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Not One Paper Less: The Case For Media Diversity

April 6, 2011

Call it a case-study in media diversity, a reminder of what we will lose if one of the struggling newspapers folds up. These are significant political stories and arguments. But, if it were not for one story in a lonely paper in each case, you wouldn’t know they existed.

Take, for example, the factional and policy contest within the Green Party. Today’s Australian describes Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon as the ‘power-broker’ – how nice to apply this cliché to a party other than the ALP – within the NSW branch. It interprets her arrival in Canberra as a challenge to the authority of Bob Brown. This comes on top of The Australian’s reporting during the state election campaign of the NSW Green Party’s policy of boycotting Israel, a story would that not have broken if it had not been for The Australian’s interest.

Or take the Sydney Daily Telegraph yesterday and today, which described how the new state Treasurer Mike Baird had seen his portfolio stripped of the following functions: land tax, gaming tax, payroll tax, public service superannuation and the Office of State Revenue. It leaves him with fewer roles and responsibilities than any state Treasurer in the nation or any in NSW history. The functions have been allocated to the Finance Minister Greg Pearce MLC. This big story has only been highlighted in The Telegraph.

Mike Baird has been placed 11th in the ministry. The Telegraph says this represents a slapping down of Mr. O’Farrell’s leadership rival. Today it said Baird had only been informed of this allocation of duties on the weekend, although it was decided by O’Farrell’s transition to government team some time earlier, a spokesman admitting the restructure had been in the works for “several months.”

The Sydney Morning Herald will offend half its readership by its decision to publish today ‘How the anti-nuclear lobby misled us all’ by George Monbiot, a green with a long record of anti nuclear activity, who in the wake of the Japanese crisis has brazenly declared he now supports nuclear power. See my comments below, posted on March 22 about the previous Guardian article by Monbiot.

In this latest piece, Monbiot takes on Helen Caldicott, a non-scientist with a history of anti-nuclear advocacy. Among other things he points out that despite her claim that 985,000 were killed as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, a UN Scientific Committee report shows that only 134 suffered acute radiation syndrome, with 28 dying soon after and 19 dying some time later, but not from radiation related diseases. Apart from the 134 people exposed to acute radiation, the 6848 cases of thyroid cancer among young children can be traced “almost entirely” to the Soviet Union’s failure to stop people drinking contaminated milk. Caldicott’s arguments have not been previously analysed and exposed.

On its commentary pages, The Australian prints a piece by University of Queensland law professor, James Allan, about right-wing columnist Andrew Bolt being forced before the Federal Court under the Racial Discrimination Act with accusations of racial vilification. James Allan deftly makes the point that this kind of thing happens frequently in Canada, despite having “one of the strongest bills of rights in the common law world.” He says that Bolt being dragged before the courts “can impose a massive chilling effect on free speech.” He adds:

We shouldn’t have an act that allows complaints of a quasi-defamatory nature to be turned into ones dressed up as racial vilification. Those who think, like me, that the valuable sort of free speech is the kind that protects stuff many find offensive and distasteful will want this 1995 amending legislation repealed.

If it weren’t for The Australian, I wouldn’t have seen such a robust dismissal of this case, or learnt of a factional cleavage opening up in the Green Party. If it were not for The Herald I would not have seen Monbiot’s gutsy defence of the nuclear industry’s record. If it weren’t for The Telegraph I wouldn’t be aware of a fairly cruel demotion of NSW Treasury and of the Treasurer.

Put this down as an argument for media diversity and the traditional over the new media.

  1. Michael Roberts permalink
    April 6, 2011 6:50 pm

    I’m no fan of Mr Bolt but having read his articles I don’t believe they were designed to incite racial hatred. If we didn’t have Andrew’s gems, how would we determine what constitutes a broad range of views.

    I don’t agree with 99% of his views but in a free society he must be allowed to hold and air them.

    PS. Bob, do you still stand by your views on nuclear power given what seems to be “leaking” out of Japan on a daily basis?

    • Bob Carr permalink
      April 6, 2011 9:23 pm

      I am reserving – and not rushing towards – judgment. Let’s look at it when all the facts are in. The expansion of coal-fired power terrifies me, as we move to the possibility of two degrees warming.

      • Michael Roberts permalink
        April 7, 2011 6:29 pm


        Your comments on 22March seemed to indicate that you had arrived at a point of judgement on nuclear power:

        “You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.”


      • Bob Carr permalink
        April 7, 2011 7:17 pm

        That is the columnist, a quote from his article. I did learn today that Japan will not abandon its plans for nuclear but will continue growing the sector. Before the oil price crisis of the 70s they were massively dependent on oil for electricity. Nuclear has been the alternative. From one investor today I heard that the current crisis will set back world nuclear investment by three years.

  2. Moses permalink
    April 6, 2011 7:43 pm

    “a reminder of what we will loose”

    Bob, please!

    (Love the blog, by the way. Essential daily reading.)

    • Bob Carr permalink
      April 6, 2011 9:24 pm

      Shocking oversight, now corrected. I need a sub.

  3. Graham permalink
    April 6, 2011 8:45 pm

    For a known strict grammarian, I was surprised at the often-used word “loose” rather than the more accurate “lose” in your opening sentence.

