Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Bob Burton

Comment: Is Bigger Media really a good option for Tasmania’s democracy?

Most people in Tasmania could be forgiven for not realising that the local media landscape may be about to go through a dramatic shake-up if the Senate bows to pressure from the big private media companies and allows much greater media consolidation.

While News Corporation Australia – which publishes the Mercury – and Fairfax Media – which publishes the Examiner and the Advocate – have been leading proponents of the changes, the news reports they have published on the issue have all but ignored the implications of the changes for Tasmanians.

Fairfax Media’s Examiner contributions to public debate on the topic in 2016 have hardly been subtle: “Local content at risk without reform: media bosses,” screamed one headline. “Two out of three rule needs reviewing, says ACCC boss Rod Sims,” “Canberra 10 years behind on media, says Fairfax’s Greg Hywood,” and “WIN-Nine streaming decision puts spotlight on old-world media rules,” yelled others.

The Mercury, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation Australia, on the other hand has been somewhat more restrained. While its mainland stablemates routinely package agenda-driven articles up as news, the Mercury – to its credit – has been a little more sensitive to the more progressive bent of its southern audience.

“Media ownership reforms pass lower house,” was the rather straight headline from late November. “Media reforms all but off the 2016 table,” was another rather forlorn headline. “Labor only backing half media reforms,” was about as aggressive as it got down at the Mercury.

Perhaps the contrast between the two reflects the different audiences or perhaps Fairfax Media’s desperation for a legal change that will give it the option to break free from some of the loss-making newspaper mastheads dragging the company down.

Ultimately though, the difference between the ranty headlines in the Examiner and the more demure Mercury, was not that much when it came to the content of the articles.

Indeed, the articles cited above perfectly illustrate a fundamental part of the problem of media centralisation. All of the articles from the Examiner were first published in the Sydney Morning Herald and were either single-source articles or were heavily skewed to reflect the agenda of the major media companies and the Turnbull Government. Dissenting voices were either non-existent in the articles or relegated to a bare passing mention.

The articles in the Mercury were only marginally better, comprising short AAP reports and in one case a report on a Sky News interview with the Labor’s Party’s communications spokeswoman, Michelle Rowland, expressing concerns about the proposed axing of the ‘2 out of 3’ rule. All these reports in the Mercury though were less than 140 words each. Short, shallow reports provide no space for addressing in any detail the implications of what is proposed.

Neither publication flagged to the readers in the articles they published in 2016 what the likely consequences are for Tasmanians of axing of the reach rule and the ‘2 out of 3’ rule, which both their parent companies are lobbying for and the Turnbull Government is backing.

How the media ownership rules are applied in local media markets is not easy to understand. However, the bulk of the current debate boils down to whether media companies should be limited to owning two out of three newspapers, radio and television outlets in a local radio licence area or not.

It is possible – even likely – the legal change both Fairfax Media and News Corporation Australia are demanding could lead to both the Examiner and the Advocate being sold.

Nor has the Mercury flagged to readers that its demand – not yet acceded to by the Turnbull Government – that the 5/4 rule and other restrictions on greater media concentration News Corporation want scrapped, could open the doors for even greater media concentration. One possibility is that Murdoch’s News Corporation Australia could end up owning all the major newspapers in Tasmania if Fairfax was required to offload them as a result of a merger with Nine and Southern Cross Austereo.

What Tasmanians would benefit from in the debate over greater media deregulation are stories that address the local implications. Instead, what was served up were stories republished from mainland outlets which totally ignored any Tasmanian context at all.

It is one of the great ironies that the very Tasmanian mastheads threatened by digital disruption but with huge publishing capability have done such a poor job in reporting to their own readers about both the significant challenges they face and the implications of the measures their parent companies are lobbying for.

Better times ahead for spin doctors?

The motivation of the major media companies in demanding changes to allow greater media concentration is simple: money.

On current trends Fairfax Media and News Corporation Australia’s Tasmanian newspapers are facing grim financial futures. (See “Can Spiderman save the Mercury from oblivion?” and “The growing financial crisis in Tasmania’s newspaper industry” for more details.)

