Contributed by a member of the MEAA
The allegation that News Corp and Nine Entertainment have chosen to shut down AAP Newswire keeps on doing the rounds. The accusers say that the purpose is to silence rival voices. AAP feeds into smaller media outlets and social media.
The big media companies have hit back, insisting that this is purely a business decision, and that they are no longer willing to pump money into a venture that does not deliver a proper return to shareholders. They happen to be the major shareholders.
The media companies also blame the rise of free digital media for stealing away their customers. This might be true. But they themselves limit access, and perhaps, there is public reaction against the type of news they put out, enticing some to seek other sources of information. This could be addressed by allowing a greater scope of views and contributions into heir own outlets. But they wont.
No doubt, the bottom line was given consideration. At the same time, the allegation does have credibility. This is the reason why. Big media has been going through a process of consolidation and growing monopoly for some time now.
Big media is now organised so that news, which is often generated in the dominant centre of a media network, and then trickled down to its subsidiaries. There is far less scope for getting the news at the ground level than there once was.
Syndication is an associated practice. This is where news is generated, not through media outlets, but public relations firms, creating stories that have been paid for. These are sold to media outlets, which save a large part of the cost by running leaner organisations, with fewer staff and resources. The rise of the digital age has accelerated this shift.
With it has come the rise of the tabloid and the fall of investigative journalism.
Control of news is ending in fewer and fewer hands; those with the money to buy it. And this is one of the greatest exisitng threats to democracy today. It could be argued that media has never been particularly democratic. It is now becoming much less so.
AAP Newswire’s fall takes place in this context, and everyone should be worried about it.
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, which covers journalists and other people in the media, is campaigning for News Corp and Nine Entertainment to properly account for their action. In industrial terms, there is the matter of the loss of 600 people, including those of 300 journalists and 100 photographers. The union wants their interests to be protected, and is pushing for the two companies to ensure jobs are maintained for AAP staff.
“For months, AAP staff were misled by management that the company was in good shape. Some employees have taken out mortgages or shifted cities in good faith because of the assurances they were given by management,” said MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom.
Losing more journalists and photographers in an industry that is already precarious, and where over half are already unemployed or on part time work, must damage media diversity. This means fewer stories and the right of the public to know denied.
MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said where the market had failed, the government must intervene to protect public interest journalism. “It is now urgent for the federal government to address the crisis in news media caused by the erosion of revenues through the proliferation of sharing of content for free by the giant digital platforms and by the loss of crucial news coverage that was only available from AAP,” he said.
“This could be addressed by a levy on a percentage of the revenue digital platforms like Google and Facebook make from their use of news media content. The levy would then go to a Public Interest Journalism Fund which would help fill the void left by the loss of AAP and promote high quality journalism to ensure the public’s right to know,” he added.