Many people in the Labour movement, including myself, cried foul over the intervention of News Corporation in state and federal elections this year. As other multibillionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, give away their money in search of a malaria cure, there’s a strong perception that Rupert Murdoch uses his excessive earnings and multinational media empire to shape election results in Australia, the UK and the US.
It’s not enough for local and global progressives to throw their hands up in the air in dismay. Pooling funds to buy several Lotto tickets is fine — but is there anything else the broad left can do to combat the powerhouse of big media influence?
Helping to keep New Matilda afloat would be a start.
When New Matilda took itself off the air in financial crisis earlier this year, it said much about how little Australian progressives understand the importance of mastering the new media. It also revealed a lack of co-ordination across the progressive movement in Australia. Instead of rallying support around the website, with new sponsorship, advertisements and member-subscriber benefit alliances with progressive organisations, New Matilda just slipped off our email lists.
The rare, precious thing about New Matilda and other independent outlets is that by giving voice to narratives excluded from mainstream media, they have the power to reveal common goals between disparate progressive ideas.
But the significance of New Matilda as a point of coalescence between the broad left seems to be lost on progressive leaders in Australia. This is short-sighted but not surprising.
In the lead up to the 2007 federal election, four peak progressive organisations – the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Council of Social Services and National Council of Churches Australia -met to establish a National Civil Society Dialogue. Passionately driven by former ACTU President, Sharan Burrow, the dialogue failed to deliver much in the way of co-ordinated activities or goals of these organisations. Like so many progressive initiatives, after the election of the Rudd Labor Government, the National Civil Society Dialogue closed up shop.
New Matilda has been championing a national civil society dialogue since 2004. And it has done so with little support from institutions such as the ACTU, ACF, ACOSS and NCCA.
It was New Matilda who called for A Human Rights Act for Australia five years before Father Frank Brennan’s review. It was New Matilda shedding light on dark places of the refugee debate, critiquing the rise of the religious right and predicting the rise of the Greens as a political force. It was New Matilda giving voice to countless articles on women’s rights — everything from abortion to women’s tax policy, and New Matilda who provided a space to talk about peace, not war.
I believed in a National Civil Society Dialogue. While managing PolMin, I made submissions calling on all member organisations to "make a financial commitment to the joint, long term funding of a new or existing source of media, whether print, online or television; for civil society organisations to consider redistributing a portion of internal publication budgets, usually used for newsletters, to an agreed, external media outlet to ensure its long term viability."
I make that call again here.
It is time for progressive leaders in Australia to stop whinging about conservative papers distorting their causes and failing to print articles — and to put their money where their mouths are. I am calling on the member organisations of the ACTU, ACF, ACOSS and NCCA to take out sponsorship and advertisements in New Matilda, to make a donation, become a supporter or take out supporter packages for members. Instead of pumping your communications budget into under-read newsletters and annual reports give half of it to New Matilda. It will be money well spent.
For what hope do labour and green movements, the NGO sector and progressive people of faith have to win the struggle against climate change, global poverty and excessive capitalism if we cannot invest in new media — the only media — giving voice to our values and dreams for the future.
**This article was unsolicited and while we welcome Tanja’s support, her summary of our editorial agenda is her own. Here at NM we intend to remain fiercely independent regardless of our funding sources, and welcome organisational supporters from across the political spectrum. That’s the good thing about independent media — it’s independent. To become a New Matilda supporter, visit our FundBreak page here. Eds.
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