Can cuddling up with the commercial media save the ABC from Abbott’s axe?

July 31, 2013

For fans of publicly funded broadcasting in Australia, Mark Scott’s speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia last week had some good news elements, but is it enough to save the ABC?

According to Scott, the ABC is the nation’s most trusted institution; most of us are consuming ABC products and we like it a lot, despite its critics and naysayers.

However, for Friends of the ABC (FABC), Scott’s speech sent mixed signals about the national broadcaster’s future.

The Victorian spokesperson for FABC, Glenys Stradijot is “disappointed” that Scott appears to make an argument for the ABC in “purely commercial terms”, rather than emphasising the benefits of having a “truly independent” public broadcaster. It seems to “erode the very reason that the ABC exists” she says.


Friends of the ABC picket the Victorian Liberal Party convention in May 2013 where a motion to privatise the ABC was due to be debated. The motion was not voted on after intervention by Tony #Abbocolypse Abbott

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In the Shadow of Phone Hacking: Media Accountability Inquiries in Australia

June 25, 2013
 Johan Lidberg, Monash University and Martin Hirst, Deakin University

Reproduced from the first edition of Political Economy of Communication, a new peer-reviewed journal from the Political Economy section of the International Association for Mass Communication Research (IAMCR)

Figure 1. Stalin, Mao, Castro, Conroy—media dictators Murdoch style


On July 10, 2011, Rupert Murdoch closed the News of the World, one of the biggest selling tabloids on the globe, once the newspaper had used up its store of public trust. The paper was accused of, and later admitted that a culture of illegality had engulfed its newsroom. Phones were routinely hacked and journalists paid public officials for information on celebrities and other citizens. The News of the World scandal triggered over 100 arrests of journalists, police officers, private investigators, and public officials. It also initiated a wave of inquiries into journalistic practices and standards in several countries.

This article will summarize the two inquiries into media practice and standards in Australia, and consider the impact on democratic discourse when ownership concentration of media companies reaches high levels.

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The media reform bills – what is really in them

March 19, 2013

Daily_Telegraph_19_3_2013 For the last 12 months we’ve been warned on an almost daily basis that the sky is about to fall in on media freedoms in Australia, but what does the legislation before parliament this week actually propose?

News Media (Self regulation) Bill 2013

There is one simple purpose to this legislation and it is not to stifle freedom of the press. Instead this bill simply creates the conditions under which the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) can declare that an organisation is a “news media self-regulation body”.

The definition of a self-regulator rests on one condition: the body must have a self-regulation scheme that is binding on members.

The only other function of this bill is to remove a news organisation’s exemption from some provisions of the Privacy Act 1988 if it is not a member of a self-regulatory body recognised by the media advocate.

The effective clause of the Privacy Act is 7B(4) and as it currently stands, a news media organisation is only exempt from some Privacy Act provisions if it adheres to public standards. This new bill changes nothing in that regard.

That is it; that is all this legislation is aimed to do. The self-regulation scheme proposed in the bill is no tougher than the current rules and membership requirements of the Australian Press Council. Read the rest of this entry »

Rupert is safe from Australian regulators…for now

May 7, 2012

Australian media regulators would take an active interest in attempts by News Limited to increase its stake in Foxtel.

Problems facing media moguls Rupert and James Murdoch in the United Kingdom and the United States have yet to have an impact in Australia.

But if recent speculation is true that News Limited might be a buyer for James Packer’s 25% Foxtel stake, Murdoch could find himself in a forest of acronyms as various regulatory agencies – the Australian Consumer and Competition commission (ACCC), the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) – take an active interest.

The continuing storm over the handling of the UK phone hacking scandal has seen a British parliamentary committee find Murdoch senior is not a fit and proper person to run a multinational media company.

The phone-hacking and police bribery scandal has led to more than 40 arrests in Britain and to a Sky news reporter admitting to hacking emails in pursuit of a story.

These revelations have also led to low-level investigations of News operations in the United States. In July last year, the FBI was reportedly opening an investigation of allegations that News reporters may have hacked the phones of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York and Washington DC.

