A multitude of ever-changing issues exist in today’s journalism, media and communications (JMC) environment. ‘Knowledge is power’ is a common proverb used to explain how equipping one’s self with an understanding can go a long way. The same can be said for journalists, the field I strive to go in. We must be equipped with knowledge, understanding and acknowledgement of issues to be able to ascend and succeed in our journalism careers. This essay will narrow down and explain three issues which I have learned about during my time in KJB102: Introduction to Journalism, Media and Communication. The first issue I encountered is the link between the move towards globalisation in the media, and the representation of minorities in mainstream commercial media. Second, is how media ownership reflects the diversity and the number of the voices available to the public. The final issue explored is the ethical conflict between a journalist’s duty to the fourth estate, and the commercial outlook of their employers.
GLOBALISATION AND ETHNIC REPRESENTATION IN MEDIA
Australia’s national demographic has changed since opening the doors to limited immigration, and the complete abolition of the White Australia Policy. Today, Australia has become a multicultural hotbed. It’s important that our media represents the diverse backgrounds of our population. Gail Phillips (2011, p. 21) says that in a study conducted on the ethnic diversity on Australia’s television news, it is “largely absent unless people from ethnic minorities are posing a social problem of some kind.” She point out that television news is ever as important because it plays a vital role in mediating social and cultural power (Phillips 2011, p. 23). Klocker (2014, p. 37-38) states television remains the leading choice of media consumption in this country, and thus has incredible power in shaping wider community attitudes. As an Australian of Filipino origin, it saddens me that the representation of our background, and minorities in general, is not as “mainstream” as it should be. While the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) is fulfilling its charter obligations to represent the multicultural diversity of Australia (Special Broadcasting Service, 2016), as Gail Phillips (2011) said, it’s clearly not enough. The Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (2015) makes no reference to promoting, or showcasing, the multicultural society of Australia. Of course, there is some multicultural representation in news media. People like Waleed Aly on The Project, Kumi Taguchi and Karina Carvalho at the ABC and Tracy Vo at Nine News are breaking the cultural barriers for multicultural representation in mainstream Australian news media. However, the media is still dominated by Australians of European background.
(Media and Transport Channel, 2016)
The ABC’s Media Watch (2016) recently did a profile of the ethnicity of the lead anchors of the primetime evening broadcasts right across Australia. Out of the forty news anchors across the Australian capital cities, only three are of non-Caucasian background (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2016). In addition, Gail Phillips (2011, p. 26) states that in a sample of 209 current affairs stories sampled, 139 stories had no representation of ethnic minorities, and that there was rarely any presenters of ethnic background telling the stories. In addition, SBS News anchor Lee Lin Chin’s and The Project anchor Waleed Aly’s nomination for the Gold Logie award also put in to the forefront underlying issues with some sections of the industry. A prominent example is when the Nine Network’s Today Show anchors, lead by Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson, made comments on why Lisa did not make the Gold Logie nominations. Stefanovic made an off-the-cuff remark, stating that Wilkinson was “too white” (Bradley, 2016). News Corporation’s The Daily Telegraph even went far to publishing comments from an ‘industry insider’ that Waleed Aly’s nomination was undeserved (Rawsthorne, 2016). When Waleed Aly won the Gold Logie Award, he was the first person of non-Caucasian background to win the award (Media Watch, 2016).
This trend of immigration and multicultural representation can be also linked to the general trend of the globalisation of media in general. Globalisation is “the expanding scale, growing magnitude, speeding up and deepening impact of transcontinental flows and patterns of social interaction (David Held and Anthony McGrew 2002, p. 1)”. In terms of media locally in Australia, SBS represents this definition of globalisation (Special Broadcasting Service, 2016). However, this ‘underlying stigmatisation’ of multicultural representation on mainstream commercial media, especially broadcast television, somehow persists (Bradley, 2016) (Rawsthorne, 2016). It has left me questioning as to whether a journalism career here in Australia would be sustainable. I have even considered looking at opportunities for work in New Zealand, as I perceive them to have a more accepting commercial media to multiculturalism. However, as part of the next generation of media professionals, we must strive to change the culture. We must stick to the very definition of globalisation that Held and McGrew (2002, p.1) states. We have to be the ones to force the change. This might mean keeping my future career here in Australia. Waleed Aly’s Gold Logie win has brought hope to this, however more needs to be done to break the mould and have Australian news broadcast personalities reflect the population.
MEDIA DIVERSITY, OWNERSHIP AND REGIONAL AUSTRALIA
A sign of a high-standard level of free press is when there are many voices available with differing opinions. Unfortunately in Australia, while our press is guaranteed under freedom of speech conventions handed down by the British, there is a high amount of concentration in mainstream media. Jason Sternberg (2016) states that Australian media is a “national resource” and the conglomerates who own are “expected to operate it in the interests of the nation”. The majority of newspapers in Australia are split between News Corporation, Fairfax and APN (Australian Communication and Media Authority, 2016). Commercial radio ownership is shared between Nova Entertainment, Southern Cross Austereo, Fairfax/Macquarie Media Limited, Grant Broadcasters and Super Radio Network. (Australian Communication and Media Authority, 2016). Television ownership is split between regional Australia and metropolitan Australia. In capital cities, the Seven Network, Nine Network and Network Ten own all commercial television stations across Australia. In regional Australia, the ownership situation is slightly more diverse. The majority of regional television stations are owned by WIN Television, Prime Media Group and Southern Cross Austereo (Australian Communication and Media Authority, 2016). The days where local radio and television stations in regional and metropolitan Australia were owned by people or businesses in the local community are no longer. This issue began with former Prime Minister Hawke’s plan to equalise television access between metropolitan Australians and regional Australians, known as aggregation (Flynn 2008, p. 2). Prior to this, regional Australians only had access to two television channels – the ABC and a local ‘solus’ commercial station (Flynn 2008, p. 2). Aggregation sought to bring the same three commercial stations that the capital cities have to regional Australians (Flynn 2008, p. 2). This is considered the beginning of the relaxing of media diversity laws in Australia.
