His Master’s Voice

Posted on Posted in Craft Standards, News Corp, Profession, Social Media
His_Master-s_Voice

A common defence of Rupert Murdoch’s overwhelming dominance of the Australian media is that it reflects market forces. His papers account for 60%-70% of newspaper sales because they are popular, goes this line.

A second defence is that the multiplicity of new platforms for news and information and the proliferation of blogs make Murdoch’s stranglehold over traditional media, particularly newspapers, less of an issue for democracy.

These arguments are now well rehearsed among Murdoch’s loyal foot soldiers and were ritually recited on a recent Q and A on ABC Television by Sarrah Le Marquand, opinion editor of The Daily Telegraph.

“When people are talking about this much-touted 70% and who controls it, well I’ll tell you who controls it – the news-buying public. So if you have any issues with that, you need to take it up with them,” Le Marquand trumpeted.

The News Corp editor’s comment was made in response to a question from an audience member about the determinedly partisan stance of the Murdoch press in last year’s federal election. This coverage included deliberate distortions in supposedly straight news reports and the manipulation of photos to depict the prime minister as a Nazi.

The sophistry of Le Marquand’s response (‘the people buy it, so it must be right’) was repeated by another audience member (apparently one of the Sydney University Young Libs bused into the studio):

“The fact is people bought the papers, people wanted to vote that way. There’s nothing stopping someone starting another newspaper and selling that. It’s not so much that that the (Daily Tele) dictates the views, but they’re mainstream people’s views.”

Under this argument, journalism is merely another commercial enterprise. You start your newspaper (an industry with massive barriers to entry), hang your shingle out, hire a willing (and desperate) editorial team and begin manufacturing a view of the world that suits your proprietor’s commercial and ideological imperatives.

If people don’t like your brand of journalism, they can buy one that fits their prejudices more neatly. And if they can’t find one, they go off to the bank manager and build one from scratch. If they can’t do that, they start a blog and broadcast to the world what they think.

The Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, also on the Q and A panel, is a disciple of this view – that the multiplicity of voices in the digital space makes Murdoch’s traditional media dominance less of an issue and, in any case, his power and influence is over-rated. If people don’t like Murdoch’s editorial line, they can DIY.

This all sounds extremely reasonable, apart from a few small points. One of them is that news is not a product and the Fourth Estate is not purely a commercial enterprise. Call me old fashioned, but journalists have civic responsibilities beyond their obligations to their employers.

And just as the news is not a product, readers are not merely consumers. They do not “buy” the news but rely on it to help them make decisions as citizens. Yes, sales departments will seek to maximise audiences to sell to their customers (the advertisers). But the priority (and obligation) of journalists is to put the public interest first.  If you’re not doing that, you’re not a journalist.

Putting the public interest first means employing the standards and principles of the profession – exercising an obligation to accurately report the truth, being primarily loyal to citizens (not consumers), being an independent monitor of power and giving a fair hearing to all.

The currency of journalism is not sales or page impressions or television ratings. The currency of journalism is TRUST. And the reason we are having the discussion about Murdoch and his newspapers is the erosion of trust, the perversion of news values by the market and the loss of journalistic independence.

As to the other point, that the proliferation of blogs and Twitter feeds make up for the dominance of the News Corp tabloids and shock jocks, when was the last time a leading political figure gave an interview to, say, Crikey or Independent Australia or even The Guardian?

The News Corp tabloids, along with commercial television and radio, continue to set the news agenda in Australia. You don’t see Tony Abbott or Bill Shorten knocking on Bernard Keane’s door.

This humble blog, for instance, gets about 35 thousand impressions a month. The Daily Telegraph receives about 54 million a month. I’m sure Crikey receives a couple of million a month, but its audience remains too small and narrow to justify much attention from politicians.

So it is not just the number of voices, but the comparative clout. Any analysis of media that overlooks relative power in terms of scale, influence and reach is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst.

But don’t take my word for it. Also on the Q and A panel was the veteran British journalist and broadcaster Andrew Neil, himself a former editor of Murdoch’s Sunday Times and one who well knows the capacity for his former employer to accumulate power to an unhealthy degree.

“You’ve allowed big organisations to get too big in controlling the news,” Neil said. “When you allow companies to get too big, to be owning television stations and newspapers and radio stations, it is anti-democratic because then they start to control the politicians and they start to control the police and before you know it they are controlling the government as well.”

In the final analysis, the traditional media’s business model may be busted, but the accountability structures still reflect the old world.  That may be changing, but digital media advocates should not kid themselves.
There may be a multiplicity of voices. But some voices still speak much, much more loudly than others.

