The media’s critical role in strengthening democracy has become far more robust, thanks to the proliferation of news and analysis websites that offer comment, in-depth analysis and points of view in scarce supply in the mainstream media — most of which are run by the same interests.
The homogenisation of the mainstream media poses a challenge regulation has been unable to solve — it’s not just a matter of preventing the same individual controlling too much of the media. Just as detrimental is control of too much of the media by the same interests.
The ABC has come under sustained pressure to ensure they deliver balance and be less dogged in holding power to account. While it has always been criticised by governments of both persuasions, the Howard era finally saw in the changes in style at the public broadcaster that would bring joy to the heart of many a politician. It lightened up, it became more entertaining and flippant, less incisive.
We can only appreciate the impact of this evolution when we consider that none of the commercial media are restricted by a requirement to provide balance in the way they deal with issues.
The result is a skewed view of the world, what is important and what we might aspire to.
One way of marginalising an issue is to ignore it. Another is to ridicule it. It often takes courage to take an alternative point of view. It also takes a forum to express it.
This is a period when the culture at Fairfax is also precariously perched. Like all old media, it is struggling with a business model that will see it survive in the rapidly morphing digital age. The future of sizeable institutions, their shareholders and the jobs they provide are at stake. Television stations and newspapers are not in a position to snub Gina’s, Lachlan’s or James’ money and influence.
Institutions that have a strong culture of editorial independence can be undermined without editorial interference. The values, the entire culture of an organisation can be changed with a change at the top and the trickle down changes in staff that often ensue. Boards appoint the Managing Director. They don’t need to intervene editorially.
But the internet has proven to be the greatest tool of democratisation in history. Independent online media have provided vital diversity by both broadening the agenda of matters of public importance and offering a forum for alternative points of view.
Rapid uptake of new technology has also provided a strong capacity for citizen activism, enabling people around the world to rally around values. Their concerns and aspirations are often articulated best by independent media.
But independent media can only survive if they are backed by their stakeholders. If not, they will fold.
New Matilda has undoubtedly enriched public discourse. It has once before disappeared and made a comeback because of the passion and dedication of a few individuals. It is again at risk.
Time to think seriously about subscribing.
This is the first of a series of contributions from high-profile Australians on why they support New Matilda.
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