Just three companies direct nearly all of Australia’s media landscape, according to a new media ownership report that shines a light on just how much of the nation’s journalism is controlled by News Corp.
As the federal Senate convenes its latest hearing on the inquiry into media diversity, with former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull as its headline act on Monday, it has been revealed News Corp owns nearly 60 per cent of the metro and national print media market.
The company also earns 40 per cent of TV revenues, and is part of a profitable trio controlling a mind-boggling 90 per cent of metro radio licences.
“The power of Murdoch in influencing climate policy and derailing climate action will be a focus of questions and evidence at the hearing,” Greens senator and inquiry chairperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, told The New Daily.
On the eve of the Senate inquiry, a study by University of Sydney academics found how densely Australia’s media ownership is concentrated.
“News Corp is the unchallenged dominant player,” wrote Associate Professor of Communication Benedetta Brevini and PhD candidate Michael Ward.
“The predominance of News Corp in cross-media settings is unprecedented in liberal democracies.”
The report, commissioned by activist group GetUp!, found News Corp had a 59 per cent share in the metro and national print media markets, when measured by readership.
The authors said that compared to just 25 per cent in 1984.
Nine Entertainment, which owns the former Fairfax papers including the Sydney Morning Herald, has “a combined 23 per cent readership share”, the report details.
“The dominance of News Corp and Nine’s media ownership extends beyond print to other media platforms,” the authors said.
“Just three corporations – News Corp, Nine, and Southern Cross Media (and their associated entities) – control almost 90 per cent of the lucrative metropolitan radio licences across the country.”
That’s in addition to the 40 per cent of total Australian television revenue that News Corp earns, when taking into account free-to-air and subscription revenues.
The authors note this is “almost double that of second-place holder Nine”.
“This highly concentrated media ownership has had a corrosive impact on Australia’s democracy. It has skewed public debate, favouring the interests of the wealthy and powerful over the public good,” Associate Professor Brevini and Mr Ward write.
“This has been clearly evidenced in the national debates on climate change policy, where the scale of News Corp’s climate misinformation has hindered climate policy, encouraged negative sentiments towards climate action, and actively driven a political wedge into our public debate.”
They claim “this would not have been possible in a more diverse media landscape”.
The report and inquiry come just days after Mr Turnbull blamed News Corp “thugs” for his losing a climate change role with the NSW government.
He called the news organisation an “absolute scourge on our democracy”.
Mr Turnbull recently joined another former PM Kevin Rudd in calling for a royal commission into the media organisation.
That petition was unsuccessful, but spurred the launching of the Senate inquiry into media diversity.
Dr Michael E Mann, an acclaimed professor in climate science at Pennsylvania State University, will dial into the Senate inquiry from the United States.
Also on the witness list are executives from Facebook Australia, WIN TV, Prime Media, Crikey editor Peter Fray and The New Daily co-founder Bruce Guthrie.
“Since leaving politics Malcolm Turnbull has been a tough critic of the media. Tomorrow he has an opportunity to give evidence outlining his own experience with the Murdoch press during his time as Prime Minister,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
She added that Facebook and the government’s news media bargaining code would also feature in her questioning.
“Facebook makes a profit out of promoting and sharing fake news. The tech giant will be asked what they are doing to ensure public interest journalism and credible news is valued above fake news and hate speech,” Senator Hanson-Young said.
“I’ll be asking Facebook about why they still haven’t signed deals with media companies under the government’s new media bargaining code.”
Associate Professor Brevini’s report called for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to be empowered with more “teeth” to regulate media companies, including reintroducing caps on ownership in concentrated markets, and the power to request specific information on ownership.
“Australia is in a media emergency and immediate action must be taken to safeguard our democracy,” she said.
“Unmatched levels of media concentration has allowed a powerful few to accumulate excessive political power, with an unparalleled capacity to set the public agenda.
“This alarming level of media concentration is compounded by a systemic lack of transparency and public accountability.”