Journalists conform to standards of owners

From an article in The Australian by Errol Simper:

The community has become mere 'fodder' for an intrusive media which conforms only to the standards of those who dominate its ownership, the barrister and television presenter, Mr Stuart Littlemore, told a conference yesterday.

Mr Littlemore, the presenter of ABC television's Media Watch, said seven years of the program indicated that media standards were declining, driven by ever-increasing domination by 'tycoons' such as Mr Kerry Packer and Mr Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Littlemore told a Committee For Economic Development of Australia gathering: 'Journalists have less choice of employer than ever before. If they won't toe the Fairfax line, they will hardly be acceptable to Murdoch. If they bridle at the standards of (the Packer-controlled) Channel Nine, Channel Seven (in which Mr Murdoch has an interest) won't be an alternative for them.

'The irresistible pressure is not to conform to the standards of journalistic integrity but to the standards of those who enjoy the statutory monopolies implicit in the grant of television licences and the real-politic that there will be no new metropolitan daily newspapers in this country. We're stuck with what we've got: one-paper towns in Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra.

'And there can be no doubt standards are declining. When has plagiarism been so widespread and so shameless? Is not the Murdoch culture to blame for the undisclosed but fundamental conflicts of interest in News corporation coverage of matters affecting the News Corporation share price?

'Has there ever before been such naked subjugation of the news pages of our press to promote Murdoch's supershare bid, or Foxtel, or Super League?'

Speaking in the presence of the chairman of ?? the Australian Press Council, Professor David Flint, Mr Littlemore described the council as a 'tokenist lapdog'. He called it 'a body that has no coercive powers, wants no coercive powers and wouldn't know what to do with such powers if it had them'.

Professor Flint said earlier that if there had been any doubt that defamation laws impaired free speech, recent research indicated politicians and political candidates brought between 12.5 per cent and 26.5 per cent of all defamation cases. Defamation actions were filed in Sydney at a rate 80 times greater than that in the United States.

'US politicians apparently do not bring defamation suits when charged with incompetence,' he said. 'Politicians in Australia do so, often'.

Advertising Standards Council executive director, Mr Colin Harcourt, said free speech was 'increasingly under attack' from 'well-resourced minorities whose agendas are usually questionable'. These groups tended to believe they - and they alone - know what was right for society and included 'zealots' who infiltrated bureaucracies.

A former member of the Prime Minister's Economic And Planning Advisory Committee, former Boral Chief executive, Mr Bruce Kean, said public opinion was no longer shaped by balanced argument but through 'emotional, five-second (television) grabs, each vying for a viewing ration by highlighting the sensational'.

He said: 'Politicians and business must respond to the perceptions so created, but they have to compete for the opportunity against the next media event.

'The result is knee-jerk reactions and regulatory inflation.'

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