The Morrison government’s media bargaining code will tighten the grip of News Corp and other powerful giants on Australian media, experts say.
It even threatens democracy.
Data shows the concentration of media ownership in Australia is one of the highest in the world.
“It’s fairly well documented that Australia is among the worst in terms of media diversity,” said Associate Professor Timothy Dwyer, an expert in media policy at The University of Sydney.
“It has one of the most highly concentrated news print media markets among comparable democracies so it’s really in poor shape.”
In 2016, a landmark international study on media ownership and concentration titled Who Owns the World’s Media?, revealed Australia had the most concentrated newspaper industry in 2011 out of any country studied, except for China and Egypt.
The high newspaper industry ownership concentration was largely due to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which at the time controlled 57 per cent of the newspaper market by circulation.
But that was five years ago, and TND understands there haven’t been any similar global comparisons since.
“It’s getting a lot trickier in the age of the internet to track down readerships,” said Rodney Tiffen, an Emeritus Professor at The University of Sydney and one of the Australian researchers on the 2016 study.
Although up-to-date, publicly available data is hard to find, experts say media concentration in Australia is guaranteed to have increased in recent years.
Swipe between these two slides for a comparison
And there’s every chance it’s going to get worse.
That’s because the Turnbull government repealed the nation’s main anti-concentration laws in 2017, allowing companies to have TV, radio and print outlets in the same market by removing the two-out-of-three rule.
A year later, Fairfax and Nine took advantage of the overhaul by merging to create a new media giant under the Nine name, shrinking Australia’s media landscape even further.
“News Corp – together with Nine Entertainment – now own the majority of print media outlets, which includes online news versions of those print titles,” Associate Professor Dwyer said.
There is nothing stopping other media companies like News Corp and Seven West from joining forces and doing the same thing.
“It’s a problem for democracy, if you’ve got that level of power concentrated in so few hands,” said Dr Denis Muller, a senior research fellow at The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism.
“It limits the number of voices.”
The biggest beneficiaries of Australia’s new media code will be News Corp, Nine, Seven West and, to a lesser extent, the ABC.
And although the changes do little for media diversity, experts say it was still worth the fight.
“It’s true the money will flow to Murdoch and the Big Three,” Dr Muller said.
“That is an unavoidable byproduct of a much bigger and important principle, which is that Facebook ought to pay for news that it takes for nothing.