Strengthening media diversity and stopping the spread of misinformation and hate
Australia has one of the most concentrated media markets in the world. We know that to have a healthy democracy we need a healthy media and ours is trending in the wrong direction.
The Greens will prioritise stronger media diversity with a comprehensive plan. We will:
• establish an inquiry into breaking up current media concentration;
• implement a suite of policies designed to encourage diversity and support public interest journalism; and
• act for a digital age, with an inquiry into the global social media giants.
Productivity Commission Inquiry
There have been several reviews of the news media during the last decade, from the Finkelstein Review to the Convergence Review and a Senate Inquiry into the Future of Public Interest Journalism. It’s clear that the health of the fourth estate is central to our democracy.
In 2012 the Finkelstein Review called for the Productivity Commission to conduct a review of the health of our news media and make recommendations about what role the Commonwealth can and should have in ensuring that health.
The Australian Greens believe the Productivity Commission is the right place for this inquiry to happen.
We will ask them to examine:
• the current state of media ownership;
• the role and strength of our regulatory bodies in ensuring a healthy news media, including the ACCC, ACMA, the Australian Press Council and the Foreign Investment Review Board;
• media regulation models utilised in other democracies; and
• the role of the Commonwealth in strengthening the health and diversity of our news media.
Strengthen the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Powers
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is Australia’s regulator for broadcasting, the internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications. It works on a ‘co-regulatory’ model, where industry groups develop their own industry codes in cooperation with the ACMA, who then enforces the negotiated code.
The ACMA registers an industry code when it is satisfied that, among other considerations, the code provides appropriate community safeguards. If a draft code is found to be lacking appropriate safeguards, the ACMA can direct the content of the code.
The definition of these safeguards has failed to keep pace with the times. Broadcasters can now invite neo-nazis and far-right extremists onto their programs for panel discussions without facing any penalty from the regulator. This mainstreams and normalises extremist ideology that further emboldens hate speech, which puts public safety at risk.
The Greens support expanding the definition of community safeguards used by the ACMA to include the protection of the public from content that maligns a person or persons based on certain immutable characteristics.
All news and commentary in Australia should maintain a high standard of truthfulness and journalistic ethics. That’s why we support the ACMA having greater powers over subscription and streaming services. Subscription services like Sky News and online news streaming should not have a lower level of scrutiny, especially when they are broadcast in so many public spaces and so many people are moving to consuming their news online.
In the wake of the Christchurch terror attack the ACMA made the point that their powers do not allow them to monitor and regulate content made available or linked to on broadcasters’ websites. This is a problem we’ve known about for some time. Back in 2012 the Convergence Review made the point that, “content-specific, platform-specific and provider-specific rules are inconsistent, confusing and inflexible” and that “media content regulation should be technology neutral.”
We agree. That’s why we will grant the ACMA responsibility for handling Australian media, across free-to-air, subscription and streaming services, ending the inconsistent treatment of complaints. The ACMA’s enforcement mechanism will be strengthened so they are able to step in when the line is crossed to ensure hate speech does not infiltrate mainstream news, whatever medium it comes through.
Public Interest Test
The Greens would implement a new public interest test, as recommended by the 2012 Convergence Review and the ACCC, which would apply to changes in control of nationally significant media enterprises, defined, under the existing Act, as organisations that hold broadcast licences or own newspapers, that have:
• control over the media content they deliver;
• an Australian audience of at least 500,000 per month; and
• a minimum revenue of $50 million per year derived from supplying media content in Australia.
The matters to be taken into account in applying the test include:
• whether the outcome of the transaction would diminish the diversity of unique owners providing general content services as well as news and commentary at a national level;
• whether the outcome of the transaction would diminish the range of content services at a national level;
• whether the person(s) taking control of a content service enterprise would represent a significant risk that the content service enterprise would not comply with its obligations;
• the likely impact on editorial independence;
• the likely impact on free expression of opinion; and
• the likely impact on the fair and accurate presentation of news.
This would help ensure that future sales and mergers of media organisations are in the public interest, not just the interest of multinational companies or wealthy individuals wanting to wield influence over public debate.
Transparency in Digital Advertising
In the digital age, news organisations are struggling to fund journalism with fewer and fewer people prepared to pay for news.
Online news generates income through digital advertising. This advertising technology enables marketers to effectively target advertising at individuals wherever they go across the web.
The ability of services like Google ads to target end users means they dominate the market. But the gap between what advertisers pay and what publishers receive is astronomical. Instead of ad dollars paying for quality journalism they disappear into a black hole.
Making this process more transparent will result in more dollars for quality journalism. It will remove the power of the digital advertising giants and create a more level playing field.
That’s why we will ask the ACCC to investigate new rules to govern advertising regulation in the digital age, based on the rules that govern transactions in financial markets. This kind of two sided accounting model would allow the publisher, advertiser and the regulator to see all the figures and shine a light on the dodgy and deliberately opaque practices of digital advertising giants.
Social Media and Digital Platforms: an Independent Inquiry
The digital age has seen the rapid growth of new social phenomena. We are connected like never before. Unfortunately, this connection has an insidious underbelly, with fake news, foreign influence in democratic elections, and the rise of hate speech.
Social media and digital platforms have fundamentally changed the way that we receive and consume news and information. Australia’s hyper-concentrated traditional media environment is not helped by this concentrated digital environment, with too much power amassing in the hands of just a few key players.
The huge global corporations that run digital and social media platforms are driven by massive profits, conveying news at the same time as they commodify their users. And more and more members of the community are concerned that these corporations are not behaving responsibly or being held to account when it comes to the social and public interest.
In the last few years we’ve seen other jurisdictions around the world grappling with the right way to ensure digital and social media platforms operate within the public interest. With the concentration of power in the hands of a few, and virtually no rules to govern what they do with this power, it’s clearly time to have a public debate about the role and regulation of the digital space.
That debate should be an informed one. That’s why we will commission a fully independent inquiry, led by experts in the human, digital and consumer rights fields, into digital platforms and social media. The final terms of reference will be developed in consultation with experts in these fields but would look to include:
• the role of digital and social media platforms in upholding the rights and protections of their users, and contributing to public discourse;
• social media giants’ handling of complaints, and the resources dedicated to handling and resolving complaints;
• how other jurisdictions are responding, particularly the European Union;
• the role of public interest in setting standards for the digital age; and
• the role of the Commonwealth in appropriately regulating for the public interest and public safety.
Deductible Gift Recipient Status (DGR) for public interest journalism
Many news organisations rely on philanthropic donations, but Australia’s rules around tax deductibility make it incredibly hard to attract these kinds of donations. To combat this the Greens will introduce DGR status for organisations that meet the following criteria:
• A minimum of 75% of total spending over the past 12 months was on the production and dissemination of news, public interest journalism or other fact-based editorial content
• A minimum of 75% of total revenue was derived from sales, subscriptions, advertising revenue or other individual or philanthropic donations
• A turnover of minimum $1 million in the past financial year
• The primary business and dominant purpose is the production and distribution of news and editorial content that is in the public interest (this test excludes organisations producing content whose purpose is promotional, or for public relations or advocacy).
Tax deductible news for all Australians
We will also provide a tax incentive for Australians who want to engage with public interest journalism by extending the tax deductible status of news media subscriptions, donations and purchases to all Australians.
This will apply to news media organisations in Australia that adhere to appropriate standards of practice for public interest journalism.