Need for more diversity in mainstream news

Our reliance upon the press for information is phenomenal. While the internet has ignited the potential for a global community to develop, whereby news can be disseminated via a range of alternative media platforms, your average Joe still depends on the mainstream media for his daily dose of news. Worse still, he is likely to merely consume the reportage of a single media organisation. But why does this scenario pose reason for such concern?

Through my journalism studies, I have learned to peruse the news with a critical eye and to seek information from a host of media with the intent to gain an insight into as many different angles to a single story as possible. This process is especially important in relation to news consumption of controversial topics and that of political debate where the journalistic notion of objectivity is not always applied as religiously as one would ideally hope.

Australia is one of the most oligopolistic media sectors in the world with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation owning about 70 per cent of our newspapers and general ownership across media platforms being heavily concentrated among the “big six” of the mass media: News Limited (Murdoch), Fairfax, Consolidated Media Holdings (Packer), CVC Asia Pacific, Seven Network Limited (Stokes) and WIN Corporation (Gordon). This magnifies the risk for potential abuse of power and elicits a reduction in diversity of news coverage.

There is much discussion among academics in regards to increased diversity of news content offering a feasible solution to countering concerns of power structures determining media agenda. While the internet provides for blogging and other means whereby members of the public can essentially produce their own ‘news’ in the form of citizen journalism and hence act as another platform for sourcing news, this concept is irrelevant when it comes down to the fact that the vast majority of the population are fixed in their routine ways of either reading the paper of a morning, listening to the news on the radio on the drive home from work, or tuning into their favourite six o’clock TV bulletin.

News is ultimately an informational commodity. Media moguls have the power to exploit their position in society by ensuring news coverage within their media outlets is aligned with their own personal and financial interests. This allows for commercialisation where biased opinions masquerade as news which in turn has the capability to influence public attitudes. One could arguably go as far as to propose that the political system has been corrupted by the corporate media as these organisations are under severe financial pressures for maintaining positive business relationships with bodies such as advertising and public relations firms in order to uphold profitability.

A widespread prevalent concern is the movement away from broadsheet to a more ‘compact’, or more commonly referred to as ‘tabloid’, format. This shift marks not only a downsizing of article length and publication size, but also holds the negative connotation that there may be a deterioration in the standard of news content.

Entertainment similarly blurs the definition of what constitutes as ‘news’. This especially applies to current affairs, human interest stories that are merely a ‘distraction’ rather than a means of informing the public. It is glossed with hyperbole and drama to meet predetermined needs of society.

What many people fail to recognise is that news is a construction. What signifies a ‘hot topic’ is often a creation with the intention to attract more readers. In reflection of the way the media chose to cover youth homelessness, there was much hype where the media took advantage of the pictorial nature of homelessness, using imagery to invoke sympathy from readers as to the innocence of youth and the negativity of rough sleeping. Charity agencies continued to feed the press with stories of youth homelessness until a point when the coverage of homelessness suddenly withdrew from media prominence around 1990 despite evidence to suggest the age of the homeless had fallen and that the number of homeless people in our streets had increased. This is a classic example of how ‘news’ is constructed to suit the desires of the powerful bodies of society, regardless of the reality.

Another pressing matter is that of journalists being subpoenaed for responsibly carrying out their ethical duty to protect anonymous sources. Last week five senior journalists were summonsed to appear before court for having refused to disclose sources. As recently suggested by the MEAA, I believe it is crucial that uniform shield laws need to be implemented in order to protect honest Australian journalists from criminal convictions and thus protect the information that is owed to society. It is completely illogical that the law should conflict with journalistic ethical standards.

Journalism should seek to empower the reader. While diversity across media platforms may prove defunct, regulation to ensure a certain level of diversity is met within each of the mainstream media organisations would perhaps be a concept that should be considered in greater depth. The democratic function of the media as the fourth estate is seriously threatened so long as the legal system allows for the wealthy and powerful to control media coverage and punish journalists for acting in the best interests of the people.

 

References:

  • Chadwick, P 1994, ‘Creating codes: journalism self-regulation’, Not Just Another Business, pp. 173.
  • Cunningham, S 2010, ‘Policy’, The Media and Communications in Australia, 3rd edn, pp. 41-44.
  • Curran, J 2002, ‘Capitalism and control of the press’, Media and Power, pp. 93.
  • Hirst, M 2011, ‘Why is Journalism in Crisis?’ News 2.0: Can Journalism Survive the Internet?, pp. 16-23.
  • Hutson, S & Liddiard, M 2000, ‘Exclusionary Environments: The Media Career of Youth Homelessness’,Environmental Risks and the Media, pp. 160-70.
  • Manne, R 2011, ‘Bad news: Murdoch’s Australian and the shaping of the nation’, Quarterly Essay 43, pp. 112-115.
  • McNair, B 2006, ‘Cultural Chaos and the Globalisation of Journalism’, Cultural Chaos: Journalism, News and Power in a Globalised World, pp. 3.
  • Monbiot, G 2011, ‘Britain’s press are fighting a class war, defending the elite they belong to’, The Guardian, accessed 8 April 2013, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/12/britain-press-fighting-class-war>.
  • Willingham, R 2013, ‘Five journalists facing charges make plea on source protection’, The Age,accessed 8 April 2013, <http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/five-journalists-facing-charges-make-plea-on-source-protection-20130402-2h4dr.html>.
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About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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