August 09, 2013

Horse 1525 - The Power That News Corp Wields But Denies
UPDATE. A News Corp statement:
Recent political commentary has perpetuated a long-standing myth that News Corp Australia owns 70% of Australian newspapers.
News Corp Australia owns or co-owns 33% of all ABC and CAB audited newspapers in Australia.
News Corp Australia newspapers are popular - over half the adult population of Australia chooses to read a News Corp Australia newspaper each week. This means that News Corp Australia has a 59% share of newspaper circulation.
All of this ignores television, radio and the myriad of online news sources which offer more diversity in opinion than at any time in history.
-via Tim Blair, Daily Telegraph, 6th Aug 2013

Tim Blair was rather quick to point out that Mr Rudd's assertion that News Corp owns 70% of the newspapers in Australia was materially wrong. Whilst this is technically true (they actually only own 146 of 443), the total market share of News Corp in terms of revenues collected is about 59% and the amount of influence that their papers wield is considerable.
Of the 35 daily newspapers in major metropolitan centres News Corp and Fairfax own all of them with the sole exception of the West Australian. In some centres like Adelaide or Brisbane, there are no daily Fairfax populist newspapers; I make this distinction because the Financial Review is sold in all states and territories but only carries a tiny fraction of daily readership.

A few days ago, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney ran with this as its front page:
Now I should point this out from the outset. It is NOT illegal for a newspaper to be partisan, it is NOT illegal for a newspaper to push its own political agenda and it is NOT illegal for a newspaper to run editorials and stories which are very biased and one sided.
The question I ask is, is it good for democracy?

I bet that if you were to take a complete survey of the Australian public, the actual level of political engagement would be far lower than those in the news suspect. How many people for instance know who the current Minister for Trade is? Who is the Shadow Treasurer? What of the Leader Of Government Business in the Senate? Moreover, how does a Bill become Law?
I think that there is a very large tendency for political pundits and those of us who follow the game, to overplay what most people actually know and more importantly what they actually care about.
It is true that if you look at the raw figures for the Twitter hashtag #qanda on a Monday night, it does usually top the list of trending items but in terms of tweets per minute, both #BBAU and #XFactorAU outnumber it twenty-fold. What this indicates is that although there are highly engaged people in politics in Australia, there are far more people who are not. I'm also willing to bet that the average age of people who tweet with the hashtag #qanda or even #AusPol is probably on the wrong side of 30 whereas for #BBAU and #XFactorAU its more likely to be closer to 25.
Okay, so maybe social media is a terrible sample because of the inherent age bias, its then worth considering that other bastion of social commentary, the world that is talkback radio.

All of this ignores television, radio and the myriad of online news sources which offer more diversity in opinion than at any time in history.

More diversity in opinion? Really? 
Here we find something very odd. If we were to look at radio stations around the country like 4BC, 5AA, 3AW and 2UE, we find a very vociferous group of people who very obviously vote to the right and these radio stations are more than happy to play to their audience.
The day that the Daily Telegraph ran this cover, it basically got free publicity in Sydney on 2GB, 2UE and to a lesser extent on 702 ABC Sydney. Its mission which was to change the political dialogue, worked absolutely perfectly; even amongst people who hadn't even seen let alone read the newspaper.

News Corp Australia mastheads account for 59% of the sales of all daily newspapers and with sales of 17.3 million papers a week), it is easily Australia’s most influential newspaper publisher by a considerable margin. That makes it very difficult to downplay the power to change political dialogue because that's far harder to quantify.
News Corp is possibly only second in scope to the ABC in sheer size of political coverage. The separation of the business into publishing and media companies didn't really do much either to diminished the size of that shadow.
News Corp even has a presence on on television, producing such shows as Channel 10's "Meet The Press" and also "The Bolt Report" which dovetails nicely with Mr Bolt's editorial pieces in News Corp newspapers like the Daily Telegraph, Herald-Sun, Courier-Mail etc.
Then there's always programs on Foxtel like "Australian Agenda" which subscribers in an indirect way, have already paid for. They too dovetail nicely with opinion already printed in newspapers.

Indeed Tim Blair was quite quite correct to state that Mr Rudd's assertion that News Corp owns 70% of the newspapers was wrong. I ask Me Blair though as to what sort of power to change the colour of the overall political dialogue that a newspaper like the Shepparton Adviser has, or that the The North West Star has. How about the Illawarra Mercury which services an area just 70km from Sydney? How about the Newcastle Herald?
Maybe these are just the whimpers of a dog which is slowly being put to sleep. Even ten years ago, I saw newspapers as commonplace on the train but now? Smartphones and Tablets are becoming ubiquitous and even physical dead-tree books are disappearing, as people read more lines of electronic ink - maybe that's what News Corp fears: people reading news from the BBC and ABC.
In the UK News International openly backs political parties, sometimes declaring that "Labour's Lost It", "The Sun Backs Blair" and most famous of all:
I don't know if the Daily Telegraph, Courier-Mail of Herald-Sun will proudly crow that they helped the Coalition if they win but I wouldn't put it past the organisation. As it is, The Australian makes no bones about who it backs and alternatively, who it thinks should be "destroyed":
Greens leader Bob Brown has accused The Australian of trying to wreck the alliance between the Greens and Labor. We wear Senator Brown's criticism with pride. We believe he and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box.
- The Australian, Sep 9, 2010

Even so, its still odd to see News Corp complain about Rudd complaining about them when they attacked him in the first place and then claim ignorance of the power they wield.

As I was writing this, this appeared in my Twitter feed:

Obviously the people at the Slightly Twisted Refreshment Lounge in Brisbane were annoyed at what they saw was market control and bias at the Courier-Mail. I think that the fact that there is not a plurality of newspaper owners in Australia means that little backlashes like this are going to be more common.
I however, think that this is brilliant.

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