Cross-media laws and media diversity go hand-in-hand. The laws are again being reviewed in Parliament at the moment. Previous reform opportunities from previous governments had always stalled due to lack of political support (Papandrea 2006, p. 302). The laws, as they currently stand, ban media organisations to own all three forms of media in the one market. For example, the Seven Media Holdings owns television station TVW7 and the West Australian newspaper in Perth (Australian Communication and Media Authority, 2016). Current media laws forbid Seven Media Holdings to own a radio station in Perth. However, if the reviews were to be successful, there would be nothing to stop Seven Media Holdings from owning radio stations. Papandrea (2006, p. 301) states that any changes to cross-media regulations would “lead to increased concentration of main media and reduced diversity”. He also states that the current cross-media laws protect consumers by promoting various voices and diverse opinions in our media landscape (Papandrea 2006, p. 302). However, the previous Communications Minister Senator Helen Coonan (2007, p. 301) justifies changes to cross-media ownership by saying governments should not “unduly inhibit technological advances or competitive growth opportunities”. She also states that Government regulations have not kept up with increasing media and technological convergence (Coonan 2007, p. 236). However, former Senator Coonan does not address any impact to media diversity due to ‘legislation not keeping up with trends’.
For people like myself, a highly concentrated media landscape is bad for us. Many well-known Australian journalists had their start in regional television or in regional newspapers. The regional media landscapes provide young journalists, like myself, to hone our skills. The dwindling down of media diversity, if the cross-media ownership laws were to pass Federal Parliament, would decrease the number of chances for new journalists to break in to the market. Many overlapping jobs in different markets would be reduced to a few people based in one or two cities (Eltham, 2016). As new journalists, we must be aware of what is happening in commercial media and strive to ‘fill the gaps’ to ensure media diversity is being promoted in this country, and to not let the voices of corporations dictate social and cultural norms (Eltham, 2016). We might have to be innovative and creative in creating new ‘voices’. This includes creating new commercial media entities that accurately reflect today’s demographic in Australia.
FOURTH ESTATE VS. THE NEED TO MAKE A PROFIT
The fourth estate is a key backbone to freedom of the press. It is defined as an obligation to “force governments and corporations at least to consider the public response to their actions (Hampton, 2009)”. The press is essentially the balance and check to the government of the day, and to large corporations. Television programmes such as the ABC’s Four Corners are widely considered the benchmark standard for quality television journalism that contributes to the fourth estate (Schultz, 1998). Newspaper exposes such as the Watergate Scandal by the Washington Post, and the Spotlight findings by the Boston Globe, also contribute to Hampton’s (2009) definition of the fourth estate. However, a constant issue plaguing ‘quality journalism’ is the need to make it profitable compared to their obligation to the fourth estate. Schultz (1998, p. 145) states how there is a challenge in the form of a media organisation’s commercial interest, versus the public interest. She also claims that many Australian journalists are trying to stake their claim to independent editorial control, free from commercial influence (Schultz 1998, p. 146). As a result, journalists have become the gatekeepers of obligation to the fourth estate and journalism in the public interest (Schultz 1998, p. 146).
Fairfax’s trouble in being profitable is an example of this ‘profit vs obligation’ ethical dilemma. Last month, Fairfax announced the cut 120 editorial jobs across its proprieties in Australia and New Zealand (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2016). Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood justified the job cuts as a way to sustain ‘high quality journalism’ (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2016). Director of Havas Media Lab, Umair Haque, argues that newspapers, much like Fairfax, are not playing a vital social role (Harvard Business Review, 2009). He argues that newspaper publishers must shift their thinking from trying to make money, to creating ‘positive outcomes’ (Harvard Business Review, 2009).
For student journalists like myself, we must be aware of this ethical dilemma. Most of us have this ideal picture of our journalism careers, like being a political reporter in Canberra, Washington or London, and asking the hard questions to the government and corporate leaders of the day. However, the realist view is that the stories that we will write, as journalists, will be down to the editorial policy of the media organisations we would work for, and the economic forces that are influencing the organisation that you’re employed at. Petley (2009, p. 602) uses an example of British newspapers, who are “not simply partisan”, but are skewed to the right side of politics. If we were to apply our “journalistic high horse” in that situation, our superiors would shoot it down easily. As new journalists, we must be aware of the economic and political drivers for our employers. However, we must stand up when differences in opinions lead to journalistic ethical issues. The MEAA Code of Ethics (2015) states that journalists must “not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence”.
The three issues in Journalism, Media and Communication I have identified are all linked in some way. Issues about profitability versus fourth estate obligations will be accentuated when the diversity of media decreases. As a result of a decrease of media diversity, the numbers of voices also decrease. This could potentially harm multicultural representation in mainstream commercial media due to issues with profitability. As new journalists, we have to be aware of these issues and work around them. With the issue on multicultural representation and globalisation, new journalists must advocate for change to increase participation by minority groups. In relation to media diversity and ownership, new journalists must be prepared to create new voices and share new opinions to replace ones that have disappeared. Finally, new journalists must not compromise their own journalistic ethical standpoint in order to succumb to commercial interests.
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