The Chief Executive Officer of Fairfax Media, Greg Hywood, was asked at a recent Senate committee hearing into the proposed changes about a comment he made that the current laws restricted the ability of the companies to “monetise” journalists’ work across multiple platforms:

CHAIR: I do not want to overly simplify it, but an example might be that, if you employ a journalist, they can do a story which might then go on TV, radio and also be written up for the paper.

Mr Hywood : Absolutely.

CHAIR: So you can have one journalist that manages to cost-effectively cover all three markets.

Mr Hywood : Exactly.

For the publishers it is cheaper to have one person produce a story for use across three platforms than having two or three doing the same job, even if across different companies. It is a formula which might boost the profitability of the media companies in the short-term, but what does it mean for Tasmanian citizens?

Aside from the obvious downside of ever thinner ranks of journalists, Hywood’s comment signals that with consolidation will come greater homogeneity of the news across all the company’s news platforms.

The risk is that greater media concentration will not lead to better quality journalism. If anything, Tasmanian stories risk being downgraded, especially for topic areas which in-house website data indicates are not widely read or shared. Increasingly editors are under pressure to focus on stories which garner the most traffic.

At the recent Storyology conference on digital journalism organised by the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance, which represents journalists, Judith Whelan, the then editor of the Sydney Morning Herald stated stories which didn’t get over a thousand views would be viewed unfavourably when it came to reviewing the performance of both the section editor and journalists.

In Tasmania the story performance threshold may be lower but the pressure is similar.

The demise of newspaper journalism has two other big knock-on effects.

The first is that the retreat of newspapers has a big impact on the entire local news ecosystem. Traditionally, the daily news agenda was set by newspapers with morning radio – and to a lesser extent television news – following the lead of print. Indeed, the business model of radio, television and many digital outlets has been to cut costs to the minimum and leave the heavy lifting to newspapers. As newspapers publish less quality local stories other media outlets find themselves being dragged down too without the capacity to invest in more of their own original journalism.

Another effect is that the demise of newspapers emboldens those who already wield significant influence behind the scenes – government spin doctors, lobbyists, political donors and powerful lobby groups – to believe that they can get away with far more with little risk of being publicly exposed. One Tasmanian spin doctor recently confided that it was easy to “run rings around the increasingly junior reporters … they just don’t stand a chance.”

The hollowing out of Tasmanian newspapers has potentially profound implications for the quality of our democracy. Big Media’s preferred solution of increased consolidation will in all likelihood serve only to make Tasmania’s fourth estate even feebler than it already is.

*Bob Burton is a Hobart-based Contributing Editor of Tasmanian Times. His earlier articles on Tasmanian Times are here.

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  1. William Boeder

    January 22, 2017 at 1:09 am

    #15 Leveller, yes of course it tells us that this State government has more dubious moves than playing a game of chess in the dark of night absent of the dimmest ray of light.
    In this State we can encounter that of whichever is an Authoritative department, a GBE, a government utility, as well as any and all of its sundry institutional people’s pocket poaching payment agencies, for example where one must pay to walk along in the not yet clear-felled and foul degraded national park areas of Tasmania, are often in breach of its own notated statutes as there are no clear cut rulings as to who can do what whenever a crony chooses.
    For example if we nominate a government department that is in breach of its statutes has to be understood by the people that this is not a criminal offence, a breach of statute is covered under the law of Tort. (Thus a civil action)
    The government department would become the tortfeasor, then one must understand that being an action sought to address the breach of 1 or more statutes by a government department, is classed as a civil case, whereby an action is being sought for punitive damages and or as well as compensatory damages.
    (Please note this is not at all a case of any criminal action.)

    The link below refers to the case of the Exxon Valdez whereby 2 actions were considered, an action against the Captain of the Exxon Valdez vessel, then an action to be taken against Exxon.


    So it is now quite clear that a party seeking to take an action against a government department for say, statute breaches, one must realize this form of legal action relies solely on the funding of oneself to cover all legal costs, fees, expenses and etc.
    Alternatively a group of persons can stump up the costs, fees, expenses et al, they commonly referred to as “the party” seeking an action.

