Opening statement to Senate inquiry into media diversity in Australia
On March 12, 2021, MEAA addressed a public hearing of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee’s inquiry into media diversity in Australia. MEAA Chief Executive Paul Murphy delivered this opening statement:
Thank you Chair and Committee members.
This inquiry is important. It is important because:
– media reforms over the past five years have worsened the state of media diversity
– journalism jobs have continued to be lost in great numbers despite a growing appetite for Australian news content
– coverage of critical areas of civic and commercial affairs continues to fall
– the effectiveness of the News Bargaining Code is unknown, and
– notwithstanding the success of otherwise of the Bargaining Code, there are no evident support measures for small to medium or new media providers
The economic foundations of the Australian news media sector have been under challenge for some time. The efforts to address these challenges have concentrated on the survival of existing media organisations.
Although MEAA has strongly supported these measures, focusing on that alone will see diminishing returns over time. We are concerned that unless there is a clear policy reset, journalist numbers will continue to slide.
MEAA’s analysis over several years indicates that there are now fewer than 10,000 recognised journalists serving Australian consumers. We believe their number has fallen by around 5,000 in the last decade.
The impact is being felt everywhere, but most recently and pointedly in the regions and in the bush.
Along the way, we have seen critical areas of public interest – where journalism pricks and preserves public interest – like courts coverage, local council and corporate malfeasance – be taken out of play.
MEAA surveyed journalists across Australia about the state of media ownership and concentration in Australia in preparing its submission for this inquiry. Approximately 350 responses were received.
Twenty-seven per cent of respondents rated concerns about Australian media concentration highest of all the issues canvassed, followed by funding for public broadcasting (20%), the state of local, regional and rural media and public trust in responsible journalism (both 13%).
More than 92% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that Australia’s media ownership is too highly concentrated; and 94% agreed or strongly also agreed that this was bad for democracy.
Support for increased funding for the ABC and SBS was at almost 90%.
There was strong support (80%) for government action to financially support small, independent, community and regional media outlets which may not have been the case even five years ago.
This demonstrates a growing recognition of the need for Government action in a situation where the market is clearly failing to deliver in the public interest.
MEAA’s submission calls for new and better ways to create real media diversity. We called for:
– Changes to competition law
– Implementation of Mandatory News Media Bargaining Code – now subject to Facebook’s objections and deceptions
– Extend the Public Interest News Gathering program* in its duration and quantum
To ensure quality and reliability across our media, we have advocated for the establishment of a new and effective single regulator of media content, where community concerns are fairly adjudicated and where penalties are taken seriously.
We have drawn the Committee’s attention to media reforms of jurisdictions similar to our own – in Canada and the United Kingdom. They are on a path to sustaining journalism and creating opportunities for new players and for those now battling to stay afloat, like AAP in Australia.
Australia will continue to fail the media diversity test if new players – small and large – find the barriers to entry too great.
MEAA’s members also look to Government to credibly fund our public broadcasters. As we say in our submission, “Public Broadcasters must be funded in a way that acknowledges the need to provide comprehensive, high-quality cross-platform media content in all parts of Australia”.
The current state of Australia’s media is unsustainable. There are too few voices and too much power is vested in these voices.
New and credible ways of supporting the old media and the new media must be found in order to preserve the health and transparency of Australia’s democracy.
Concentration of ownership, market failures and the grinding down of public broadcasters have combined to put our media sector in an extremely perilous place at a time when quality, reliable content is needed more than ever.
* MEAA notes that expansion of the PING program is canvassed in the Government’s November 2020 Media Reform Green Paper.
READ MEAA’s submission to the Senate inquiry into media diversity in Australia