28 Jan 2012.
Hirst On Editorial Reach.
730reportland: We return to Melbourne as, retired judge Ray Finkelstein `hosts` the Australian Media Inquiry. Finkelstein is `assisted` by journalism academic Matthew Ricketson.
Ray continues with his `guest` Martin Hirst, who teaches journalism at Deakin University. Welcome back to the `show`.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Doesn`t that tell you that the marketplace is working in the way that it should and, if I take it from the converse standpoint, there are lots of players in the market producing their product, which is all you want from the marketplace for ideas analogy?
DR HIRST: I think possibly, but I would actually argue that it is not, as I said before, a level playing field.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Do you want to explain that?
DR HIRST: Yes. What I mean by that is that if you look at the still dominant mainstream media- and it is still dominant; daily newspapers, television, radio- that is where most people get their news and information from.
Of course, some of us trawl the internet into all hours of the night looking for alternative opinions and some of us actually write our own blogs and things like that to broaden that kind of debate. However, I think in terms of the main ways in which we get political information and the main ways in which the public sphere is created and informed, it still relies quite heavily on the main players in the marketplace, and they are heavily capitalised global companies in most cases that do, I think, have greater clout because of their economic size and wealth. Economic power does bring with it a certain amount of political and social power as well, in the battle of ideas. It actually creates a much bigger platform and louder megaphone than somebody on a blog that gets a couple of hundred views a day. It is a much more powerful tool of speech.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Size of reach–
DR HIRST: The size of reach and ability to marshal things together in a coherent kind of a way to present on a daily and ongoing basis; a repetition of particular types of ideas.
I think you see that in the mainstream media, and I don`t think the marketplace of ideas is actually an open and fair marketplace where everybody has the same right of access and the same ability to be heard.
DR RICKETSON: What might be an example of what you were just talking about before with the mainstream media and the fact they have an undue influence? What is an example of that, that you can think of?
DR HIRST: I think the kind of editorial pages of any newspaper provide that kind of platform. The Insiders program on the ABC, Four Corners, 7.30 Report, all those type of things generate a huge amount of interest- Q&A, all of that type of mainstream political information programming, news and current affairs type of programmes, I think carry a much greater social weight in terms of how we as a society form opinions and react to those things than the internet and blogs and those kind of things at the moment. There is definitely still a dominant mainstream media in that regard.
One example that is very current, which I am sure other people will talk to you about today, is the idea that the News Limited newspapers are running some kind of political agenda at the moment against the Gillard government. I actually think that is true.
DR HIRST: I have only been back in the country now for about four months after living in New Zealand for four and a half years and I was absolutely blown away by that, and by what I see appearing now in the newspapers, particularly in The Australian, which I have a subscription to and I look at every day. There is a consistent kind of approach to the way that The Australian is actually reporting federal politics at the moment. It seems to me that the people who are arguing that there is an anti-Labor bias in the editorial pages and in the newspages of that paper are absolutely right. You see it every day.
730reportland: Good on Hirst. A large chunk of the population have been complaining about Limited News lobbying in their so-called reporting. These claims have been robustly denied by the very.limited.news/propagandists– Hey, it turns out we have been right all along. Even the bloke who has just returned to the country has noticed the Limited News lobbying.
DR HIRST: There is actually an accumulative effect to that. Every story about federal politics is slanted in a way which is against Labor, even stuff that`s completely irrelevant. If they could find a way of actually attacking Julia Gillard or another Labor minister in that text, they will do so. I think that is actually happening, and Robert Manne is right about that in what he wrote in his Quarterly Essay. I think that is actually happening now.
730reportland: While Hirst is correct about `the Australian` and how it reports Federal Labor politics, the scope of Limited News slanted propaganda is inflicted across many more `topics`. Limited News lobbying is not restricted to `the Australian` chip wrapper either. The Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph, particularly via their blog-umnists, regularly regurgitate these selected `topics`, while Lobbying to their `old-ideas` format.
