Kasun Ubayasiri: How will ruthless billionaire posturing by Rupert and Zuckerberg help robust journalism?

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It is news media diversity and independent journalism routinely pillaged by Murdoch that will be the real victims of ScoMo trying to extort one billionaire at the behest of another. Image: MediaNews4U

COMMENT: By Kasun Ubayasiri in Brisbane

It has indeed been a few strange days for Australian news media. Apparently, monopolies are bad if they are not NewsCorp.

This week, Facebook came through on its threat to ban all news from its service, in retaliation against the Australian Federal government’s proposed new media code, that could see the tech giant paying news producers for content they willingly share on the Facebook platform.

Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp rather predictably ran a story accusing Facebooks’ messenger platform of aiding and abetting paedophiles. A remarkable display of mutual chestbeating.

But it is news media diversity and independent journalism routinely pillaged by Murdoch that will be the real victims of ScoMo trying to extort one billionaire at the behest of another.

Queensland’s independent press, for example, is just beginning to lift its head after Rupert ruthlessly destroyed a whole swathe of rural and regional newspapers of record. I wonder how this posturing between two billionaires will affect those independent newspapers that are slowly beginning to show promise in that desolate landscape.

Sure, there needs to be funding for good journalism, and the tech-giants should pitch in, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, of a rather long “to do list” to ensure a robust and independent news media that includes ensuring media diversity and the public’s access to fact-verified public interest journalism irrespective of petty party politics.

In this respect it’s hard to see this whole fiasco as anything but a half-baked idea built on a NewsCorp orchestrated lie.

Holding readers hostage
News organisations could have easily blocked Google searches listing their content. They could also have stopped putting their content on Facebook pages, explored micro-payments or some such innovative solution, instead of holding readers hostage with archaic subscription models.

Is Australian journalism suffering because of Google and Facebook? What of the media monopolies that have systematically destroyed diversity and independence of the press through concentration of ownership unparalleled in the Western world?

What of the three-decade long devaluing of journalism, and training an entire generation to get free news on vanity websites while simultaneously selling the same content in printed papers, only to then retreat behind paywalls?

What about forcing journalists to pimp their stories by linking KPIs to journalists’ capacity to secure subscriptions and assessing the value of stories on the basis of clicks?

What of the ruthless stripping of journalists’ rights that has created a precariat work force?

And what of the armies of media pundits who jumped on the citizen journalism bandwagon and vigorously claimed we didn’t need professional journalists because we were now all citizen journalists?

What of the media educators who have conflated journalism with media, normalised native advertising and created a grey slurry of content where fact and fiction is indistinguishable and ethics non-existent?

Championed social media
And then there are the media theorists who have championed social media as a great equaliser.

A “town square” where ideas flow freely, or as Mark Zuckerberg calls it a “digital living room” instead of seeing it for what it really is – a privately owned advertising platform hell bent on creating a global monopoly.

Let’s say we manage to force Facebook to pay for content. I wonder exactly how the dollars Zuckerberg doles out to Newscorp will flow onto the journalists and the gutted newsrooms who everyone is suddenly concerned for.

Shouldn’t the money be directly invested in public interest journalism instead of becoming just another version of that wonderfully Liberal idea of trickle-down economics filtered through Rupert’s pockets.

Dr Kasun Ubayasiri is a senior lecturer and journalism programme director at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. An earlier version of this piece was originally a Facebook posting and this been revised and contributed to Asia Pacific Report as a column.

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