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Australia’s journalism is in mortal danger – politicians should join the fight to save it

Gay Alcorn argues in The Guardian (4.5.17) that press redundancies at Fairfax, hot on the heels of cuts at News Corp, are not just devastating for the journalists affected – they will hurt the communities they serve, too, so should be of concern to our elected officials.

‘Here we go again. Another round of huge job cuts at Australia’s traditional media, this time at Fairfax, although News Corp is doing much the same. Journalists on strike at the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald say that removing a quarter of the editorial staff, or 125 full-time-equivalent jobs, will be devastating.

‘Not just devastating for the people who lose their jobs, but for the capacity of the media to report news their communities need. Hashtags like #fairgofairfax and #savetheage pop up – again. The media union thunders – again – about companies cutting journalism to the bone and beyond, while in the same breath insisting that “quality journalism” is their business.

‘What I fear most is that these big job cuts have become so routine that the crisis enveloping Australian journalism will be greeted with a sad shrug by many, and even a little glee by a few. If we’re not at a tipping point now, when we really do need to talk seriously about public interest journalism as a vital cog in a functioning democracy, then we never will be. We’re like the frog in water that has been heating up for many years, and the water is boiling now.’

Journalism is in peril. Can government help?

Tom Greenwell writes in Inside Story (29.6.17) that state support for the press is commonplace in Europe, and it doesn’t appear to inhibit journalists. But does it bring real benefits, and can it do so in Australia?

‘The idea that governments should provide financial assistance to news publishers is receiving more serious consideration in Australia than at any time in living memory. At the heart of the Senate inquiry into the Future of Public Interest Journalism, established in May in the wake of another round of lay-offs at Fairfax, lies the question of government’s role in ensuring a “viable, independent and diverse” news media. At the committee’s hearings – and in submissions it has received – some form of public subsidy is figuring prominently among the potential answers.

‘The reason is straightforward enough. Australia has lost between 2500 and 3000 media jobs this decade. That’s a quarter of our total journalistic capacity. Advertisers have left for Google, Facebook and other non-journalistic vendors of eyeballs, and they’re not coming back. Subscriptions to news outlets are growing but even non-subscribers enjoy the benefits of public interest journalism – liberal freedoms, democratic participation and low corruption. That means public interest journalism is unlikely to be privately purchased in the kind of quantities a healthy democracy needs.

‘And yet, as Matthew Ricketson, professor of communication at Deakin University and key player in the 2012 Finkelstein Review, told me, “I think if you asked the average person in the street, should the government provide money to the media, and put it like that, they’d probably be wary about it. Because they’d be worried about control and editorial interference”.’

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