32 thoughts on “His Master’s Voice

  1. Thank you Mr D. I agree with you 110%. Journalists are given a privilege position in society similar to Doctors etc. Yes Doctors are private citizens who want to make money but their first obligation is the patient. Another point is someone needs to call BS on this so called people are free to go out and start their own news organisation. The press gallery in Canberra is a closed shop. I can't just waltz in there saying that I have started my own news service and therefore I'm entitled to sit in the box. Remember The Tresurer can say who could be in the budget lockup as Crikey found out during the Costello years.

  2. Thank you Mr D. I agree with you 110%. Journalists are given a privilege position in society similar to Doctors etc. Yes Doctors are private citizens who want to make money but their first obligation is the patient. Another point is someone needs to call BS on this so called people are free to go out and start their own news organisation. The press gallery in Canberra is a closed shop. I can't just waltz in there saying that I have started my own news service and therefore I'm entitled to sit in the box. Remember The Tresurer can say who could be in the budget lockup as Crikey found out during the Costello years.

  3. Accurate response to the loss of the factual in mainstream news. The problem is compounded by a lack of accountability.
    Thankfully our ABC is still on air.

  4. Accurate response to the loss of the factual in mainstream news. The problem is compounded by a lack of accountability.
    Thankfully our ABC is still on air.

  5. I was really interested in how many people would respond to social media and actually physically put their feet into action and attend the March in March events.

    I saw it as a test as to the political power of the emerging new media and the question I pondered myself and posed to folk I knew was “How many people turning up in the streets in March will constitute a 'success' for the 'new' media?
    w Prior to the event we plonked for between 1 to 2 thousand people in Adelaide as 'adequate' or 'reasonable' but not 'resounding', more than that could be 'impressive' and around 5,000 would be outstanding and signal, in Adelaide's case at least, the arrival a new and significant social and political force to begin to rival the old mob.

    On the day a couple of us, well versed in crowd estimates [the other bloke has estimated 'crowds' professionally – he's an ornithologist] estimated the crowd in Adelaide – I put it at 6,000 conservatively with more arriving , he opted for more.
    Nationwide the number was well over 100, 000, a number not to be sneezed at, and all down to social media and barely a squeak from the MSM.
    A change, a tipping point?

    fred

  6. I was really interested in how many people would respond to social media and actually physically put their feet into action and attend the March in March events.

    I saw it as a test as to the political power of the emerging new media and the question I pondered myself and posed to folk I knew was “How many people turning up in the streets in March will constitute a 'success' for the 'new' media?
    w Prior to the event we plonked for between 1 to 2 thousand people in Adelaide as 'adequate' or 'reasonable' but not 'resounding', more than that could be 'impressive' and around 5,000 would be outstanding and signal, in Adelaide's case at least, the arrival a new and significant social and political force to begin to rival the old mob.

    On the day a couple of us, well versed in crowd estimates [the other bloke has estimated 'crowds' professionally – he's an ornithologist] estimated the crowd in Adelaide – I put it at 6,000 conservatively with more arriving , he opted for more.
    Nationwide the number was well over 100, 000, a number not to be sneezed at, and all down to social media and barely a squeak from the MSM.
    A change, a tipping point?

    fred

  7. If only the ABC was our saviour. It has been clear since Abbott got in that they have toned down their service due to the implied threats. The general public are unaware of how Govt works. That is how watchdogs survive in the political environment, Treasury controls the purse strings so the govt of the day can always get them to tow the line.

  8. If only the ABC was our saviour. It has been clear since Abbott got in that they have toned down their service due to the implied threats. The general public are unaware of how Govt works. That is how watchdogs survive in the political environment, Treasury controls the purse strings so the govt of the day can always get them to tow the line.

  9. In any situation where Rupert Murdoch's company controls approximately 70% of the market, as a consumer I have no power at all. Because my choices are either a) buying a Murdoch property; or b) buying something which is so closely modelled on Murdoch properties as to be virtually indistinguishable. It's like saying consumers have all the power in choosing potato crisp flavours when the only two flavours on the supermarket shelves are “salt and vinegar” or “vinegar and salt”.

    What if I'm after barbecue flavoured crisps? I don't want either salt & vinegar, OR vinegar & salt flavoured crisps. What options do I have? Well, I have the option not to damn well purchase anything at all, and that's the one I've been pursuing for years now, along with a lot of other people.

    This is why newspaper circulation figures are down to a historic low in most cities – there ARE no alternatives in the market at present; we either get the News Corp salt & vinegar flavoured news, or the vinegar & salt “alternatives” offered by the other media firms. So more and more people are opting out of the choice altogether.

