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Do we really need public funded journalism?

By Chris Lewis - posted Thursday, 19 October 2017


Public funding for journalism is not necessary in Australia, despite the Australian government's current negotiations with the Senate for a $60 million innovation fund over three years to provide cadetships for Australian owned media organisations (particularly regional) that have been disrupted.

I argue this despite Facebook and Google being accused of cannibalising the content of Australian journalism; concern that News Ltd and Fairfax Media control around 86 per cent of newspaper circulation; and some looking to the European democracies which provide public assistance to aid media start-ups through subsidies and tax incentives/concessions.

For example, Sweden provides annual payments up to a third of total revenue based on a criteria that includes having less than 30 per cent market share and at least 51 per cent original editorial content.

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First, the term 'quality news' remains overstated given that politics/policy has always been a divisive topic in a world where various players (individuals, nations and corporations) will always disagree over the best ideas for economic and social policy success.

As acknowledged by Johanna Vehkoo in a 2010 Reuters Institute's Study of Journalism paper,

Trying to define what quality journalism means is a bit like unwittingly taking part in the age-old debate about what is art and what is not. At first look, quality seems to be a very subjective thing, depending on one's own interests, knowledge and preferences, even politics … There are no universal quality criteria carved in stone. Judgments of quality are often culture-specific, or related to one's socio-economic background, level of education and so on.

It is not that most major key issues are not being reported in Australia. One can observe considerable media attention being given to energy sources and costs, housing affordability, immigration levels, education standards, levels of private and public debt, and social welfare needs and spending.

However, in an increasingly competitive economic environment, one which is fuelled by rising public and private debt levels which does have obvious policy limitations in the longer term, most Western governments (including Australia) are struggling to balance various economic and social policy considerations.

With various journalists and media outlets bickering over the appropriate extent of government intervention with regard to key economic and social policy issues, a battle crucial to any effective liberal democracy, just who is wrong or right on each policy issue is a matter for public debate and subsequent political decisions.

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However, despite over 2500 Australian journalism jobs being lost during the past six years, Australians still have an abundance of written information to draw upon.

As The Economist predicted in 2006 on the basis that news reporting had already survived "the huge television-led decline" in newspaper circulation since the 1950s, a few newspaper titles will survive and continue to invest in investigative stories that benefit society "as long as their owners do a competent job of adjusting to changing circumstances"; even if the quality publications have to "put up the price of their journalism to compensate for advertising revenues lost to the internet".

And despite 2017 concern that new players (such as the Global Mail) did not survive, Australia now has its own versions of The Guardian and Huffington Post. In addition, The New Daily started in 2013 as a free online news source with funding provided by Australian Super, Cbus and Industry Super Holdings.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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