On July 25, the impending death of Melbourne’s leading thinking newspaper was announced. The planned takeover of The Age by chequebook journalism, entertainment empire is such a clash of cultures that the death of independent journalism at The Age is certain. Why did this happen?
Caused by the change last year in Federal government regulation to allow newspapers and TV stations to merge, the only worse outcome for thinking readers and journalism would be a takeover by Murdoch’s News Corporation, which has managed to strangle non-right wing journalism in most Australian states over many years. Poor management over the last 20 years, including by the board, failing to adapt early enough to the obvious implications of the Internet, has also been the underlying cause of the failure.
The Age’s fate will be shared by its bigger brother within Fairfax media, the Sydney Morning Herald, presumably with similar effects on readers and journalists in Sydney.
It is impossible to imagine that journalists continuing at these papers after the takeover will be able to question Nine Network’s business practices or culture. Entertainment journalism will win out. Thinking journalism will be emasculated. Looking back, today will be seen as the start of that long, lingering death (even though its demise started many years ago).
Doesn’t the internet guarantee diversity of opinion?
At face value, and as put by the proposers of the takeover – and by the Federal Government – the existence of the Internet does provide a very wide range of opinions. I’m one of those! But, as exposes of Facebook, Twitter trolling, Google search engine algorithms and cartel behaviour, fake news, the dark web, Russian meddling, Chinese censorship and more show, it’s increasingly hard to tell the ‘truth’ in what we read and see (TV, online videos, YouTube are an underrated part of how ‘news’ is circulated, received and perceived. A picture is worth more than a thousand words).
What will happen?
Nothing much will be apparent to the average person. The changes will be incremental (while business heads will proclaim the new organisation will be ‘better’, ‘stronger’). Top news-breaking journalists will gradually leave, with very limited chances of alternative employment. The types of stories will change so The Age begins to reflect Channel Nine news. Subscribers like me will fail to renew, turning to The Guardian Australia for thinking reflections on societal issues (I must confess I’ve been reading TGA before The Age for some time now, reflecting the decline that has been occurring at The Age).
And Australian democracy is being harmed. Not deliberately by Nine. They seek only to gain some good businesses (Domain and complete ownership of Stan). Elimination of an alternative news source is helpful for them, but is a minor element.
Democracy is harmed because The Age held politicians of all parties and businesses of all types to account, while shining lights on social issues not widely understood. Nine looks only at the entertainment value of social issues, not trying to promote a fairer, just society.
Farewell, The Age. We’ve loved your integrity, your independence, your fighting for just causes, for underdogs. You will be sorely missed.