    Now who has the money to expend on a poorly supervised and or managed State government party?
    This is then otherwise known as being f—-d before the first hurdle.

  2. Leveller

    January 20, 2017 at 8:33 pm

    Does anyone else think that it is a Pecuniary and actual Conflict of Interest for Davies Brother’s Printer’s to also be the Tasmania’s Government Printer’s?. The Labor/Green Government got rid off the Printing Authority of Tasmania very quietly and under the radar by keeping it all quiet. However the Parliamentary Library hold’s the key document’s via Hansard. No Business Case was done, no Business Plan and No Tender called. What does this tell you about the power of the Tasmanian Government to control the media in TASMANIA?.

  3. William Boeder

    January 13, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    As for Tasmania’s mainstream media owners that have the capacity to publish their own or State Liberal leadership preferred topics and or opinions of what constitute their daily news, one can be assured that this will see the now prevailing practice of sculpturing their news presentations to suit the political factions paying them for their oblique presented news that will undoubtedly become the catalyst for their demise.
    An example I can speak of is now happening to CNN a once popular American mainstream media source that had attracted a substantial following.

    CNN has chosen to accede to the Hillary Clinton team of media manipulating scoundrels that had no interest in presenting truth, fact or honest reviews in order for Hillary Clinton to become the preferred candidate throughout America for the office of the President of the United States.

    Only problem in CNN doing so was (as were the other American Main Stream Media players) by giving their bipartisan tailored support and carefully pre-scripted coverage to the Clinton Presidential election campaign, was that WikiLeaks could soon debunk most everything published by these false news or fake news behemoths.
    The success of the Clinton campaign is now there for each and all to see, however this major Clinton campaign strategy of having the MSM’s paid to publish their Hillary inclined b—s–t, had actually resulted in the opposing candidate winning the Presidency of the United States of America.

    The people of America had become tired (and of course quite pissed-off) to listening to and having their minds being influenced by the Clinton campaign support hucksters via the MSM’s, they now clearly identified as the publishers of the false news-faked news in America today.
    The outcome of the all the American MSM’s feeding their prescribed b—s–t to the people of America was that it caused the spectacular Presidential election backfire that had Donald Trump (the wild card) winning the Presidential election and America ‘will’ become all the better served.
    (Trump having already made his bundle prior to his Presidential candidature nomination, thus he is unlikely to be bought off or even influenced by the dominant corporate sector (enemy) resident in the nation of America.)
    The significance of this event is that the perpetrators of false news-faked news (b—s–t news) will sooner than soon lose any credibility they might still retain.
    One is now left to speculate if the State’s Liberal leadership will continue to inflict their contrived and scripted b—s–t for publication by Tasmania’s MSM’s, closely followed by the same from the non-champion Bryan (the giggler) Green’s knockabout Labor party.

  4. Brian P.Khan

    January 9, 2017 at 9:17 am

    The changes to our 3 major dailies has had repercussions on their circulation ,also the A.B.C talk back tasmornings has lost its impetus .
    with the comment : we are not talking about this subject now : and become a forum for politicians , unlike when Tim Cox was presenting tasmornings.
    L.A.F.M has become popular with trades and truck drivers who have dumped the A.B.C

    The North Eastern Advertiser is full of local content and its editor Taylor has captured the needs of its readers and increased circulation

  5. Andrew Ricketts

    January 8, 2017 at 1:16 am

    I do not think you should be ashamed.
    It is surely a book Claire.

  6. Claire Gilmour

    December 28, 2016 at 1:37 am

    The Exag was such a political tool, for at least nearly a decade, I was associated with and in the private know and dare I say it and know it to be true controlled by political forces … I was ashamed to be associated in name! Especially in what some did when they were in control of some journos! Let alone how they treated honest citizens and stories!! Makes you wonder why an honest journo with any integrity would work for them? Oh that’s right party political forces offer some bureaucratic bullshit jobs if they toe the line!



  7. Betty

    December 27, 2016 at 11:13 pm

    The Mercury’s State Political Reporter has already jumped ship to SA so what does that tell you?!.

