisely, we are imbued with a frame of mind that says ‘they simply can’t do that’. We live within a set of rules that moderates bad behaviour and creates a testable level of trust.
I suspect it is this expectation of reasonableness that also informs our view of the media. If we read something that seems to us patently untrue, our tendency is to think, well, it can’t be an out and out lie. They can’t just tell lies.
And it is that presumption that I think is the weakness in how we think about the media. So lightly is it regulated, our inclination to trust, to presume that ‘they simply can’t do that’, may well be misplaced.
Let me stress again, my tendency is to be hands-off in regard to media regulation. I don’t want restrictions in place. But I do want a media I can trust, and the current system of self-regulation is not providing a framework that encourages that trust.
The system of ‘codes of conduct’ and other such gossamer veils of decency are next to useless. I know this from personal experience: when I was contracted for several years to write a blog for News Ltd, I was not only never shown the code of conduct, I was actively encouraged, in one instance, to ignore what I considered my obligation to my readers. That is, when I wanted to explain to readers why a post was pulled, I was told that that sort of transparency was not what the ‘big boys’ did. I was told that you simply write the next piece and move on.
So I think that if we really want to re-examine media regulation, then what we have to encourage is transparency. Let me make a few suggestions.
First up, we have to be vigilant consumers. We have to hound every error we see and demand higher standards. We also shouldn’t be afraid to organise boycotts and to pressure advertisers. It was the consumer-led campaign to target advertisers that helped make its owners realise that the News of the World was a permanently damaged brand.
But in saying this, we come up against what I’ll call the tennis paradox. The only reason tennis is a great game, or even exists as a game at all, and the only reason we have great, creative players, is because there are lines on the ground and a net. Yes, these rules restrict what the players can do, but they also provide the very means from which great play is born; take them away and all you’ve got is a couple of dudes whacking balls at each other.
The reason customer complaints about bias and factual error in the media fall on deaf ears is because there are so few rules in place that guide this aspect of media practice. It is easy to ignore complaints when there is no recourse other than to norms of professionalism and decency. In fact, in the absence of rules, those norms are unlikely to develop in the first place.
Here are two further suggestions.
Media outlets should be obliged to employ ombudsmen or in some other way to officially deal with consumer complaints. That the ombudsmen should be independent of the media organisation itself should go without saying. As Jonathan Holmes pointed out the other day, the ABC is the only media outlet that remotely does this and I really can’t see why other media organisations should be exempt.
Secondly, maybe we need to regulate for corrections and the airing of complaints. Media organisations have a vested interest in burying their mistakes and that should change. If we are to have an inquiry into the media, let’s look at how we might oblige them to publish serious corrections on an ongoing basis.
And here’s a final related thought. We need to rethink the ‘public interest’ test, and we can start by redefining it as a ‘public value’ test. As Media Watch noted the other night, ‘public interest’ currently means whatever the media decides it means. In other words, the lines on the ground are so feint and the net is so low as to be useless.
So let us redefine ‘public interest’ as ‘public value’. It would take away none of the ability of the media to report what we need to know, but it would focus the intent – or the justification – for publication, steering it away from the convenient confusion that happens in the slide from ‘public interest’ to ‘interesting to the public’.