The concentration of Australian media ownership is one of the highest in the world. Four big companies control about 90% of all of Australia’s media outlets.
The main shareholders of these companies include Australia’s richest people. With this being the case it is no surprise that the mainstream media pushes big business interests, providing bias and at times misleading information to the public. The control these corporate interests hold over the media already means that we are extremely limited for choice.
But things are about to get worse. The Turnbull government has pushed through new media laws that will scrap rules protecting the last vestiges of diversity of media ownership. This will open the doors to smaller outlets being gobbled up giving the big outlets even more power. While the government’s new laws are referred to as a ‘reform’ they are nothing of the sort.
The government claims the changes are required to address a crisis in the industry. The big media firms complain that their profits are being squeezed because new players like Facebook and Google are absorbing billions of dollars in advertising revenue. They claim that this situation is what has led them to slash more than 2,500 journalism jobs across the country in the past six years.
The new laws will see the removal of antiquated rules that were made in an era prior to the internet, but instead of legislating to deal with the overconcentration of media ownership the government has decided to give the major media corporations a huge gift. There is no doubt that when smaller firms are merged into bigger outlets even more job losses will be on the cards.
The other part of the crisis facing the media is the total lack of trust people have in the institutions. In fact, trust in the mainstream media is among the lowest levels globally in Australia. An independent press, free from corporate domination, is absolutely vital for keeping the powers that be in check. But it seems that most people don’t consider the Australian press up to the task.
Most of the mainstream outlets are dominated by corporate advertising and very few are invested in proper investigative journalism. More and more the media is nothing more than clickbait for ads to sell us things. The public can see through this and while there is definitely an appetite for information, people have no confidence in its authenticity.
The problems facing the media industry are really inevitable when you organise a sector on a for-profit basis. Capitalist competition creates a drive for economic power to be concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. In addition to making money however, the corporate media plays an important ideological role for capitalism. It promotes the system and the ideas needed to keep it in place. Alternative views are ridiculed or ignored entirely.
The only way to genuinely address the crisis in the media is to change the way the media industry is run, and to take it out of corporate hands. For the press to be genuinely free the profit motive would need to be removed and instead of treating it as a business it should be treated as a public service. Only then will it be capable of giving us unbiased and accurate information.
Socialists call for the major newspapers, television and radio stations, and internet sites to be brought into public ownership and run democratically. Political views should be aired on the basis of the support they have in society. While demanding major structural changes socialists also fight hard to develop our own independent socialist press that can report from the perspective of the working class and its organisations.
By Kai Perry