Seven, Nine, Ten ruled by corporate interest

The past few weeks have not been kind to Australia’s three largest media companies.

Kerry Stokes’ Seven network, which the stock market is currently valuing at 25 cents a share, has been exposed for providing accused rapist Bruce Lehrmann with luxury accommodation for a year in exchange for what has turned out to be an ill-fated interview with the Spotlight program. This is the same network that was in the corner of accused war criminal Ben Roberts-Smith, and which has been furiously fighting to keep its role in Roberts-Smith’s defamation trial secret.

It’s hard to maintain the pretence that you’re a fourth estate supporting transparency and scrutiny of the powerful when you’re devoting large sums of money to fighting other media companies. Seven’s journalists were apparently even graceless enough to refuse to participate in a standing ovation at the Walkleys for Chris Masters and Nick McKenzie.

Nine’s newspapers also covered themselves in journalistic glory by gagging journalists who signed an open letter calling for balance in coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict — after refusing to cover extensive terrorism by Israeli colonists on the West Bank, or disclose that its editors participated in sponsored junkets to Israel.

News Corp remains News Corp — although its Middle East coverage, once substantial and balanced under Chris Mitchell and John Lyons at The Australian, is now a continuing screed of anti-Palestinian propaganda, part of the 9/11-isation of the Hamas atrocities, designed to polarise, portray anything less than the annihilation of Palestinians as softness on terrorism, and thereby facilitating the very process that will create more radicalisation and extremism. And its free speech warriors, quelle surprise, have been silent on — or supportive of — Nine gagging its journalists.

Also rather quiet at Seven and News Corp are the cheerleaders for Bruce Lehrmann and the relentless critics of Brittany Higgins as Lehrmann was dissected into small parts by the Ten Network’s barrister in his defamation case. Suddenly the hysteria over Higgins’ text messages seemed decidedly trivial as Lehrmann found himself on the witness stand admitting he’d lied repeatedly.

Coincidentally, in a move that received surprisingly little coverage from Seven and Nine, Labor moved to provide yet more assistance to them and Ten via legislation to expand the anti-siphoning scheme to streaming services, and impose it on yet more hapless sports rights holders, who will suffer significant financial loss from being forced to deal only with free-to-air broadcasters. It once again demonstrates how influential the major broadcasters are when it comes to media policy, even when viewers have abandoned them in droves for the better offerings of streaming services.

Unlike Seven or News Corp, Nine newspapers still regularly produce quality journalism — just this week McKenzie, along with Michael Bachelard, won the scalp of Mike Pezzullo; the Financial Review’s Edmund Tadros and Neil Chenoweth won the Gold Walkley for their work on PwC. But the context of any production of public interest journalism at Nine is that Nine Entertainment — the name illustrates the commercial imperatives of the company — readily uses its own political influence, and the power of its role in public debate, to influence media policy in its favour.

Nine did the same under the Coalition when it teamed up with other media companies to push for social media companies and Google to be forced to pay them because they were more successful at attracting advertising than the likes of Nine, Seven and News Corp.

Australia thus doesn’t really have media companies. It has corporate interests that produce journalism as a by-product (Nine) or accidentally (Seven and News), when the broader priority is the use of political influence to obtain commercial advantage. And at that they are very, very successful.

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