City Hub

How we lost our Voice

Three years ago Rupert Murdoch bought just about every last independent newspaper in inner Sydney, including the Wentworth Courier, the Inner Western Courier, the Southern Courier, et al. When Murdoch’s News Limited purchased the entire FPC Courier weekly newspaper chain for $180 million, he also bought the Village Voice. The 32 page monthly newspaper was once a proudly parochial local newspaper. Nowadays the Village Voice is the evil empire’s secret weapon in the transnational corporation’s blatant bid to establish an absolute media monopoly in the city’s lucrative inner west. While News Limited charges thousands to advertise in its larger distribution glossy, home delivered weekly papers, the global media corporation engages in predatory practices, selling ads below cost in its monthly Voice edition, in order to keep smaller, local competitors out of the market.

Launched 16 years ago by a local Balmain resident, Kylie Davis chose to name her brand-new micro community newspaper after the largest and once venerable alternative newspaper in New York. Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer launched the real Village Voice with a few friends in the 50’s and Murdoch owned it in the 70s and 80s. Nowadays the New York newsweekly is part of a large national newspaper group of 15 street papers valued at $191 million (roughly the size of the Courier chain in Sydney). The US Village Voice group recently lost a multi million-dollar court case brought against it by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. A California court found the Village Voice group had engaged in anti competitive, predatory practices after it had published the SF Weekly at a $16 million dollar loss for more than a decade. A California court awarded the family-owned, medium sized enterprise $21 million, which the Voice refuses to pay, while it appeals the ruling.  Under California law, the SF Weekly is required to post a bond while it appeals the decision, but the Village Voice group has refused to do so prompting the courts to order the SF Weekly to turn over half of all ad receipts to the Guardian.  With the Village Voice’s largest creditor the Bank of Montreal now involved in the dispute, the matter is in and out court regularly, with the story filling the pages of North America’s alternative press ad infinitum.

California’s anti trust laws were written during the Great Depression to prevent large businesses from crushing smaller competitors; Australia’s laws are a toothless-tiger by comparison. The market regulator, the ACCC yawned when Murdoch acquired the Courier newspapers, shutting down the Glebe (once an independent weekly), and propping up the Village Voice in order to prevent other small papers from competing in the market. Who would have thought the chardonnay sipping liberal enclave of Balmain would find reason to agree with the economic assessment of the National party conservative Barnaby Joyce, who wrote, “We have laws in Australia that have allowed the greatest centralisation of retail wealth in the world… We lack the political will, on both sides, to have the Teddy Roosevelt fortitude to take on a Rockefeller…We justify the centralisation of media while slowly whittling away their access to information.”

In the inner west, the community must rely almost exclusively on News Limited for local news coverage, allowing the corporation to put its spin on just about everything. Just nine months ago, the Alternative Media Group of Australia, the publishers of the City Hub launched the Inner West Independent, a new monthly newspaper as a counterpoint to News Limited, who will stop at nothing to keep a competitor out of the market. At a recent Leichhardt Council meeting, a report was tabled recommending that Council continue to advertise in the Independent. After less than a year, a Council funded study found that an impressive 20% of all Leichhardt residents read the Independent. One week later, News Limited’s Inner West Courier reported, “The publisher of CIAO magazine has attacked Leichhardt Council for spending more than $50,000 advertising in the Inner West Independent when the council’s own survey on local media revealed four out of five people in the municipality had never read the publication.” In response I sent the following letter to the editor of the Inner West Courier, “What irks the publisher of Ciao (and Murdoch’s hired hacks as well) is that Leichhardt Council might be spending an alleged $50,000 in the Inner West Independent. The year before that, when Leichhardt Council spent over $100,000 with News Limited, Ciao’s publisher Sonia Komaravalli didn’t object. She was too busy running cheap advertorial spreads on behalf of other struggling small businesses to notice local politics. In order to compete with News Limited, who has been selling ads below cost in the Village Voice, poor Sonia has had to sell cheaper and cheaper ads. Each month News Limited sucks millions out of the Inner West marketplace by engaging in predatory pricing practices in the Village Voice on the one hand and while selling expensive ads in your other high end glossy, home littered product, with all profits going off shore to a Delaware based transnational corporation. It’s no wonder you folks at the Courier feel so sorry for poor Sonia. Or that she can’t afford to send a credible journalist to cover community politics.” Unsurprisingly, News Limited did not publish my reply.