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Media diversity under investigation

A senate inquiry into media diversity is ongoing, with Murdoch's ownership being called into question. Photo: various

By ALLISON HORE

Has your local newspaper shut down or ceased print? Is a Murdoch rag the only print publication you can get your hands on? Or are you just a news junkie who loves your local paper?

Activist group GetUp! would like to hear from you for a report they are putting together to submit before a senate inquiry into Australia’s state of play when it comes to media diversity.

Following the popularity of former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s petition for a royal commission into Murdoch media which was signed by over 500,000 people, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young established an inquiry into media diversity in Australia. 

“The Senate has heard a clear message from more than half-a-million Australians that they want a royal commission to ensure the future strength and diversity of the Australian news media,” Mr. Rudd told The New Daily.

The senate inquiry will examine the state of media diversity, independence and reliability in Australia and the impact this has on the impact that this has on public interest journalism and democracy. 

As well as looking at mainstream media ownership, the inquiry will look into the barriers faced by small, independent and community news outlets and the general state of affairs for local, regional and rural media outlets.

GetUp! says the inquiry is a good opportunity to make change in terms of Australia’s media ownership, but say it can only really be effective if all the relevant voices are heard.

“The Murdoch Press is increasing its power over our media, aided by weak ownership laws and a complicit Coalition,” they said.

“The Senate Inquiry into media diversity is a critical opportunity to change that. But only if they have the facts.”

In an effort to make the voices of members of the community heard, GetUp! is asking people to share their personal stories of how they have been affected by the changing media environment. 

The call out for stories comes as part of a report GetUp! are working on which will be submitted before the parliamentary inquiry. Over 5,000 Australians donated to fund the investigation. Expert researchers will examine decades of media ownership records and distribution data. 

“Without including stories of how everyday people are affected by a shrinking and concentrated media landscape, the data they present to Senators won’t be nearly as powerful as it needs to be,” GetUp! said.

A few big players

Ownership of print newspapers in Australia is highly concentrated. NewsCorp accounts for 52 percent of all Australia’s newspapers. The next three biggest players- Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media and Australian Community Media- account for another 40 percent of all newspapers.

This is an issue as it means small newspapers are often bought and sold off or merged with shareholders in mind rather than the need for community news. It also means local news often goes unreported. In 2018, major newspapers published 28 percent fewer articles on local government and 40 percent fewer articles on local court cases compared to 2008.

The situation is particularly stark in Queensland where Rupert Murdoch owns 100 percent of the state’s daily newspapers.

COVID-19 has also taken a toll. Last year News Corp ceased printing over 100 of their regional and community titles, citing the pandemic as the main reason. 14 papers were given the axe completely while others were transformed into digital only mastheads behind paywalls.

NewsLocal titles in Sydney, including the Central Sydney and Inner West Courier, were among those which became digital only. 

While the ABC continues to report from various regional offices around Australia, they admit their capacity to write “hyperlocal” news from these communities is limited.

“The ABC was not established to deliver hyperlocal news across Australia,” the ABC told the inquiry in a submission.

“This was the province of the once profitable local newspaper sector. The ABC was aimed more at delivering national news to communities and helping local voices to be heard in their regions and in national debates.”

In their submission before the inquiry NewsCorp said they “welcomed” the investigation.

GetUp! say their “hard-hitting” report will be released in February and presented before the senate inquiry. 

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