MR FINKELSTEIN: If you make the assumption that that`s right- just assuming that`s right- some of my readings, and you probably know more about the history of it than I do or probably ever will, suggest that the early serious newspapers were borne of and paid for by political parties; that is, they were papers that espoused a particular view and the buying public chose which paper to read having regard to which particular political viewpoint they were interested in receiving. If you are right and a newspaper favours one political party over another, one argument is that that is how newspapers were born.
A more difficult question, in any event: is that exactly what you see when you have got free speech? You have got an organisation or a journalist or half a dozen journalists who have a particular viewpoint on politics, not vilification, but the other side of the equation that we have left for the minute, on politics, and they push it for all it is worth. Isn`t that what democracy is all about?
730reportland: Finkelstein goes a little `Pony-Express` worrying about the history of newspapers. A better lead-in here would have been along the line of, the ABC Charter prescribes certain reporting elements, accuracy, fairness, etc, to guide those who work for the National Monster. And Finkelstein should have then asked, why these reporting elements should not be applied to the Global Monster, and across the board, when reporting, particularly political reporting. But you know how these chat show `hosts` are.
DR HIRST: I don`t have a problem with The Australian doing that, but I just think it is interesting. I am not saying that The Australian shouldn`t do that, or it doesn`t have a right to do that; I am just observing that I think that`s what is happening.
MR FINKELSTEIN: But it`s not just an observation. Don`t you mean that in a critical way?
DR HIRST: Yes, I`m critical of it, but I`m not arguing that it should be stopped; that we should actually stop The Australian from doing that.
MR FINKELSTEIN: If you are not arguing that it should be stopped, then why are you critical of it? In other words, I don`t understand your submission.
DR HIRST: I guess I am critical of it because there have been a number of denials from senior people within News Limited that that is actually what is happening. They would like us to think, in the way that Fox likes us to think, that they are “fair and balanced“. They are playing on that idea that, “We are just a newspaper, we are neutral in this, we are not campaigning“. So there is a little bit of dissembling going on there, I think.
730reportland: Honesty and truth are not only a problem when it comes to reporting. It seems to go way beyond Limited News output. This is a corporate culture problem, which could make you think you need to look at some of the individuals as well. Other things they like you to think are, they don`t troll the internet and abuse those they don`t agree with on WordPress and Twitter.
MR FINKELSTEIN: That is not a complaint about the content of the political articles?
DR HIRST: I`d politically disagree with the editorial line of The Australian, but I`m not suggesting for a minute that The Australian should be banned or anything like that. I`m just making the observation that that seems to me to be one of the advantages of having a $30 million printing press that you can use. It gives you a big advantage in terms of the battle of ideas, absolutely.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Is there anything that you can ever do about that? If it costs you $5 million to buy a printing press, but everybody in the country is free, providing they have got the $5 million, to go and buy a printing press, they can do exactly the same thing?
DR HIRST: Yes. Now let`s talk about new media and so on, because there is actually an opportunity, and this is what the submissions Ivo and I put together is about, to actually start to lower the barriers to entry into news or news-like content and broaden it out. Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at the City University of New York made the famous quip that that citizen journalism is when the people forming the audience get access to the tools to allow them to publish.
MR FINKELSTEIN: I`m halfway through his book. I`m struggling with it.
DR HIRST: He is very famous for that and other things. He has a point. Yes, the internet, social media and the fact that a mobile phone is now a camera and an edit suite, does give people some of that power back, I guess, if you like. I do not think it balances up the $30 million printing press, but it certainly creates some interesting spaces.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Doesn`t it, in your terms, speak of a tendency to non-market failure? In other words, with the social media and its increasing use, you have increasing diversity of opinion being expressed?
DR HIRST: Yes, you do, but you also have a tendency towards the marketisation of that space. For example, user-generated content becomes a very useful commodity in newsrooms because it is free. Newsrooms can actually commodify that- news organisations, media organisations can commodify that free content and it helps to shore up their bottom line. I think we are seeing that now in terms of the problems that the mainstream media is having with its business models- falling advertising revenues, falling subscriber bases and so on, and cost-cutting in newsrooms. User generated news-like content is free content, and it has become quite an important commodity in and of itself. In fact, the process of market failure extends the market into some spheres of social media.
