In 2017, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) considered the impact of online search engines, social media and digital content aggregators, known as digital platforms, on the aspect of competition in the media and advertising services markets (ACCC 2019).
The ACCC’s final report examined the impacts and the challenges of modern journalism, highlighting the implications for media content creators, advertisers and consumers (ACCC 2019). An analysis of the report should be of interest to an organisation such as Transparency International as news publishers, digital platforms, network infrastructure providers, audiences, device manufacturers, advertising firms and governments engage in an evolving struggle for control, authority and citizen trust (Dwyer and Martin 2019).
The ACCC’s Report discovered from Australian census data, during a period from 2006 to 2016, the total number of people in journalism-related occupations fell by 9 per cent, but that the fall in traditional print (now print/online) journalist numbers was 26 per cent (ACCC 2019). University students who pursue a career in journalism are entering a media industry that is incapable of supporting them with suitable employment to maintain a basic standard of living. There is simply not enough digital or print revenue being generated, because of the pressure on commercial players to survive, by reducing the expenses of existing media models and enter into commercial arrangements by subsidising news costs (Johnston and Forde 2017).
Transparency International must hold to account, the objectivity of Australian journalism in its function of the Australian democratic process. The important opportunity to work closely with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), enables the monitoring of the initiatives of digital platforms that enable the servitude of the public good, to identify the reliability, trustworthiness and source of news content featured on their services and serve the public interest by addressing difficult topics such as White Supremacist Racism and its prevalence in Australia.
Transparency International is an organised global movement that aims to end the injustice of corruption (Transparency_International n.d.). The organisation focusses on the issues that hold the powerful to account for the common good through advocacy, campaigning and research (Transparency_International n.d.). By exposing systems and networks that enable corruption to thrive, the organisation demands greater transparency, accountability and integrity.
Ironically, the organisation has been involved in several controversies of its own, concerningly receiving funding from companies that are themselves convicted of corruption offences (“The Diplomatic World: Who investigates researchers?” 2019). In 2019, Transparency International promoted a “toxic” internal workplace environment of bullying and harassment (Doshi 2019). In 2017, the organisation’s International Board of Directors decided to disaccredit Transparency International-USA as the National Chapter in the United States (Baharav 2017), similarly as it did with its Croatia Chapter in 2015. The Australian Chapter has regularly targeted non-Caucasian countries and organisations to fit discriminatory and hegemonic narratives.
In recent times, Transparency International has conducted research into how corruption has contributed to the current threat to democracy, showing a disturbing link between corruption and the health of democracies, where countries with higher rates of corruption also have weaker democratic institutions and political rights (Transparency_International n.d.).
“The role (of the media is) to educate and inform the public on important national issues and development policies, so that people can make informed judgements and decision in exercising their fundamental democratic rights as an individual.”The former Prime Minister of the Fiji Islands, the honourable Mahendra Chaudhry (2000-01)
Chaudhry highlights how journalism plays an integral role in the function of democracy, requiring to be free from government, be organised as a market and not as a product of the state system, and the need to be staffed by professionals who champion the ideals of accuracy and impartiality.
The internet and social media have provided new models of journalism that enables the recycling and repurposing of news from the aggregation of information, driven by complex algorithms and models facilitated by big data-sets (Johnston and Forde 2017). An interconnected digital world where social media supports the democratisation of information and knowledge that enhances people as both content consumers and content producers. Picard (2009) reiterates with the use of social media, journalists can access information, ideas and feedback directly from their audiences. Through constant interaction with users, journalists develop a different type of relationship than the distant connection created by traditional mass communication.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) recently embarked on considering the impact of online search engines, social media and digital content aggregators, known as digital platforms, on the aspect of competition in the media and advertising services markets (ACCC 2019). The ACCC’s report examines the impact on the media, the challenges of modern journalism and the implications for media content creators, advertisers and consumers (ACCC 2019). An analysis of the report is of interest to Transparency International as news publishers, digital platforms, network infrastructure providers, audiences, device manufacturers, advertising firms and governments engage in an evolving struggle for control, authority and citizen trust (Dwyer and Martin 2019).
The ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry Report highlights 2 significant findings of practical interest to the ongoing work performed by Transparency International.
Cuts to costs and employment of Journalism
Journalist, Elizabeth Grieco (2020) found that according to the Pew Research Centre in the United States of America, overall newsroom employment dropped by 23 percent from the year 2008 to 2019. Newspaper newsrooms shrank by 51 percent. Radio broadcasting dropped by 23 percent. However, broadcast television, particularly cable television has remained relatively stable.
The ACCC’s Report discovered from Australian census data, during a period from 2006 to 2016, the total number of people in journalism-related occupations fell by 9 per cent, but that the fall in traditional print (now print/online) journalist numbers was 26 per cent (ACCC 2019). Data provided by media companies show the number of journalists in the traditional print (now print/online) sector fell by 20 per cent from 2014 to 2018 (ACCC 2019). The key issue for Transparency International to probe is how journalism is supposed to play a vital role in the functioning of the Australian democratic process, when a downward trend of as many as 3,000 journalism jobs have been lost in Australia in the past decade is ongoing (New_Beats_Research_Team 2018).