    Having said that, your premise that traditional media is somehow inheritantly better than emerging technologies viz-a-viz , Crikey, Matilda or any one of a number of online offerings does not necessarily reflect a persuasive text in the affirmative of the well-known owned tomes your piece alludes towards.

    The issue of; “information sifting for relevance, accuracy and efficacy” is a definite imperative for discerning citizens.

    I enjoy your blog. It is thought provoking and informative. Please continue to challenge mine, and hopefully, others’ thinking.



  4. Dr Richard Boughton permalink
    April 7, 2011 1:42 pm


    Interesting reading, and it’s great to see you answering comments posted on the site. I hope you’ll reply to mine.

    I agree with you that true media diversity is essential to democracy. Why then has neither federal Labor, beginning with Bob Hawke, nor Liberal, shown practical enthusiasm while in office, for preventing undue concentration of media ownership?

    The main offence SMH readers would take to their running Monbiot’s article is that such a featherweight argument, lacking in substance and logic, should be published at all in national newspapers. His slanted representation of Caldicott’s position, and then of the scientific sources he so selectively misconstrues, makes him guilty of the exact same selective misuse of evidence he’s supposedly so incensed about.

    I note you refer to “Helen Caldicott, a non-scientist”, thus hinting she is unqualified to comment on radiation and human health. I guess you’re talking about Dr Helen Caldicott, who got her medical degree in Adelaide, then gained specialist qualifications as a paediatrician, then developed a special interest in the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation? You don’t think her scientific training in medicine and paediatrics, plus her clinical experience, added to decades studying issues nuclear, might be at all relevant to whether she is qualified to comment? You don’t mention it, but presumably Monbiat, by contrast to the “non-scientist” Caldicott, is an acknowledged expert in radiation science?

  5. Anthony E. Porter permalink
    April 7, 2011 10:46 pm

    Traditional Media v New Media. The new media is still just what its name says, and does not have the resources economies of scale yet of the traditional media. Having said that, if one does their research of new media blogs web pages etc the range of news, information is far greater than anything you will find in traditional media sources. Furthermore, you don’t have to write a letter to a blinkered editor who may or may not publish it. It will definitely be published if you put it on Face book, Twitter.

  6. Bill Pearce permalink
    April 8, 2011 4:51 pm

    I use Facebook as the source of all my news, by subscribing or ‘liking’ (a) news sources, which supply a constant feed of well-reasoned op-ed pieces, and (b) issue-specific pages, which supply issue-specific articles usually from more local news sources. I’m also signed up, on Facebook, to the Liberal and Labor blog pages, which provides me with an interesting picture of what government and the opposition are discussing. (Incidentally, most of it is incredibly biased, verging on propaganda, with no references or sources linked whatsoever, but that in itself is still informative.) Admittedly I sometimes miss out on local and popular media trends and information titbits, however I get a fairly broad picture of world events from links provided by ‘Foreign Policy’, ‘Washington Post’ and ‘Slate’, which is more than you’ll get from listening to the news or reading a local paper.

    New media has plenty of potential, and I wouldn’t write it off as inferior just yet.

  7. Bill Pearce permalink
    April 8, 2011 4:57 pm

    P.S. Obviously my reliance on ‘new media’ to some extent depends on the existence of ‘traditional media’; most of the sources I mentioned started and continue as news papers and magazines before becoming websites. I do, however, think that ‘new media’, rather than necessarily detracting from traditional media, can add to it, by providing it an outlet, with efficient search functions and proper categorisation.

  8. Marcus permalink
    April 10, 2011 2:35 pm

    Shouldn’t this be a case for media integrity? The Australians coverage of the greens has been an obsessive political attack conjured almost for nothing, it’s about creating political realities rather than merely reporting it.

  9. Paul permalink
    April 10, 2011 5:42 pm

    The irony of this piece is that a former journalist, trained in old media, is now using new media.

    Old media, is a filter, editors and professionals choose what they think we should read. New media is an alternative that allows anyone to broadcast or publish. Both have their place.

    The real issue is that the rise of the internet, particularly as it relates to classified advertising, has made the old financial model for much old media unsustainable. The question is how can we make old media sustainable, otherwise, as you point out, we will have less diversity.

    One of the dangers of the way media is evolving is that the increase in choice has resulted not in greater tolerance, but less. People now can choose the media that totally re-enforces their existing world view – the end result is not so much the triumph of media outlets like Fox News, Drudge and indeed the Huffington Post, but the reality that its readers and listeners will only read the world view that suits them. We see a reflection of this on site like twitter where we see the rise of abuse rather than the rise of debate. So in time, we could see less social cohesion that ever before.

    • Anthony permalink
      April 10, 2011 10:36 pm

      Paul you make some interesting points. For as long as I can remember people have always chosen a media source that suited their world view. In my native Melbourne, The Melbourne Herald and Sun before they were combined were the most conservative daily newspapers in Victoria. People chose to read those or the more left leaning Age. I think it is the same with all media, including television and radio. People listen to the Alan Joneses of radio because his narrow conservative view of the world suits theirs. Even though government laws regulating media content stipulate that radio, television, newspapers are required to give time and space to a range of views on a subject, say climate change. To take Jones as an example, he provides no time for opposing views on climate change. So people like myself choose not to listen to him.

      I see a time quite soon in fact that printed newspapers will no longer exist, and you will buy them on-line with a wide range of other sources. If their quality is good people will pay to read them, and they are not they don’t deserve to exist.

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