  10. In any situation where Rupert Murdoch's company controls approximately 70% of the market, as a consumer I have no power at all. Because my choices are either a) buying a Murdoch property; or b) buying something which is so closely modelled on Murdoch properties as to be virtually indistinguishable. It's like saying consumers have all the power in choosing potato crisp flavours when the only two flavours on the supermarket shelves are “salt and vinegar” or “vinegar and salt”.

    What if I'm after barbecue flavoured crisps? I don't want either salt & vinegar, OR vinegar & salt flavoured crisps. What options do I have? Well, I have the option not to damn well purchase anything at all, and that's the one I've been pursuing for years now, along with a lot of other people.

    This is why newspaper circulation figures are down to a historic low in most cities – there ARE no alternatives in the market at present; we either get the News Corp salt & vinegar flavoured news, or the vinegar & salt “alternatives” offered by the other media firms. So more and more people are opting out of the choice altogether.

  11. For all I know Murdoch's publications sell for reasons other than their news content; I buy them primarily for the form guide, sports pages and the cryptic crossword. I tolerate the news contennt

  12. For all I know Murdoch's publications sell for reasons other than their news content; I buy them primarily for the form guide, sports pages and the cryptic crossword. I tolerate the news contennt

  13. Time and again, even on he ABC, I have heard Murdoch Editors and Execs say their newspapers are there to reflect public opinion, unchecked.Newspapers are meant to give the public the information to enable them to form an opinion.

  14. Time and again, even on he ABC, I have heard Murdoch Editors and Execs say their newspapers are there to reflect public opinion, unchecked.Newspapers are meant to give the public the information to enable them to form an opinion.

  15. As for the “market forces” nonsense argument, see the movie clip from “Citizen Kane”. For those without access to Turnbull's fraud-band here is a summary of the dialogue:

    'Well I happened to see your financial statement today Charles, don't you think it's unwise to continue with losing $ 1 million dollars per year'.

    'I did lose a million dollars last year, I expect to lose a million dollars next year and you know what, at that rate I will have to close this place in 60 years.'

    News Ltd is a bit sensitive about losing between $30-40 million per year (you can do the maths on how long it would take a billionaire to go broke)

  16. As for the “market forces” nonsense argument, see the movie clip from “Citizen Kane”. For those without access to Turnbull's fraud-band here is a summary of the dialogue:

    'Well I happened to see your financial statement today Charles, don't you think it's unwise to continue with losing $ 1 million dollars per year'.

    'I did lose a million dollars last year, I expect to lose a million dollars next year and you know what, at that rate I will have to close this place in 60 years.'

    News Ltd is a bit sensitive about losing between $30-40 million per year (you can do the maths on how long it would take a billionaire to go broke)

  17. I have a choice. I choose not to buy anything from Murdoch. Even when it's free I refuse it. But a lot of people buy out of habit or for the fashion, sport etc. Remember that a large proportion of Australians are disconnected from politics. They don't care what the editorial stance is. But they absorb the constant messages by osmosis.

  18. I have a choice. I choose not to buy anything from Murdoch. Even when it's free I refuse it. But a lot of people buy out of habit or for the fashion, sport etc. Remember that a large proportion of Australians are disconnected from politics. They don't care what the editorial stance is. But they absorb the constant messages by osmosis.

  19. Another aspect is the free copies available of The Australian at cinemas etc, plus so many cafes here in Melbourne have multiple copies of the Herald Sun available for patrons to read but not even one copy of The Age. I know of one other who boycotts those cafes for that reason, and have told the proprietor why.

  20. Another aspect is the free copies available of The Australian at cinemas etc, plus so many cafes here in Melbourne have multiple copies of the Herald Sun available for patrons to read but not even one copy of The Age. I know of one other who boycotts those cafes for that reason, and have told the proprietor why.

  21. G'day Mr D,

    Scope for scooping Murdoch Snr or the new Son of Murdoch conspiracies is still wide open. I think there are enough players outside the conflict of direct employer interest to uncover the octopuses tentacles if they really wanted to look and find them. The US government (and China etc) agencies and big business are obviously doing a much better job of hacking everything else including phone data, compared to the relative softer slow boil dark PR activities of News Corp with crime victim voicemail etc.

    I think journalists are too corralled to move their minds outside the box and gain a wider perspective. Who ties the Channel 9 and 7 nightly news broadcast to be almost virtually identical in content right down to the second?

    The stories that got away include,

    Australia's multicultural failures (list your inappropriate illegal and regressive Islamic cultural practice here),

    the explosion of illicit drug and steroid use spilling into gang and youth street violence.

