The Internet and press freedom - Morry Schwartz and Rupert Murdoch

March 2, 2014
Ministerial Feed

I see there has been some criticism in social media and blogs of my speech to launch Morry Schwartz's "Saturday Paper" on Friday. Some of the criticism is based on the premise that a Liberal politician should not welcome the launch of a new publication unless it is thoroughly right of centre and, as I acknowledged in my speech, Mr Schwartz's paper is likely to be more to the left of centre (although he declares its editorial line will steer a middle course).

As the Minister for Communications I welcome new publications, whether in print or digital or, like The Saturday Paper, in both. Our democracy flourishes with a vibrant and diverse media and there has been a lot of concern in recent years that the declining business model of traditional newspapers and the consequent diminution in their journalistic resources will in turn diminish our democracy. Those concerns are real as I noted in my speech.

At the same time the enemies of a free press, Senator Conroy being a prime example, sought to claim that the digital age will result in less competition and more concentration of the media. His criticism was particularly focussed on News Corporation controlled by Rupert Murdoch which has by far the largest share of metropolitan daily newspaper circulation and has done so for nearly thirty years.

In fact, what has happened is that the Internet which has undermined the business models of newspapers (by providing a more cost effective advertising platform) has also opened the way for more and more competition than ever. The truth is that News Corporation's share of the metropolitan newspaper market is as large as ever, but newspapers' share of the overall news and information market has been shrinking every day as more competition arrives in the form of foreign publications available in Australia, new publications and of course social media. Our media has never been as diverse and competitive as it is today.

And that is why the Internet age calls for less regulation of the media not, as Labor contended, more regulation. 

In the course of the speech I also noted that Morry Schwartz has said that he operates his publishing ventures - Quarterly Essay, The Monthly and Black Inc at a profit and that he hopes to do the same with The Saturday Paper. I observed that he was therefore not "a demented plutocrat" who establishes and runs newspapers at a loss to peddle his own views.

Given that earlier in my speech I had referred to William Randolph Hearst  (immortalised by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane) I was surprised that some people have inferred I was referring to Rupert Murdoch.  

Rupert Murdoch has been publishing newspapers, including today some of the world's most influential such as The Wall Street Journal, the Times of London and The Australian, for more than sixty years. And they have been and remain profitable. Far from being a rich man, like Hearst and many others, who makes his money in some other area and then chooses to start a newspaper to promote his own  political views,  Rupert Murdoch started off as a newspaper man, the son of a newspaper man, and remains a newspaper man. 

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