There is no recent information to confirm that any investigation is on-going in the US. However, American politicians – always on the look out for a media opportunity – have signaled they are taking a keen interest in the British parliamentary report and the Leveson inquiry. A Washington DC ethics lobby group has also written to the US Federal Communications Commission seeking an inquiry into Murdoch’s control of the Fox network.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) want the FCC to revoke Foxtel’s broadcasting licences. A US senator has also written to the chair of the Leveson inquiry seeking any information that might suggest American laws have been broken by News journalists.

Even is there is no illegality, Murdoch does face some problems in the US. Under American law, the finding that he is not a fit and proper person to run a business in the UK can be used to trigger an inquiry in the USA.

These ongoing worries are more than an embarrassment to the octogenarian patriarch; they are a debilitating overhang that could ultimately affect the fate of News Corporation – the parent company that manages the family’s global media business interests, including News Limited in Australia and News International in the UK. For example, BSkyB shares took a hit on UK markets after the email hacking story came to light. Read the rest of this entry »

Scooped: The politics and power of journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand

February 7, 2012

Hot off the press

Scooped is finally available. You can order online from Exisle Books

This book is the first new text on New Zealand journalism in ten years. Scooped is an edited collection of essays canvassing the politics and power of journalism and the news media in New Zealand today.

Scooped: The Politics and Power of Journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand critically examines some of the most pressing economic, political, social and cultural issues facing journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. Approaching journalism as a field of cultural production, the book brings together contributions from a diverse list of academics and journalists, and interrogates the commonsense assumptions that typically structure public discussion of journalism in Aotearoa New Zealand. Rather than simply treating power as something others have, and politics as something that the media simply covers, the book situates journalism itself as a site of power and cultural politics. Lamenting the often antagonistic relationship between journalism and academia, the book offers a vision of a critically engaged journalism studies that should be of interest to academics, students, journalists and general readers.


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Telco giants do the techno-legal time warp, again

February 3, 2012

Telecommunications giant Optus managed to convince the Federal Court in Sydney this week that there’s a legal blindspot in relation to its download pay-per-view service.

Telstra – given its business relationship with The National Rugby League (NRL) and Australian Football League (NFL) – had tried to prevent Optus from recording and re-broadcasting matches screened on free-to-air television.

But Justice Steven Rares found Optus’s mobile television service didn’t breach the Copyright Act for a couple of reasons: Optus keeps separate recordings for each customer, and individual customers are responsible for requesting the recordings.

So what’s going on here?

To my mind, former rugby league coach Roy Masters – ever the shrewd observer – hit the nail on the head when he wrote the following for the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday:

“They framed the copyright laws to protect the average punter from being sued for taping a TV show, including a football match on his home recorder. Now, their legislation is being used by Optus to sell a service.”

Naturally, Telstra has concerns. The AFL’s A$1.25 billion five-year rights deal signed last season with Channel Seven, Foxtel and Telstra, included a A$153m payment by Telstra for the online broadcast rights to games. The NRL, likewise, expected a proportion of its next deal to come from internet rights.

[first published on The Conversation, 3 Feb, 2012]

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Radio New Zealand: “They say cut back, we say fight back!”

March 1, 2010

A good crowd turned up today outside Radio New Zealand’s HQ in Hobson Street, Auckland to protest against the government’s planned cuts to the broadcasters already tight budget.

A good start, but we have to keep going and build the pressure. If you don’t do anything else, at least sign the online petition at Hands Off Our Dial

Jake and friends at the Auckland protest 1 March

Jake and friends at the Auckland protest 1 March

Over 100 people gathered to hear a few short speeches and to let Broadcasting Minister Jonathon Coleman know that he won’t get away with his ‘slash and burn’ strategy.

The arguments for retaining – and extending – RNZ’s budget are not difficult. It is the national broadcaster and it provides a vital service for all New Zealanders.

As many speakers outlined, it is a service that we have come to rely on and Sunday’s Tsunami alerts and the special extended Sunday morning Morning Report are one example among many.

