Terry Flew, writing in The Conversation, suggests that the media reforms announced by Senator Stephen Conroy are quite modest in their scope and reach.
My personal view is that there is no doubt that there is a need to ensure the public interest is served by media, both commercial and public. It’s simply not good enough to claim that there is a greater plurality of voices online than ever before, when the reach of mainstream media is still so huge, and its oligopolistic power significant. Key here is the question of whether commercial media is allowed to privilege its commercial interest over other considerations.
There was an interesting exchange on The Drum the other night between Jonathan Green and two interlocutors. Unfortunately, I can’t find a transcript online but I think they were ‘formers’ – one right wing, one supposedly left wing. The supposedly left wing panelist defended the Daily Telegraph on the grounds that it was trying to sell papers.
Leaving aside the question of how many people are actually going to reach into their pocket to buy a copy of a rag with photoshopped images of Stephen Conroy as Stalin, Green honed in on the point. The newspaper acts in its commercial interest, or what it perceives that to be (and in an age of convergent media and fragmented audiences, that perceived interest is often in shrill commentary and hyperbole).
Green also questioned whether anyone on the panel felt constrained in their freedom of speech by the fact that broadcast journalism and expression is regulated. The only response was to decry regulation. Green’s logic met the infantile discourse of commerce, and trumped it.
It is very hard for me to see the justification for the absurd hyperbole being indulged in now, and claims such as “Furious response to Conroy”. Is fury the marker of a mature and responsible press?
Similarly, Labor MPs who apparently fear taking on media proprietors in an election year might reflect on the findings of the Leveson Inquiry and the dangers of holding politics and public policy hostage to press barons.
Disclosure: I previously worked for Terry Flew in the Faculty of Creative Industries at QUT, and wrote for Crikey when Jonathan Green was editor.