Media bias is something of a hot topic in Australia. It is something that can usually produce debate between almost anyone. Whether the big media outlets and which of them display a ‘left’ or ‘right’ bias is contentious. Nobody wants to think that their information sources could be slanted. And nobody wants to think that their view could be controlled.
I don’t intend to fully evaluate all or any of the news media outlets in Australia. I do intend to provide you with some information to help you in your own interpretations of the media. And one case of analysis.
If you feel that some of or all of the media outlets that you hear/see on the radio, news or TV and even many popular internet domains don’t provide you with a full picture of events. Or even that they might go as far as to mislead or deceive you deliberately; you are likely right, at least to some degree.
Journalistic outlets are represented to be crusading organisations that are seeking to expose the truth in service of the general population of an area. We are told that this is true from primary school. This representation is a superficial one and can be dismantled under a little scrutiny.
Extensive scrutiny has been given to this issue and laid out in the theory of Manufacturing Consent, which is a thorough examination of print media in the USA to do with Cold War issues such as the Vietnam War and American foreign policy in Cambodia and Laos. The book also examines media attention to certain aspects of Polish political violence during the fall of communism in contrast to media attention given to political violence during the propping up of capitalism in Central and South America. The book is authored by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.
If you’re not much of a reader or if you feel like the book is too dense (and it is pretty dense) there is also a documentary available to be seen on Youtube. There are also summaries of the material in video and print all over the internet. This is one of my favourites.
The gist of the theory, for those of you who didn’t read the book or watch the documentary, is that the mainstream media outlets in relation to most significant international and domestic policies are largely subservient to state and corporate power. The debate that occurs in the mainstream media is kept within narrow boundaries due to the way that media outlets need to serve their major corporate donors (advertisers) and their sources of news and information (largely government).
In writing this I also rely upon Australian data which, as always, will be linked in the body of the text, in addition to my own observations about the Australian media.
My Most Recent Encounter With Australian Media
I am currently operating in Bristol, UK. And because of this I’ve not been able to have the same exposure to Australian media that I normally would.
That being said, on Wednesday the 19th of December I decided to tune in to SBS news to examine what was being said. It didn’t take me long to get frustrated by the limits of each viewpoint provided to each issue. But the following recording: Private health insurance premiums set to rise is what I would like to discuss. In this recording you will find a praising of the fact that private health insurance premiums rose for a record low of 3.25% and concise discussion of the plans of the Liberal Party to try to limit the rise of those premiums. The closest thing to a criticism of the consistent rise in health insurance premiums (despite insurers reporting increased profits) comes from Leanne Wells, the CEO of the Consumer Health Forum, who basically says she wants to see premium prices brought under control.
SBS is a hybrid funded organization. Partially by the private sector and partially by the government. SBS is in competition with ABC, amongst other organisations, for government broadcasting funding.
If SBS were an organization that is attempting to inform the Australian people, what would we expect to see? It almost goes without saying that we would see a wide range of information. This would include things on how we could possibly reduce further increases to the premium, possible equitable sources of funding for reducing premiums, how we could eliminate federal funding for private insurance and redirect that funding to the public sector and save billions. We might even expect a brief history on the introduction on John Howard’s 2000 policy of a 2% penalty on private insurance rates for each year that a person does not get health insurance over the age of 30. To push the envelope even further, one could even expect to see a critique on how Australians are being forced to subsidise an industry out pocket and their tax dollars that is turning record profits and offering less in terms of coverage.
What did we get? An explanation of why premiums might be rising (blamed on aging population) and an outline of the Liberal Party plan to allow for insurance companies to introduce a tiered coverage system. A move that will inevitably result in more junk policies, which have already risen under the Liberal government from 7% to 39% of plans.
SBS derives its funding partially from the Liberal Party, which in turn takes large amounts of money from the insurance industry and big banks. It would therefore make sense for the information that SBS to relay to the people to be in service of the Liberal Party and their aims, so that they can secure further increases in federal funding, like has occurred in the 2018 budget.
This is just one case from one outlet, but I would be happy to discuss others if requested.
The Problem of Media Saturation
Media saturation is a problem you may have heard about. It basically refers to holding a monopoly over types of media. In simple terms, it refers to a lack of diversity in the voices that can be heard in the media. The fewer voices that you hear, the less information from fewer sources that you are provided with. With higher saturation rates, you are (generally speaking) more easy to be kept in the dark.
In Australia, it is impossible for a business to hold a controlling interest in more than two of three media mediums (TV, radio and print), or to reach more than 75% of Australians with a commercial TV broadcast.
Before Parliament is a bill that would amend broadcasting rules in Australia that would effectively remove these regulations, allowing for further saturation of Australian media.
Australia’s media is already very saturated. Most of Australia’s print media is owned by News Corp and Fairfax Media. News Corp and associated Murdoch entities in 2016 owned about 57% of our print media. Our print media is amongst the most saturated in the developed world.
The story is not much different in the case of TV and radio holdings, where 70% of revenue in Free-to-air was generated by Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment, Ten Network Holdings and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Sideline players are noted to be WIN network, SBS and Prime Media.
To keep it short, the limited number of companies with direct holding interests over our media networks allows for only a limited number of voices to be expressed. But in addition to this, the complicated matrix of shareholding interests and advertising interests held between the large corporations and media outlets serve to further narrow the discussion presented in our media to only that which serves the corporate sector.
Even when the people would be served better by increased public funding in important areas such as renewable energy, science, education, healthcare, defense and public safety.
The media in Australia is something that should be approached with caution. It is often a good starting point for information or to find out the general idea of a story, though it should rarely be the finishing point. To find more information on a story, without needing to rely on me or any other media outlet you should always go to the source. Go to those places that seem like they have the least incentive. Non-governmental organisations & charities. Government watchdogs and local reports. Even using google translations of local news outlets for foreign interventions. All of these sources will help to produce a more complete idea of any particular issue, but the important thing is to take a wide readership. Make an effort to read both ‘right’ and ‘left’ sources. Read against your grain. Understand where a perceived ignorance might come from and learn how to illuminate those people.
If you would like to know more about how elections are bought by the corporate sector I recommend reading Golden Rule by Thomas Ferguson. This book also refers to the USA but I feel that important parallels can be drawn.
If you would like to know more about who is influencing the votes of the major national parties (it can be difficult due to dark money as a result of lax donation laws) I recommend inspecting the financial declarations of the parties. The Greens are the most major Federal party that discloses the information of all donors.