Just over 500,000 people had signed a petition launched by Kevin Rudd calling for a royal commission into media ownership when it closed on Wednesday.
Although the petition is far more restrained in its language, Rudd’s video launching the petition singles out News Corporation, saying that “Murdoch has become a cancer … on our democracy.”
Rudd outlined four separate reasons for his Royal Commission call, but it largely boils down this: News Corporation has a high concentration of print ownership, this allegedly gives them / Murdoch significant political power, and that power is allegedly used against Labor and other ideological opponents.
Not only should this argument be challenged on the facts, it should be rejected on policy grounds as well.
Lamentable though it may be, the importance of the print media may be at its lowest point in 100 years. A survey from February indicated that while more than 60% of people got news from television, just 25% reported using print sources for news in the last week.
Moreover, in the digital news space, News Corporation is far less dominant, owning just two of the top 10 Neilsen-rated websites (news.com.au and The Australian).
In fact, the political slant in the digital sphere appears more to the left than it does to the right. Even if you exclude the top ranked ABC website: left-leaning sites like the Guardian, The Age and the SMH are near the top of the ratings.
Beyond this, just a year ago, many public figures united behind a campaign on press freedom. ‘Your right to know’ was championed by all the major media players, and was catalysed by police raids in 2019 on journalists covering sensitive stories.
The principle at stake was the freedom of the press, a crucial tool in holding government to account for its potential abuses of power. As the Right to Know Coalition put it on their website “Media freedom is a central part of our democracy.”
In a world where government is already seeking to expand its power over the media, isn’t the use of a Royal Commission to attack the editorial policies of a select few in the media another blow to press freedom?
Simon Cowan is Research Director at the Centre for Independent Studies.
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