I have written about this extensively in a book published earlier this year called “News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet“. I talk about this process in some detail in that book; how there is a tendency to believe that the internet is open slather, it is going to democratise everything, it is going to be an antidote the big media and all this kind of stuff. I think that is pie in the sky, quite frankly.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Why?
DR HIRST: Because the logics of the market in a capitalist economy require capital to expand into every corner of the marketplace. What I think news organisations have seen here is that there is an opportunity to marketise that free content and commodify it and, therefore, turn a profit on it out of the labour of the audience, if you like.
MR FINKELSTEIN: You mentioned two features that have come up in lots of material which I have read, one being the decline in circulation of the print media; and, second, the decline in advertising revenue that the print media are used to getting from its newspapers. Does the decline in circulation- something that is not insignificant- cut away from some of your views about the dominance of the capitalist press? In other words, they might have been dominant 25 years ago when they were running particularly profitable organisations and could print fact newspapers and employ lots of journalists, and so on, but if your argument is a significant decline in circulation and a significant decline in revenue, with no doubt corresponding cost-cutting measures being employed, like less printing presses or less circulation or less journalists, and so on, doesn`t that diminish the power that you see that the print media has?
DR HIRST: At the margins.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Why is that?
DR HIRST: Because we are talking about Everest versus a molehill here in terms of the dominant power that they have. Obviously, you add a few more grains of sand on the molehill, it gets closer to being the size of Everest, but proportionally it`s still a molehill. I think that`s still the case. Yes, circulations are falling, revenues are falling, costs are being cut, speed has taken over from accuracy, journalists are doing more with less, all of those things are true, but we are starting from a position where, for the last 80 years or more, the mainstream media has been dominant and has actually, if you like, I think, been helped in that dominance through government policy, particularly the US and I think we follow that to some degree. Those monopolies have been encouraged to form by various types of regulation.
730reportland: Molehill and Everest are a good way to describe the style of sexing up reports too. The example of the Baiada Chicken Factory seemed to be reported and regurgitated using this style at blogs.very.limited.news/propaganda by their troll-umnists. The `worker` draged into machinery to his death `focus` was `Molehilled`. The `Union/Worker_Picket_Line_Scuffle` and the “IF“_the_Company_closes then “it_will_cost-jobs“ focus was built toward Everest. The TV Networks followed. A similar style and `tone` was applied to the `Occupy` movement posts on blogs.very.limited.news/propaganda as well.
DR HIRST: Even the cross-media ownership laws in Australia going back now to 1986 haven`t really addressed problems of dominance and so on. In fact, I think in the current iterations they do actually allow for more concentration in particular markets. The 40:60 rule, or whatever it is called, I can`t quite remember, does actually codify the ability of particular news organisations to be dominant in those markets.
MR FINKELSTEIN: I haven`t got at the tip of my fingers- I had it last night- the circulation figures from particular newspapers, but I did see lots of submissions criticise Newscorp Australia, even some of the comments that you made, and it struck me that their readership wasn`t particularly large- some of the programmes that you were talking about where people go to look for information of a political kind, the TV shows that you mentioned, some of which I watch and some I don`t. It has always struck me that there is a very small number of members of the community that read these kinds of “influential“ newspapers you are talking about and watch the particular shows that you are talking about.
730reportland: Shock. Horror. Who would have guessed.
MR FINKELSTEIN: I wonder whether there is a sort of a mismatch between the perception of power on the one hand and the actual power that is exercised on the other. I don`t know how you measure it either, quite frankly. You probably could by serious surveys that take years to undertake.
DR HIRST: I think the issue there is that the circulation size and influence are not necessarily tightly correlated. There are other things to consider- for example, the power of agenda setting; the power of gatekeeping, those kind of things, and also the fact that even though the circulation for The Australian I think is actually in the low 20s or 30s, it is not more than about 30,000 or 35,000.
DR RICKETSON: In Victoria?
