In Australia, there are three different types of media organisations: government, commercial and community.
Government media organisations are those owned by the government. In many countries, government ownership equates to government control of the media.
In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Corporation (SBS) are both owned by the federal government. The ABC’s editorial independence is enshrined in legislation. The act specifies that the ABC must maintain an “independent national broadcasting service”. The ABC is also prohibited from broadcasting advertisements to ensure that it maintains independent of commercial interests. According to the Special Broadcasting Services Act of 1991, the responsibilities of the SBS board include maintaining the “independence and integrity” of the organisation. The fact that the independence of these organisations is protected by legislation means that, although they are owned by the government, the government does not have the power to control content or editorial policy. The services offered by ABC and SBS aren’t limited to television. The ABC has forty eight local radio stations in addition to nationwide broadcasters like Radio National and Triple J. SBS has two radio stations in addition to its television presence.
The ABC Charter is outlined in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act of 1983. The ABC must provide an “innovative and comprehensive” broadcasting service of a “high standerd” within Australia. They are mandated to broadcast programs that contribute to “a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflect the cultural diversity of, the Australian community.” They are also required to broadcast programs of an “educational nature.” As part of the charter, the ABC is also required to transmit material to other countries to encourage an awareness of Australia and allow Australian citizens who are overseas to obtain information about Australian affairs. The ABC is also required to “promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia.”
Because the Australian government recognises the importance of the mass media to politics and society, the Australian Communication and Media Authority allocates television and radio frequencies to community broadcasters. Community media organisations are usually funded by the government, membership and advertising. Content is usually created by unpaid volunteers. Channel 31 is a community television station that broadcasts in a number of Australian cities, including Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth. According to Channel 31 Melbourne’s constitution, the organisation aims to: “Encourage community based participation and training in the production and transmission of television programs and for the encouragement of art, sport, music, and culture sourced from and directed to community groups within the wider Australian context through community television programming”
Commercial media organisations are privately owned companies that compete to make profits through advertising and program sales. Here is a list of the main media owners in Australia:
• The Murdochs. International media mogul Rupert Murdoch owns a number of Australia’s major capital city newspapers, including The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The Courier-Mail. His son, Lachlan Murdoch, is a majority shareholder in Nova, Network Ten, 93.7FM and FiveAA.
• Fairfax. Fairfax owns a number of capital city daily newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, as well as a number of smaller regional newspapers and radio stations including 2UE.
• Kerry Stokes. A major shareholder of Seven, The West Australian and WAFM.
• James Packer. Although the Packer family traditionally owned Channel 9 and Australian Consolidated Press, they sold up much of their media interests. James Packer now owns a substantial share in Network Ten.
• The Gordons. Bruce and Andrew Gordon own a number of regional television stations throughout Australia, including WIN, Ten Mildura, Tasmanian Digital Television and West Digital Television.
1. Think of as many Australian media organisations as you can and list them under the following headings: Commercial, Government, Community, Other.
Why is media ownership important?
With the ability to sway public opinion, the media is widely seen as an important and influential industry.
Here a number of reasons why media diversity is important:
• Decision making. We make important decisions about issues based on information obtained from the mass media. We need a diversity of views and opinions so we are informed and make the right decisions.
• Democratic process. In democratic societies like Australia, we use the news media to make decisions about who will represent us in parliament and pass laws on our behalf. A diverse and objective news media is crucial to help us make the right decision. According to the Centre for Democracy and Governance, the media is essential to a healthy democracy for two key reasons: “First, it ensures that citizens make responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of ignorance or misinformation. Second, information serves a “checking function”by ensuring that elected representatives uphold their oaths of office and carry out the wishes of those who elected them. In some societies, an antagonistic relationship between media and government represents a vital and healthy element of fully functioning democracies.”
• Political influence. Having a diverse media means that it is less likely that media moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, will be able to have too much influence over the electoral process.
• Political accountability. The news media also helps to keep our politicians accountable, scrutinising their decisions and policies. A diverse and tenacious news media helps to keep our leaders honest and ensures that they act in the public interest.
• Corporate accountability. Large multinational corporations play an important role in our lives. Unfortunately, they don’t always act in the public interest, doing what is best for their shareholders and the profitability of the company. The news media helps to monitor the behaviour of big business and ensure that they act in an ethical and responsible manner.
• Community voice. Having a diversity of media organisations means that the media will better reflect the needs of our community and culture. In Australia, for example, it is more cost effective for media organisations to have fewer newsrooms and source content from overseas. This could potentially reduce our access to Australian content. Similarly, smaller regional media outlets provide a voice for people living in rural and remote areas.
1. Read the articles ‘Media Diversity: If media diversity is so important, how did we get here?’and ‘Australia’s lamentable media diversity needs a regulatory fix’.
2. After reading the articles, why do you think diversity of media ownership is important?
3. What arguments are made about the internet and how it might affect the importance of media diversity?
ASSESSMENT TASK: ABC RESEARCH REPORT
Word Length: 750-1000 words
1. Give an overview of the type of programs that the ABC produces. Which forms of media do they use to broadcast texts? (5 marks)
2. Where does the ABC get its income and finance from? How much does it cost to run the ABC? (5 marks)
3. Who owns the ABC? What is the role of the Board of Directors? (5 marks)
4. In your own words, describe the ABC’s Vision, Mission and Values. What is the ABC’s Charter and what does it say about what they should do? (5 marks)
5. What sort of audience does the ABC attract? (5 marks)
Much of the above information can be found from the 2013-2014 ABC Annual Report.
ASSESSMENT TASK: PRESENTATION
Duration: 5 minutes
Investigate one of the following Australian media organisations: Triple J, 774 3LO, ABC1, Channel 7, Channel 10, Channel 9, RRR, Channel 31, Nova, Radio National, The Age, The Herald-Sun, The Australian
You need to include the following information in your presentation:
• ownership of the Media organisation;
• a brief history of the organisation;
• circulation or ratings figures for the organisation;
• types of programs and/or content of the organisation;
• type of audience/demographic that the organisation attracts;
• code of conduct, vision statement or any other institutional.
As part of your presentation you must provide a one-page fact sheet covering all of this information for the class.