Last November the Abbott government and the Murdoch press launched an unprecedented attack on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the public broadcaster was “guilty of poor judgement” for publishing leaked documents about Australia’s spying operations in Indonesia and East Timor. Janet Abrechtsen, writing in the Murdoch-owned Australian, called on ABC CEO Mark Scott to resign for “failing to lead the ABC as a responsible editor-in-chief”.
The Fairfax-owned Australian Financial Review, part owned by mining magnate and Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart, echoed Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi’s call for the ABC to be privatised in the name of “media market interest”, believing the public broadcaster has “no place in a free society”. Why is this attack on the ABC happening? And what does it reveal about the role of corporate media in Australia today?
Australia has the most concentrated corporate media sector in the world. 65% of print and digital media – including news.com.au, the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph – is owned by News Corp. Run by American-Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch, News Corp is a multinational corporation that runs newspapers and publishing companies in London and New York. Murdoch also owns 21st Century Fox which runs media and broadcasting companies around the world, such as 20th Century Fox. Until June 2013, both companies were part of the Murdoch-founded News Corporation. However, the company collapsed in response to the corrupt activities and invasion of privacy by its broadcasters.
Fairfax, the next biggest company, controls 25% of the market. This includes Melbourne’s The Age newspaper and 3AW radio station, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian Financial Review. Major shareholders in Fairfax Media are heavily involved in the finance, banking and mining sectors. In June 2012, mining magnate Gina Rinehart bought a 18.67% stake in the group and became the largest shareholder in the company. As a result, Rinehart and her supporters exercise significant board and editorial control.
The public broadcasters, the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service, provide a range of information and voices lacking in the corporate media. According to a Crikey poll in December 2013, 70% of people trust the ABC. However, the public broadcasters fail to act as an antidote to the corporate sector. For example, the board of the ABC is appointed by the government and its senior managers are not far different from the directors of News Corp and Fairfax in echoing the ideology and needs of the corporate sector.
ABC CEO Mark Scott explained the role of the public broadcaster in an interview with the Australian Financial Review in late December. Scott said that the ABC had “always worked in a mixed media market” and operated without a “peep of concern from commercial broadcasters”. The reason the ABC is being attacked by the corporate media giants is not because it’s a “taxpayers behemoth”, rather that it is directly competing against News Corp and Fairfax for share of the television, radio and digital market.
The mass media is almost entirely owned by big business individuals and conglomerates who act in their own interests. Australia ranks 26th on the 2013 Global Press Freedom Index, showing that our ‘free press’ is not so free at all.
Socialists campaign for a genuinely free and accountable media. To achieve this control over the production and distribution of ideas has to be taken out of the hands of a tiny self-serving minority and placed in the hands of the majority. It should be a means of communication for everyone, decided democratically and involving the widest possible number of people. That way we can ensure that the media serves the interests of informing for the majority rather than misinforming for the minority as it is today.
By Conor Flynn