From a grassroots level, University students who are interested in pursuing journalism for a living, are entering a media industry that is incapable of supporting them with suitable employment to maintain a basic standard of living. Swinburne University Lecturer, Diana Bossio (2012) found that traditional cadetships are no longer an entry point for most university graduate journalists. Fairfax Media suspended traineeships in 2008, but now offer approximately 20 positions across five publications. There is simply not enough digital or print revenue being generated, because of the pressure on commercial players to survive, by reducing the expenses of existing media models and enter into commercial arrangements by subsidising news costs (Johnston and Forde 2017).
Impact of new market entrants
The ACCC’s Report found that the influence of digital platforms has had an increase in the number of media voices available to Australians by facilitating the entrance of digital native publishers such as Buzzfeed News Australia and Crickey (ACCC 2019). While publishers can have a varied journalistic focus, they tend to employ relatively small newsrooms, making only modest contributions to overall employment of journalists in Australia (ACCC 2019). Digital platforms have significantly altered the incentives for the production of different types of journalism, as the online media environment has provided relatively low incentives and expectations for news media businesses to produce journalism that may attract smaller audiences, regardless of such coverage’s contributions to the public interest (ACCC 2019).
The key issue for Transparency International is to monitor transparency of not only existing and prominent media organisations, but new market entrants to the field of journalism. Fetzer Institute Scholar, Sharon Green (1999) describes the conundrum that all journalists face, being the ability to separate personal prejudices that shape people. It is both unrealistic and dangerous to pretend that prejudices don’t exist as a filter on an individual’s perception.
Journalism has been historically viewed as a dominance of out-of-touch elitist, conqueror-privileged Western attitudes, caused by ethnocentric beliefs that produce biased, inaccurate and homogenous perspectives (Obijiofor, Murray, and Singh 2017). Also, peer-reviewed sources need to be held accountable, as they are often controlled by hegemonically biased academics. As part of disseminating corruption, Transparency International needs to monitor and report on mainstream media’s hegemonic elitism, as it has evidently given rise to the need of Activist Journalism, that seeks to provide a social movements’ side of a story, being unique from mainstream reports (Kawamoto 2003). Mainstream media targets Activist media by ignoring issues entirely, using belittling and discrediting techniques with a heavily biased, condescending tone and style that contributes to public scepticism of journalism.
ACCC Recommendation 9: Stable and adequate funding for the public broadcasters
The ACCC Report recommends that stable and adequate funding should be provided to the ABC and SBS in recognition of their role in addressing the risk of under-provision of public interest journalism that generates broad benefits to society (ACCC 2019).
“Australia’s national public broadcasters are expected to meet their charter obligations, or their mission statements and establishing legislative brief. While public service broadcasters keenly scrutinize their programming and audience make up to make sure they are reaching the people of Australia, they are also reporting to government and to the community more broadly for their carriage of their task to inform as well as entertain.”Professor Tom O’Regan (2020)
The ABC and SBS are accountable in a different way to advertiser supported or content produced media as they are more publicly accountable, whereas private media’s accountability is to its shareholders first and audiences second (O’Regan 2020).
The presence of such networks in the information marketplace creates value for both consumers and commercial media to focus on the development of products that yield them the highest value. The structure of the media market and consumer behaviour is rapidly evolving, however the expectations of the media to thrive and deliver competition, quality, and choice to consumers, as well as provide a public good, is a strong foundation that only succeeds with well-funded, public broadcasting services.
For example, SBS’ desire to serve the public interest was seen in the program, First Contact, as it served the public interest by specifically addressing White Supremacist Racism and its prevalence in Australia.
“Australia’s long history with racism has been particularly targeted towards First Nations’ people from the very first act of racism – the declaration of Terra Nullius – a blatant lie that was predicated upon ethnocentrism.”Researcher Natalie Cromb (2017)
Recently, there was the brutality of the Christchurch Shooting which was committed by an Australian White Supremacist Extremist Terrorist (Roy, Sherwood, and Parveen 2019). SBS served the public interest in educating audiences both locally and internationally, about racist white privileged participants with disgusting and discriminatory pre-conceived notions and communication styles on their first interactions with Indigenous people.
Transparency International should be pleased to endorse this recommendation, due to the evident public scrutiny that these networks are subjected to, based on whether they are serving the public interest and that taxpayers funds are being spent appropriately with accountability and transparency. Public broadcasters maintain the public good, being an extremely important role in contributing to media plurality in order to ensure an adequate depth of coverage and media objectivity obtained from a broad range of media perspectives. Public broadcasters are institutions that contribute to the good of society, as they enhance cultural expression and strengthen informed political participation.
While the ACCC Report has focused on the relationship between the functionality of global digital platforms with the accessibility of local Australian media, the most important aspect for organisations such as Transparency International is to ensure the protection of Australian public broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS. As stated above, their role is integral to safeguarding a functioning democracy with objective journalism that informs the public, holds the accountability of decision-makers and institutions as well as provides a public forum that allows a civil discussion of humanity’s issues that is not limited to an Australian context.
“Australia’s reputation as a Western democracy valuing free expression has been eroded significantly by a raft of new laws and policies which might not be reflected in forthcoming media freedom rankings because of the methods used by free expression organisations and their weightings on various levels of press freedom threats. The malaise at the heart of the assaults on free expression afflicts both sides of politics.”Authors Fernandez and Pearson (2015)
An important opportunity exists for Transparency International to work closely with an Australian independent regulator, such as the ACMA, to monitor the initiatives of digital platforms that allow the servitude of the public good, to identify the reliability, trustworthiness and source of news content featured on their services and serve the public interest by addressing difficult topics such as White Supremacist Racism and its prevalence in Australia.
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