  8. Mike Bolan

    December 27, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    I really have to ask why we need, or want, the government to be involved in the design and regulation of our information industries, particularly governments that cannot recognise when an industry has failed and keep taking from the community health and education fund to convert whole trees into wood chips for sale at a loss. It really appears that they cannot tell when they’re backing a loser.

    And their expertise in information techologies is what? The NBN? The Census? Centrelink?

    Plus governments prefer propaganda and ‘balance’ even in situations that call for openness and honesty. How are they the right people to guide our information services?

    Would we really benefit from our social, economic and other news to be designed and regulated by a government that hasn’t recognised that the climate is changing? Or that hasn’t noticed the strategic need for key industries in Australia like fuel production and vehicle manufacturing? Really, what do these people have to offer to everyone else?

    We’d be so much better off forming our own social media and allowing members of the population to present multiple viewpoints and to advise us of their local realities than believing governments that cannot recognise when drought has made our water supplies run dangerously low.

    Come on everyone. We’ve got to learn to spot a dud when we see one, particularly when they have repeatedly proven themselves utterly deficient so comprehensively in the past.

    Let’s get real so we can start to hope for a better future.

  9. mike seabrook

    December 27, 2016 at 2:22 am

    so what
    it is a free world and it is their (shareholder) money that is being spent

  10. mike seabrook

    December 23, 2016 at 11:14 pm

    this is tassies answer for everything , get the feds to pay, value for money is irrelevant, tassie is entitled

  11. Leveller

    December 23, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    I spoke to one of the journalist’s at The Mercury regarding a certain Council doing questionable deal’s regarding land re-zoning and the journalist got back to me a few day’s later and said he’d spoken to his boss and nothing (in my opinion) is to be ever written about that certain Council (I’ll give you a hint it’s not HCC, GCC and or the HVC).

  12. Simon Warriner

    December 23, 2016 at 2:27 pm

    If you cap one end of a pipe, fill it with water, then cap the other and heat it, it will eventually explode, hopefully injuring you severely in the process, so that the knowledge there for acquiring remains embedded forever more. Bad things happen to stupid people and that act is really, really stupid. Pressure needs to vent, always.

    Reducing any state’s journalistic range and scope to a single compliant, collusive entity serves exactly the same function as the capped pipe in the social sense. A similar effect can be seen when all major media outlets in any state self censor around the same memes, as is currently the case in the good ol USA. You know it is getting close to “bang” when even the president elect refers to them in derogitory terms and refuses to play their games.

    “Come the revolution”, as the ex military types like to observe.

    (note to the state apparatchiks who are doubtless scribbling furiously at this point, it is an observation of likely consequences, not a symptom of radicalisation, whatever the hell that actually is, beyond the latest wanker word)

  13. Chris

    December 23, 2016 at 9:56 am

    They have to be admired now there is no discernible difference between a “story” and advertising.

    There are two groups, those like me who never watch or listen to advertisements and those who cannot see a world outside brand names and current trends.

    The advent of recording set top boxes allows me to jump and reverse the intent of commercials and insert the programmes in their own space, without the saturated repetitive brainwashing by advertisements which we pay for as we go through the monopolistic checkouts, while the spin is directed at starving the ABC of Turnbull/Abbott sadistic cuts.

  14. PHilip Lowe

    December 22, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    keep the bastards honest?You’ll be lucky.

  15. john hayward

    December 22, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Any conservative government would have to be cock a hoop at the prospect of the mass media, particularly the news media, being condensed down to a few big players, or even a single expatriate, all of whom would have a warm commensal relationship with government. The LNP obviously is.

    “Competition” is generally welcome only when it refers to a loyal hustler being given a chunk of an essential public service, such as vocational training, for a handful of peppercorns or less.

    Tas can serve the country as a preview of what this timid new journalistic world will look like.

    John Hayward

  16. Leveller

    December 22, 2016 at 11:18 am

    I just wish we could set up a funding campaign to raise the money for us to have a printed Weekly Tasmanian Time’s mostly done by Volunteer’s and have a little printing business to create some job’s for a paid Editor (LINDSAY) etc. Now wouldn’t that give us, the People of TASMANIA a real voice back to tell it how it is.

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