Will the internet and other ‘new’ media dilute the power of the media moguls?

One argument being put around following the passage of the new laws that will allowing fewer people to control even more of our mainstream media outlets is that ready availability to the Internet makes this further concentration of ownership and control of ‘old media’ like television and newspapers less of a problem. I’d be interested to know what you think.

Matt Price in The Australian (a Murdoch paper for anyone who doesn’t know) says that “like all journalists, he likes diversity”, but says he feels “eerily sanguine” (i.e. hopeful or positive) about the new laws. He states that newspaper circulation and free-to-air television are in decline and that “anyone with teenagers understands the future is online.” “Once broadband is bedded down, everyone everywhere will have instant access to everything.” (He also says that “few politicians understand the media” which really makes me want to respond by saying that “few journalists understand politics”, but I won’t.)

By contrast, the Chairman of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (which oversees corporate mergers), Mr Graeme Samuel, told the rushed Senate Inquiry into the new media laws that

“We think the internet is simply a distribution channel. It has not shown any significant signs at this point in time of providing a greater diversity of credible information and news and commentary. There is talk all the time …. of the establishment of web logs and the like, but in terms of credible news and information … you could probably conclude that at this point of time, at the early stages of the development of the internet, the primary sources of news, information and the like still are your mainstream sources”

It is also worth noting that the new media laws will probably also lead to greater concentration in ownership of the main news and opinion content sites on the internet and the technology for delivering other new media in Australia.

Obviously if you’re reading this blog, you’re already a user of the internet and probably at least a bit interested in politics, so you’re far from an average person. However, a key aspect of the media diversity debate is the ability of the mass media to influence public opinion. Access to information is part of that, but so is the fact that way more people get most of their news through commercial television or The Courier-Mail, and their ability to gather and collate the information they then shape far outweighs that of independent media or websites.

So, what do you the reader think? As Matt Price says, politicians don’t understand the media, so perhaps you people out there in the electorate could educate me? Is the growth of new media going to negate the impact of the further narrowing of owners of the traditional commercial media outlets when it comes to information available to Australians? Do the majority of the public not really care enough about politics for it to matter anyway?

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19 Comments

  1. I think one important aspect the debate about online media is missing is the current debate about internet laws in the US. There are proposals to create a sort of two tiered internet with sites and organisations paying for fast access for users whereas others who don’t, do not receive priority. Reading it at The Nation, the implications could be huge for Australia in the long-run if we follow them.

  2. I’m afraid I’ve got no idea how most people will use the Internet in the future, but I think that for at least some people, including a lot of influential people, it provides fantastic availability of reliable information. I guess it’s especially important useful for people who have ways to check which information is reliable, but even for people who don’t it’s at least as good as the newspapers which, after all, are extremely unreliable on a lot of issues.

    Wikipedia is an interesting case in point. It’s much too huge for any single person to review the whole thing, but I can’t fault the bits I’ve looked at, even in areas (TINY areas … OK, tiny AREA) where I’m a world expert.

  3. On an unrelated issue, I think you mentioned in passing in another blog entry that you’ve changed your policy on Iraq from “we should get out once we’re no longer doing any good” to “we’re no longer doing any good so we should get out”. If I’ve got that right, do you think it might be worth a press release?

  4. Sad to say this Andrew, but I think the majority don’t really care about politics nor even have a basic understanding about politics.

    Politicians on the other hand have no problem in understanding media, just look at how well they use this to their advantage.

    The internet may have a wealth of information on it but most people I know check their emails, got to msn chat/RSVP’s/porno sitess or whatever takes their fancy, but I rarely hear some one say that they have been on the net reading about politics or media laws.

  5. Jason:

    (wow, a world expert visiting my blog – come on, tell us what the tiny area is)

    Nobody paid much attention when I used to say the Democrats opposed the war but shouldn’t withdraw troops yet, and they still don’t pay much attention. I think anything than that goes outside the binary ‘analysis’ of the positions on Iraq being ‘opposed it and get out now’ versus ‘supported it and stay the course indefinitely’ just falls through the gaping chasm between these extremes.

    Even this weekend, Paul Kelly, often refered to as one of Australia’s most senior journalists/opinionators, still said that “the only two political options on the table” are “cut and run” versusd “stay the course”. extraordinary! (as if “cut and run” could be considered to be a strategy , as opposed to a pejorative bit of sloganeering, for starters). And to suggest that there are no other options on the table than two one dimensional extremes is astonishing, or that everything that is on the table can be reduced to such absurd charactitures.

    Anyway, to answer your question, this link goes to a recent release which basically states what you suggest.

    (and all of that was off-topic – sorry.)

  6. what is the nature of the power of media moguls and why do they want this power?

