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Journalism, Observations, Opinion, Social Media

Good luck to our new media mogul

Public opinion can be influenced, but it can’t be controlled.

It’s been a big week for the Australian media, with one miner shelling out for a good chunk of Fairfax and another one toying with the idea of following suit.

Whether Clive Palmer is serious about getting into the newspaper game remains to be seen.

He could have just been rounding off an extraordinary week in which he basically declared War on Everything.

I await a Fairfax bid from Palmer in the same spirit I await actual lodgement of his $8 billion lawsuit against QR National. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Gina Rinehart, on the other hand, is now firmly in the media game and unlike previous Australian media owners, she has no ink in her veins at all.

These were already interesting times.

Rupert Murdoch is the last, and greatest of our traditional media moguls. When he goes, it looks increasingly likely that his newspapers will go too.

Until this week I was wondering who might buy them. There’s not exactly a compelling business case.

Which is why Rinehart’s emergence as Australia’s newest media mogul is presumably about the power and influence she seeks to wield in the public conversation.

This is not a conversation she wishes to engage in directly. She’s a private person who historically prefers to exercise her influence away from the public eye.

She climbed on the back of a truck once to encourage the government to “axe the tax” but mostly we gauge her opinions by who she bankrolls.

Like Christopher Monckton, who was in Australia last year to deliver the annual Hancock Lecture. He was also here in 2010, on a visit that was widely reported to be supported by the Rinehart dollar.

During his controversial July 2011 tour,  Monckton spruiked a proposal for an Australian version of Fox News to a meeting of mining executives.

Climate journalist Graham Readfearn broke the story at Desmogblog.com including video of the meeting in question. The link’s since been removed but GetUp is helpfully sending it around.

The upshot of the meeting was unanimous support for Monckton’s proposal to go away and prepare a business plan for a Fox-style television channel.

According to Monckton, the channel would aim to, “… get a few Jo Novas and Andrew Bolts to go on and do the commentating every day and keep the news free and fair and balanced, as they do on Fox…”

This from a guy who described the ABC as fascist during the same visit.

It’s instructive to listen again to Wendy Carlisle’s Background Briefing for ABC Radio National from July last year, not just for Monckton’s comparisons of working journalists to fascists, but also as a reminder of the ugly tone of debate that was prevalent at the time.

So a very rich person wants to use the media to promote an agenda and is probably taking inspiration from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News in the US.

But here’s the thing about using the media as a propaganda tool. It only really works when you manage to suppress alternative views.

The really telling thing about the Monckton video is how out of date it now sounds.

He talks about the Fox-propelled Tea Party as putting lead in the pencil of the Republican Party and holds up the froth-speckled rantings of Glenn Beck as something that could be emulated here.

Six months later and Beck’s gone, a victim of slumping ratings, and the Tea Party appears to be an increasingly irrelevant rump in American politics.

In fact, if there’s a movement framing the debate in US politics at the moment it’s Occupy.

How else to explain the extraordinary attacks by Newt Gingrich on Mitt Romney for getting his wealth the “wrong” way, at the expense of the 99 per cent?

Good luck to Gina Rinehart and her efforts to give voice to that oppressed minority of Australia’s wealthiest people in the national conversation.

And good luck too to the rest of us, who it turns out are pretty discerning about the information we’re getting.

While the Internet and agenda-driven media outlets like Fox make it easier than before to ignore facts we don’t like and opinions we disagree with, that’s not actually what most people are doing.

Turns out, according to a recent study by Facebook, that we’re actually accessing a more diverse range of news and opinion than ever before.

Slate carried a good article about it by Farhad Manjoo: The End of the Echo Chamber.

And another study, reported on by Megan Garber, writing for The Atlantic, confirms that Twitter is actually functioning for its users like the good old fashioned newswire.

What this means is that people are doing what they always have – seeking out information and making up their own minds.

Public opinion can be influenced, but it can’t be controlled.

Not in the US, not in the Middle East, not in China. And no, I reckon, not in Australia neither.

© Sally Baxter 2012

About Sally Baxter

Once I was a girl reporter, blogging as Sally Baxter. Now I'm writing under my name at www.mariaspackman.com covering the past, present and future of journalism and whatever else takes my fancy. All views my own.


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Your Girl Reporter is now filing as Maria Spackman at www.mariaspackman.com Same great content, whole new website. I’m leaving Sally Baxter up, as I can’t quite bring myself to let her go completely, but it’s time to honour my family name – and use it. Hope you’ll join me for the Further Adventures of a Girl Reporter. It’ll be fun.

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