It’s not fair our media magnates bleat

It is hard to know whether the bleatings of the major media outlets about losing the Meta $70 million payments under the media bargaining code are pathetic or laughable. Indeed, perhaps both.

Now whatever you think of the mainstream media in Australia, and the deleterious impact of Meta and other social media outlets on our politics and society, the reality is that the Australian media problems are much deeper than Meta publishing links to their stories and not being rewarded for it.

Nevertheless, in an SMH article (22/6) Calum Jaspan wrote about how “a trio of executives from Nine, News Corp and Seven West media had slammed the ‘toxic’ impact of social media on Australian democracy and society pointing to the growing incidence of trolling, political interference, scams and blackmail.”

Jaspan reported that media executives speaking at the Social Media and Australian Society inquiry in Canberra said “the Federal Government should impose further regulations on social media platforms including the potential expulsion of Facebook from Australia if Meta failed to comply with local laws and values.”

The media CEOs frothed at the mouth about the injustice of it all. Nine’s Mike Sneesby joined in with the claim that “we cannot be scared to designate platforms that refuse to recognise our sovereign laws” News Corp Chair Michael Miller said Meta was “preparing to blackmail” not only media organisations but also the Federal Government by refusing to renew the news content deal.

Where do you start with this huffing and puffing?  Well first, for all the bleating, the media’s problems are much bigger than the loss of Meta funding. The Murdoch media is shedding staff and going through a massive reorganisation. The Australian media companies as a whole are also trying to build their online presence and boast to advertisers about their great reach. Yet the reality is that their reach and influence is a shadow of what it once was. These problems predate social media.

Indeed, if Sally Young ever decides to write the third volume of her brilliant work on the history of Australian media, it will be less about the power of the mainstream media and more about its decline.

For instance, the old Melbourne Herald was once extraordinarily influential. People flocking into Flinders and Spencer Street railway stations and bought a copy to read on their way home. Henry Bolte and Dick Hamer’s Press Secretary Syd Kellaway made a very successful career out of drops the night before the Herald was published, ensuring day after day of front-page news. Today you are more likely to see someone spruiking religion on the Flinders Street steps than a paper boy.

Jaspan also dredged up Miller’s comments at the National Press Club when he said social media platforms should be forced out of the Australian market if they refuse to play by local rules. Ironically, many Australians would probably wish that another prominent overseas company had a much smaller role in the Australian media landscape.

Sadly, all of the executives giving evidence refused to say whether they should have to abide by disinformation and misinformation codes.

What Australian media needs is not propping up what Sally Young called the Media Monsters but support for new and independent media.

….and on another issue: Listening to the latest Dutton nuclear claim – it will be cheaper than renewables –brings to mind a comment by the Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman who was involved in the investigation of the January 28 1986 Challenger disaster. He was commenting on the overstretched ambitions of NASA. Feynman said: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations…. for nature cannot be fooled.”