I supported the rally and made a few remarks of my own. The key message I wanted to get across was to point out that critics who say “Why should I pay for Radio New Zealand, when I can listen to commercial radio for free?” are actually totally wrong.

Commercial radio is not free. In fact, the clue is in the very name ‘commercial’ radio. Advertising is the lifeblood of the commercial media – the harvesting of eyeballs and ears. Without advertising there would be no commercial radio.

But who actually pays? Well, the advertisers do don’t they?

No, in fact we pay for commercial radio every time we buy a packet of busciuts at Pack’n’Save, or when we fill up our tanks with petrol.

Advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide and advertising or marketing budgets are built into the cost and price of every commodity we buy.

You see, we in fact pay and pay and pay again for advertising every day.

So commerical radio is not free and it costs us a lot more than the paltry amount of our taxes that currently goes to supporting Radio New Zealand.

The other point I made is that RNZ is on the bones of its arse already. It has suffered cuts now for a decade under both Labor and National governments.

No government in power likes the scrutiny and independent analysis that RNZ provides. It is an irritant to any government and that’s how it should be.

You can't argue with intelligence

So when a Labor MP says that her party fully supports RNZ, what does this mean?

If it’s to mean anything at all it must mean a Manifesto commitment to restore and extend RNZ funding if they’re re-elected.


So that RNZ can continue to provide the quality programming that it does. Who else is going to promote Kiwi music and art and science and so on?

But there’s another reason to increase the funding to RNZ – so that it can continue to innovate and to extend its services.

If you look at the Australian example – go on, just for a minute – you can see that the ABC provides local radio services to every major population centre across the country. This was invaluable during last summer’s dreadful bushfires. ABC local radio kept communities informed and saved many lives through providing up-to-the-minute news about fire fronts and rescue or evacuation plans.

Then there’s the youth network TripleJ. This is a fantastic service for the youth of Australia. It talks to them in the language they appreciate and it gives them access to useful public interest information. It helps young people connect with politics and the big ideas.

Finally, the ABC provides a fantastic online presence called Unleashed that creates the space for a truly national debate about politics, policies and culture.

Honest journalism without advertising. Now there's a thought

This is what RNZ should be doing to. For that it needs much more money.

I think it is a national shame that this government is hell-bent on cutting it even more.

I think that in Wellington the ACT Party tail is wagging the National dog. And it is a dog.

Now we have to keep the protests going and keep them growing. There’s a long way to go in this fight.

They say cut back, we say fight back.

Public service broadcasting – Government serving New Zealand poorly

February 19, 2010

Step 1: Join the Facebook group

It was amusing to see Helen Clark defending Radio New Zealand in the paper this morning. It’s too bad that her Labour government didn’t do more to protect it and insulate it from the current campaign of a thousand deadly cuts when it had the chance.

I don’t always like Morning Report, but it is essential listening in my house every day and I try to catch Checkpoint as often as I can too. I’ve always been a strong supporter of public broadcasting and no matter how much I might disagree with the analysis and angles, or how much I am annoyed by fatuous or bullying interviewers I love and cherish Radio New Zealand.

I like the news and current affairs service, I love Mediawatch and I don’t mind some of the weekend shows – the book readings, science, technology and arts programming. It is all important, well-made and essential to maintaining a vibrant, eclectic and democratic public sphere in New Zealand.

In fact, we can probably make a strong case that Radio New Zealand is taonga. Read the rest of this entry »

TVNZ – "flawed, unworkable model"