    Mass centralised audiences/markets protected by exclusive licences are desirable to moguls because this provides their adverising revenue.

    Even individuals like Murdoch and Kerrry Packer have intervened in editorial policy and lead public opinion in elections favouring one party over the other and sometimes determining elections. However this is not done out of any political motivation but simply to stir up a public sensation such as a change of government in order to attract bigger markets and advertising revenue.

    The moguls are not resisting the new technology as a threat to their centralised political power, they are embracing it as a new source of income, in particular more advertising opportunities.

    Courier Mail blogs, Big Brother and Idol are examples of the media moguls intertwining centralised media and internet marketing.

    Licences restrict the number of media producers on radio and T.V.
    Newspapers which are not subject to the license restrictions of radio and TV are very expensive to produce and distribute.

    On the internet anyone can be a media producer, through rants from the floor on blogs like this or to set up our own sites.

    anyone can set up in competition with the moguls on the internet, and promote ther site on the net for free. Sites have the potential for massive audiences if they are interesting enough. We compete with the moguls with creativity, not capital.

    small independent media outlets can also get advertising revenue from websites. Given the low cost of producing on the internet it becomes much more economically viable for small producers to survive than in TV, radio and print.

    The media is about cultural generation, not just information flows. “The media is the message” The internet allows for great diversity of media and broadcast.

    As Graham Samuel says, we are just in the early stages of development.

  7. My experience is the same as Renee’s.

    Most people seem to believe whatever they hear, see or read in mainstream media, but at the same time claim the media can’t be trusted any more than politicians. But they still don’t use the internet for more or better information.

  8. Me being one of those teenagers brought up with the internet I can certainly see the value in it. I’d even go so far as to agree with other people that the future is online.

    Will the internet eventually dilute the ‘old’ media outlets? I’d like to think so. However being in Australia is not exactly the ideal place to be to comment on the internet as we are so far behind the rest of the world (something more politians need to address).

    There is already the technology to stream internet broadcasted channels to either your PC or TV. Imagine a world without the need for TV broadcasting licenses! Just jump online through your TV and choose from a plethora of internet broadcasted TV stations. Some with professional standards, some not so much.

    The arguement that the Internet isn’t as credible a source as other outlets is a very valid argument though. But like all media outlets I think this can be overcome is through a building up reputation. The Internet is not different in that regard.

  9. Interesting to hear your perspective Daniel. I attended a meeting last week with a guy from the Liberal Democrats in the UK who focusses heavily on online campaigning.

    Your view about Australia being “so far behind the rest of the world” when it comes to the internet was fairly similar to his. “Backward” was his descpription – and he wasn’t talking specifically about politics and campaigning on the internet either, but also commercial and creative endeavours.

    Of course, I could take this comment to be just another part of the psychological warfare being waged by the Brits and the Aussies in the lead up to the “Battle for the Ashes”, but then I would be falling for media manufactured and mindless parachiolism – so I thought I’d take his comment at face value instead.

    Every country has it’s different political atmospherics, but I must say I find the difference between politics online in the UK compared to Australia quite staggering. You certainly couldn’t put it down to just differences in political culture, voting systems and the like, even though it may be a bit of the reason.

    For just one example, have a look at this aggragating page for all the Liberal Democrat bloggers in the UK – that’s party members, not just politicians. Or have a look at the blogroll of Welsh and Lib Dem blogs on the home page of this blogging MP from the Welsh Assembly.

    The Liberal Democrats are much bigger than the Australian Democrats, but they are still clearly below the other two major parties in the UK. There’s nothing within a hundred miles of this from either of the major Australian parties, nor do I even get much a sense that many people in Australia feel it would be a good thing if there was.

    This local site – Leftwrites – is one site that’s moving in that direction. I must remember to add it to my blogroll.

  10. I think in the long-term the Internet will become the de facto news/information medium for people everywhere, but until that happens, the big media organisations will still have a lot of power.

    It will probably take a degree of generational change to do it. Today’s middle-aged folk will presumably be savvy enough to use the Internet for a lot of everyday things when they are older. Today’s older generation however, for the most part, probably don’t have a very high take-up/usage of Internet in their everyday lives.

  11. I think John Tracey is right. The panic aobut being brainwashed by a concentration of ownership and a sanitisation of views is largely drvien by those worried about their own viwes and commercail viability.

    Its all about making money and minimising competitors.

    Even the most apohryical (if thats the right word) stories that can be drdged up apbut Kerry Packer were realted to ordering off a few late night shows that were distastefukl to him.

    Big developers, the Club and Pub indsutry dont bankroll the ALP in NSW now, or the Coalition at some time in the future, becasue of politics or policy, it’s becasue of the favorus they can recevie.

  12. muzz,

    there are shareware programs such as wordpress that provide competition for the empires such as google and myspace. (who does own them?)