    Sydney gun violence is now accepted as here to stay.

    The explosion of NSW gun ownership with legal guns registered at a 1:10 per capita ratio (imagine the total black market saturation index).

    Illicit synthetic drugs sold at the local mall tobacconist killing off hapless youth.

    The pornification of everything (Newscorp news websites showcase this trend well) and its impact on children assaulting children. The UK government thinks this is a problem by not here in Oz-land – we are so wise to the control this vice.

    The rise and rise of childporn and abuse off the back of earlier generation porn. Whatever the current Royal Commission finds from days of old will only be but a drop in the bucket. Consider the filth streaming into legions of young offenders in training and in action today.

    Violent and pornographic R18+ game media entertainments. 70% of the games sold via Target for the X-box system are MA15+ or R18+ with mind numbing destructive content.

    Media content and journalism appears to have given up on asking any hard questions and are content to float about in the scramble for high rating content instead.

    The (rape) Game of Thrones is like a bloody end game example in this regard – a sick violent, sexually explicit and titillating media fantasy distraction for the masses to gorge themselves on, in the manner they have grown accustom to. Gratuitous rape and incest may not have been spectator sports (outside some very dysfunctional Australian communities) but now via US media streaming they can be.

    This is not progress

  22. G'day Mr D,

    Scope for scooping Murdoch Snr or the new Son of Murdoch conspiracies is still wide open. I think there are enough players outside the conflict of direct employer interest to uncover the octopuses tentacles if they really wanted to look and find them. The US government (and China etc) agencies and big business are obviously doing a much better job of hacking everything else including phone data, compared to the relative softer slow boil dark PR activities of News Corp with crime victim voicemail etc.

    I think journalists are too corralled to move their minds outside the box and gain a wider perspective. Who ties the Channel 9 and 7 nightly news broadcast to be almost virtually identical in content right down to the second?

    The stories that got away include,

    Australia's multicultural failures (list your inappropriate illegal and regressive Islamic cultural practice here),

    the explosion of illicit drug and steroid use spilling into gang and youth street violence.

    Sydney gun violence is now accepted as here to stay.

    The explosion of NSW gun ownership with legal guns registered at a 1:10 per capita ratio (imagine the total black market saturation index).

    Illicit synthetic drugs sold at the local mall tobacconist killing off hapless youth.

    The pornification of everything (Newscorp news websites showcase this trend well) and its impact on children assaulting children. The UK government thinks this is a problem by not here in Oz-land – we are so wise to the control this vice.

    The rise and rise of childporn and abuse off the back of earlier generation porn. Whatever the current Royal Commission finds from days of old will only be but a drop in the bucket. Consider the filth streaming into legions of young offenders in training and in action today.

    Violent and pornographic R18+ game media entertainments. 70% of the games sold via Target for the X-box system are MA15+ or R18+ with mind numbing destructive content.

    Media content and journalism appears to have given up on asking any hard questions and are content to float about in the scramble for high rating content instead.

    The (rape) Game of Thrones is like a bloody end game example in this regard – a sick violent, sexually explicit and titillating media fantasy distraction for the masses to gorge themselves on, in the manner they have grown accustom to. Gratuitous rape and incest may not have been spectator sports (outside some very dysfunctional Australian communities) but now via US media streaming they can be.

    This is not progress

  23. Indeed Rolly but I would place much of what you have written above in the context of our corrupted democracy which is supported by a largely partisan or supine media. There are some noble and noticeable exceptions journalists and I honour those.

  24. Indeed Rolly but I would place much of what you have written above in the context of our corrupted democracy which is supported by a largely partisan or supine media. There are some noble and noticeable exceptions journalists and I honour those.

  25. Yes, Mr D earlier Lego journalism observations are still valid. At its core, this is still a moral failure at many levels by many players (we are all in this together).

    For the spineless it's too hard to report on political maters without backing your teams view/ agenda.
    For the elected its too hard to have open and honest debate on difficult concerns without opening yourself to easy attack.
    For media programmers it's too easy to give media consumers what they want, even if it's toxic, destructive and morally debased and rates “like a house on fire”.

    Something is still burning and lost when we do this.

  26. Yes, Mr D earlier Lego journalism observations are still valid. At its core, this is still a moral failure at many levels by many players (we are all in this together).

    For the spineless it's too hard to report on political maters without backing your teams view/ agenda.
    For the elected its too hard to have open and honest debate on difficult concerns without opening yourself to easy attack.
    For media programmers it's too easy to give media consumers what they want, even if it's toxic, destructive and morally debased and rates “like a house on fire”.

    Something is still burning and lost when we do this.

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