August 31, 2007

I’ve been in Wellington for a few days attending a couple of conferences on media and politics.
The first one at the beautiful Te Papa (national museum) was organised by NZ’s broadcasting minister, Steve Maharey and was concerned with “Broadcasting Futures“. The key themes were to examine the future of television in a convergent future – what many at the conference began calling the age of the “third screen”.
The second was the New Zealand Political Studies Association conference at Victoria University, Wellington. There was a media & politics stream and the most interesting speaker was former TVNZ News/CAff head, Bill Ralston.
Ralston’s always outspoken and he didn’t disappoint. He described the TVNZ model as flawed and unworkable, mainly because of the fundamental and probably unresolvable contradiction between the public service “social dividend” responsibility imposed by the TVNZ Charter and the “financial dividend” of around nine percent a year (roughly $NZ30 million) that the national broadcaster must return to its sole shareholder, the New Zealand government.
It is this economic imperative – based on the market model of commercial broadcasting – that turns TVNZ news journos into what Ralston describes as “news clerks”. This is not their fault and I disagree with notions that journalists are lazy. The real issue is resource constraints that emerge from the commericialy-oriented decisions of TVNZ’s management. If you cut costs and reduce news budgets then of course there’s less time for reporters to actually cover the news in anything more than a perfunctory way.
Ralston also gave some interesting insights into Board level interference into editorial decision-making and noted that the current leadership of TVNZ (with a few exceptions) comes from sales and marketing backgrounds.
The board also suffers from being short-term political appointees and the tension between the political pressures, commercial pressures, the effects of Charter responsibilities and public dissatisfaction tend to make the organisation timid in many ways. TVNZ is, in Ralston’s view, often a political football and when it gets kicked around, the rest of the media takes great delight in also putting the boot in – self-serving, but expected in a competitive environment.
Ralston ended his speech with a call for yet another reorganisation of TVNZ.
This is all well and good, but as other presentations at the NZPSA conference pointed out, there’s been a long history of policy failure in relation to broadcasting in New Zealand. That is successive governments have not got it right.
I tend to agree, and I think that Broadcasting Futures served to underline that policy failure is the default setting in Wellington when it comes to dealing with complex issues of diveristy, globalisation, convergence and spectrum allocation.\
Broadcasting Futures was like a curate’s egg. Tasty in parts, but overall, mostly unpalatable.
Many of the sessions were dominated by the marketing guys from the large corporates who were among the key sponsors. This included an embarrassingly crass presentation on the Freeview system; a shameless spruiking of Vodafone products and a product plugging demonstration by the guy from Kordia complete with cheesy props – “cool gadgets”.
There were serious issues discussed too, if you clear away all the dross. For example the funding of independent New Zealand production by NZOnAir and government subsidies to TVNZ and TV3 to get Freeview off the ground.
There was a real tension between the content makers and the platform providers and it wasn’t hard to see who was in the driver’s seat. The content makers are the poor relations. The embarrassing second cousins who are necessary to the overall well-being of the family, but who we would prefer to ignore and keep out of family celebrations.
The fat-pipe guys have all the aces. They have the suits and the contacts in government (both political and functionary) and they have the money.
For example, why is the analogue TV signal going to be switched off? This is a global trend in most developed capitalist economies. The arguments about better signals, or what the marketing men call “value propositions” for “customers” are one thing, but who’s actually asking for it? In whose interests is it really for all of us to be pushed onto digital platforms?
It’s all about marketising and commodifiying popular culture, all of our entertainment and information options and all of our political rights as citizens.
Michael Parenti is one critical scholar who has looked at this issue; in an article in Monthly Review he wrote:

Linked by purchase and persuasion to dominant ruling-class interests, …social institutions are regularly misrepresented as politically neutral, especially by those who occupy command positions within them or are otherwise advantaged by them. What Gramsci said about the military might apply to most other institutions in capitalist society: their “so-called neutrality only means support for the reactionary side…As the capitalist economy has grown in influence and power, much of our culture has been expropriated and commodified. Its use value increasingly takes second place to its exchange value. Nowadays we create less of our culture and buy more of it, until it really is no longer our culture. “

The process of digitisation and convergence in media technologies is accompanied by a growth in the globalisation and concentration of media capital. More and more of our lives are turned into “value propositions”.
A value proposition is a piece of marketing jargon that attempts to simplify a complex message into bite-sized meaty chunks of information that consumers can digest and that will help them make a decision to by your product or service. In the context of public interest media this means a conscious dumbing down of ideas and then attaching an exchange value to them – that is pricing them in a market context just like any other commodity.
While Bill Ralston might think the model of broadcasting in New Zealand is flawed and unworkable, I would go further: the whole system is broken.