    It is the structural capacity for competition, not media ownership, that restricts broadcasters.

    The accessibility of websites, whoever owns the system, provides the challenge to centralisation, both on the web and as an alternative to mainstream media.

    As mentioned earlier, I believe it is the restrictions on community licences and the number of commercial media licences allowed that protects broadcast monopoly. We allready have a corrupt monopolisation created by norms of journalism (shallow sensational backdrops to advertising)

    Such license restrictions are not relevant to the internet so the lid has been opened. It is just a question of time as more and more people join the internet and aquire the new habits in getting news and info. This will unfold as more and more people become broadcasters through such things as blogs. Soon we will get super blogs run by gras roots punters because they are more interesting than the rest. But they will hold this position because they are creativeo or satisfying a need, not because they are the only one with a license. Other super blogs can also arise to compete with them.

    Once the internet is regulated as in China and Vietnam then this theory collapses. But at present in Oz grass roots punters and media moguls alike can broadcast on an even playing field.

  13. My point was that many poopular sites are bought out by big businesses, and thus you get a (somewhat) increased concentration of media ownership again. It’s normal commercial practice, for big businesses to buy things that are popular and likely to make money for them.

    The vicious or virtuous circle of popularity means that the more people know about them, the more likely it is that this is where people will go to find out things.

    That said, the internet does provide an immense scope for other voices to be heard. The main problem is finding them and trying to determine how reliable they are.

  14. No because they too publish on the internet and have the money/power to get it working for them too. I confess, much as I dislike the main papers and the opinion in their reporting (I don’t buy the printed versions), I do go to their internet sites regularly as I ‘trust’ them to always update and not miss any of the main stories…..

  15. At present things are changing. Even on the internet our main news sources are the biggies, bit the blogosphere is fast replacing current affairs show as a source of analysis and debate.

    As time goes by and independent news agencies develop their readerships they will provide real market demand for better news, including going to the source which more and more, has its own website just a click away from the news report.

    I have no illusions about the wealthier players being able to dominate, for a while at least, with advertising and promotion budgets, as well as cross marketing with other media. But this is life, changes to media ownership or not. The internet offers a slow evolution away from this phenomenon and the increased blandness and commercialisation of maistream outlets will be a market factor that drives people to new independent media.

    Small players can also easily devise a not-so-bland commercial enterprise to compete without restriction, which through market pressure will force the biggies to lift their game a bit..

    sorry for repeating, but it is the restriction of available licences that restricts diversity of t.v and radio, not ownership. It is the absense of broadcasting licences and the absence of printing overheads that makes the internet something alltogether different.

  16. John Tracey:

    “there are shareware programs such as wordpress that provide competition for the empires such as google and myspace. (who does own them?)”

    Sorry, just had to comment on this.. ;) WordPress is Free Software[1] – as in, you’re free to download it, but you’re also free to modify, customise and redistribute the code as you want. This is in contrast with ‘shareware’ where you typically get to download software for free (as in, $0 in price), but have restrictions on usage, e.g. fewer features, limited-time trials, nag screens and so on.

    The downside to setting up your own blog (e.g. with WordPress), though, is that you need to be technically savvy enough to know what you’re doing – finding an appropriate web host, installing and configuring the software, keeping up with updates and looking out for security problems and spam..

    The Internet is great for getting your message out there, but people should be a bit more educated about how it works, so they can choose to participate more fully. That is, without being at the mercy of sites like livejournal, myspace or other social networking sites that aggregate marketing data in return for a few limited services. Maybe one ideal solution is to have a simple desktop application that people use to publish their blogs, with high-bandwidth IPv6 connections, so that the person’s computer is his/her own web server and podium for shouting at the world.. One can dream. :P

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software

  17. It seems to me that those in the community who access their news through the internet are those with the time, resources and interest to do so.

    Others who are too busy coping with hectic work/life schedules; who don’t own a computer, let alone have access to the internet; and those for whom daily existence is a priority over what the news might be for others, are not likely to be persuaded with any view on the internet.

    Instead they will absorb what they hear on news updates when the kids are watching TV, or on the radio on the way to work or shopping, or what their friends and relatives say around the barbque or in the kitchen, regardless of relevance of alternate perspectives.

  18. An example might be the prevailing sympathy for the plight of the former Queensland attorney general within her electorate, without knowledge or understanding of the many questions on a variety of issues that remain unanswered due to her resignation.

    Some of these issues seemed only to be reported in interstate tabloids or on the internet, and certainly not in the solely? ?Murdoch-owned free local rags in her electorate.

    I don’t believe the power of the media moguls in this respect is likely to change any time soon and especially given the first comment from “Oz” on this blog, the situation seems to have the capacity to deteriorate.

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