This is a Centre party movement policy discussion paper only. It is not official policy. It is designed to raise points of discussion leading to a policy that would be voted into existence by party members.
The news media was first referred to as the Fourth Estate in the British parliament in 1841, due to its close relationship with politicians and governing parties. The news media has a powerful influence on public opinion. The influence is powerful whether the news media reporting is accurate or misleading. When it is misleading we can assume this is deliberate.
Distortion in news media reporting is due to political bias. This raises two issues:
- In a society that believes in a Free Press, is it reasonable that political bias should go unbalanced by an opposite viewpoint?
- If politically biased reporting is allowed, is it reasonable that a single proprietor be allowed to control the bulk of news media outlets?
These issues are important if a democratic society is to be properly informed of political issues
How should politically biased reporting be dealt with? There are channels for complaining or protesting directly to all news and current affairs producers. There are also authorities, commercial and government run, that deal with complaints when the outlet that caused the complaint has failed to deal with it to the complainant’s satisfaction. I have made some complaints and I can’t say the process is simple, or reasonably quick, or ultimately satisfactory. Sometimes, of course, complaints are unjustified.
The two numbered points above come together in relation to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp organisation. News Corp owns or holds an interest in a significantly large proportion of printed news media right across Australia (including metropolitan and regional daily newspapers), associated websites, Sky and Foxtel television and possible family holdings in Channel Ten. I will avoid publishing a complete list because the situation is fluid.
News is Rupert Murdoch’s business, or one of them. So is politics. Other business people may be in supermarkets or live beef exports; sometimes but not always political issues. Murdoch’s interests are somewhat different. He is a political player.
The question is: Should Murdoch be allowed to continue to acquire more Australian news media and entertainment outlets? Is an imbalance in the ownership of these assets in Australia’s best interest? Should he be ordered to divest some of these interests to create balance in the ownership of commercial news and entertainment media? It should not be forgotten that Rupert Murdoch gave up his Australian citizenship in 1985, to facilitate his holdings of USA television.
Some may argue that obliging Murdoch to divest some holdings for balance is undemocratic, anti-Capital, discrimination and bias in itself. Some may cry “dictator”, as the Murdoch Press did when the federal Labor government tried some modest media reform early in 2013. The big objection, although it got little news coverage, was one of the proposed roles of the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA). The PIMA was to rule on further takeover of news media outlets, something the federal Liberal government loosened in 2016, allowing Murdoch to buy up more and other consolidation changes to take place.
News media reform of the type proposed is indeed about democracy, about freedom and the right of people to be truthfully informed.
A related issue is political influence or pressure on the ABC. SBS appears to be free of such pressure. Here again we see Rupert Murdoch’s political interference. He does not like the fact that Australia, like the UK, has a publicly funded broadcaster. Some of Murdoch’s newspaper and television journalists openly campaign against the ABC, claiming it has a Left-wing bias, but never (to my knowledge) naming any so-called Left-wing journalists. A former Murdoch employee, Michelle Guthrie, is now managing director of the ABC and implementing regime changes. Her appointment followed the appointment of another Murdoch employee to the ABC board member selection panel.
In view of Murdoch’s vast media holdings, and a relative paucity of competing companies, a free ABC is a vital component of a free society. The ABC/SBS complex should be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. It should be written in plain black and white that these two organisations should be free from political interference and should themselves be free of political bias.
Much of the above leads to the issue of political reporting. As stated earlier, we can assume that misleading reporting is deliberate. If a society is to be well informed, and reliably informed, political reporting must be truthful and objective. If it is not, and this goes unchecked, it leads us down a dangerous path, where citizens lose control of their lives, every aspect of which is affected by politics.
Senior experienced journalists and academics working in journalism have argued with me that objective journalism is not possible. I disagree strongly. I know from my personal experience of reporting, where I was required to be objective (the good old days), that it is a matter of self-discipline. I know from my experiences later as a sub-editor (a lost profession now) that it was a constant struggle to maintain objectivity and remove ambiguity from articles. I can state categorically that is easier to be subjective when reporting. It is just as easy to be objective, providing one is not politically biased and can exercise self-discipline.
Perhaps there can be penalties for deliberately misleading or biased reporting of politics, much in the same way as penalising false or misleading advertising. The news media industry provides annual awards for itself. The Centre party should encourage the industry to include a prestigious award for the most consistently objective and truthful reporting during the past year.
Constructive comments, corrections and additions are welcomed.