Fred Argy has written a letter to the AFR protesting changes to cross-media laws. In it appears, to me at least, the incredible implicit assertion that Fox News is bad for American democracy. Because I think he is an intelligent man and I quite respect his opinion on most subjects, and so as to reassure myself that it is he and not I who have taken ideological leave of their senses, I’ve highlighted the relevant parts below:
Australians seem extraordinarily apathetic about the planned watering down of the cross-media ownership rules and the prospect of increased media concentration – even though our news media is already one of the most concentrated in the developed world. Three types of arguments are being advanced to calm public fears. One is that Australia’s news media is commercially driven: it has no political agenda of its own and no impact on voting patterns. A second is that the internet is providing a major alternative source of news. And the third argument is that we are amply protected by existing competition laws. All three arguments are highly questionable. One can argue that the opinions expressed in newspaper editorials and opinion pages don’t matter greatly. However, the presentation of news – what editors choose to highlight and how – has a very significant impact on political outcomes. Two groups of well-respected American economists ( from Yale and from the National Bureau of Economic Research) recently examined the evidence and concluded that in the past few US elections, media bias (slanting the news in favour of one political party or the other) had a significant effect on voting patterns. Both studies found, for example, that pro-Republican news bias by the Fox News Channel played a crucial role in the final outcome of the 2000 election. This is of particular relevance to Australia where the Murdoch press dominates national and capital city news markets. The internet is certainly growing in importance but a recent survey found that less than 3 per cent of Australian voters relied on it as their main source of news. As for the present merger provisions of the Trade Practices Act, they have been greatly weakened by the amendments that passed the Senate last month. Schedule one of the Dawson bill will tend to enable big business mergers and acquisitions, including among media companies. Against this background, Australians should be very concerned about the recent acquisition by News Ltd of a 7.5 per cent stake in John Fairfax (with a further increase allowable). With Fairfax shareholdings widely scattered, this move by Murdoch threatens a further increase in media concentration. The other is the government attempt to stifle the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ability to reflect the wider diversity of political views in Australia, including the soft left perspective much despised by our Prime Minister. All this is happening when efforts are being made to silence other voices of political dissent in Australia, from Senate committees, independent statutory bodies and non-government organisations (such as charities, community legal centres, youth, Aboriginal and environmental groups) – and when the flow of official information is being increasingly restricted and government advertising is stretching the limits of legitimacy. Australia still has one of the most vibrant democracies in the world but it is coming under serious threat.
What kind of ‘crucial role‘ do they mean? Do they mean ‘as opposed to the non-crucial role of pro-Democrat bias by the rest of the media world‘?? Is Fred not taking the kind of reasoning he imputes to John Howard with respect of the ABC, presumably with disapproval, and applying it to ‘the soft-[right] perspective much despised by‘ Fred Argy in equal measure? To go into a little more detail, I do think media bias is real, significant and inevitable, which might lead to thinking that I too am in favour of mandated diversity. However, I also think that people aren’t influenced by X, Y or Z despite themselves remember the old joke about Rupert’s spotting a niche in the news market of about 150 million Americans! Media bias reflects its proponents and caters to its consumers the Age might be biased because it is a refuge for softly-intellectual lazy leftism, but it only influences people who tend softly-leftly themselves. For example, it doesn’t influence me one way or another because I don’t read it. I am pretty sincere here, and more than ready to hear that I am an ideologically blinded nut if that is what people think. So what do you think: mandated diversity is a linchpin of our democracy, or this is all part of a Howardian plot to promote the Australian permanent majority? (I apologise for reproducing the whole thing in blatant breach of copyright, but I wanted to pre-empt any accusations of bad faith if Fred objects, even though he no longer has any copyright in this, I will take this down)