730reportland: The `direct` or `primary` reach of all Limited News chip wrappers totals `less` than 2 million circulation, made up of `dead tree` and `intermess` numbers. The Aussie Population is 22 million. Simple mathematics means 10 of 11 people do `not` read newspapers by Limited News. So far, their direct reach is 1 of 11 people.
DR HIRST: In Victoria, yes.
DR RICKETSON: Nationally it`s 135,000.
DR HIRST: It is about, I guess, the quality of the audience and the influence and reach that it has amongst opinion makers and opinion leaders. I think you could argue that the broadsheet papers actually do have that kind of influence in those kind of situations.
MR FINKELSTEIN: Do you mean by that influence over politicians?
DR HIRST: Influence over the shape and direction of the public debate, more generally- not just over politicians, but more generally in terms of setting the tone of the debate and setting the parameters of the debate.
730reportland: Politicians are way down the primary reach list. They have an army of media wranglers and spin doctors at their disposal. The worst `primary` reach problem is `other` media. Radio and Television regurgitate, often what is just bullcrap. Just because it is in the paper. No matter how unworthy or, fact free.
MR FINKELSTEIN: If you are confining the focus of attention to the sophisticated reader- that is, the trend setters, the debate setters and so on- aren`t you speaking of people who are well able to judge whether they are being spun a line or not, or whether this is political propaganda or not, or whether they are factually baseless allegations or not, and so on?
You said you read The Australian every day. You are in a position to discern, I take it, good journalism from bad, or good reporting from bad reporting. If its audience is as small as all that, as the figures would suggest, I guess circulation can be bumped up by a whole range of ways, and it ignores the fact that you sit around the kitchen table with one subscription, four readers, and so on.
If you are talking about the people of influence who set the debate in the society, then why can`t they look after themselves? Why do they need help? By “help“, I mean some sort of restraint on press freedom?
DR HIRST: They do look after themselves. I am not suggesting that we should restrain press freedom. I`m not making that suggestion.
730reportland: Finkelstein and Hirst have skipped or not aware of the `secondary` reach. The secondary reach and influence is the aspect that is agitating citizens much more than the primary reach. With the primary reach citizens simply do not go to website or buy newspaper of the offending brand. Problem solved.
With `secondary` reach it is a lot harder for citizens to avoid the offending brand. So let`s look at the global monster and some of its tenticles. Much like Foxnews audio and video propaganda become text based propaganda this side of the Pacific, we need to follow the data donkeys, as well as the donkey data.
Though recently removed from his position in Aboriginal Affairs, the Andrew Bolt tenticle is still a very good example of `secondary` reach. When we compare the Andrew Bolt, Limited News blog against the television show BoltReportLand on Network Ten, hosted by Andrew Bolt, the donkey data is the same. Only the platform is different. Andrew Bolt is also on Mac-Radio.
We can follow other tenticles from Limited News too. Joe Hildebrand goes on Network Seven`s Sunrise. The John W Howard government put Janet Albrechtsen on my ABC Board. Piers Akerman, Miranda Devine, Albrechtsen, Hildebrand and Bolt, just to name a few off the top of my head, have all been on the ABC Qanda and/or Insiders shows, to deliver to my ABC viewers, the donkey data. This is a one way street. Limited News readers are not exposed to ABC opinion via the Limited News platform.
If that is not editorial reach and influence, what is?
If any other industry colludes together on elements of business like supplying or pricing then they are seen as a Cartel engaged in `fixing`. The `secondary` reach is not being recognised by the embedded media, and is being passed off as, just a lack of `diversity of opinion`. Until the embedded media acknowledge the secondary reach problem goes much deeper, then we will all be stuck with, what looks like a Cartel, engaged in news fixing.
To be clear, `primary` reach is when the consumer chooses `directly` to consume the particular media brand. That is, at the shop buys the specific newspaper. With TV and radio, they select the specific channel.
The `secondary` reach is when the consumer receives brand-X via another, so-called media competitor, even though the consumer would never select brand-X.
The above is a word for word extract from Page 18 to Page 25 of this transcript, with my comments added in color. We will return after these `words` from our sponsor.