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Media Ownership + Culture + Stuff

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Media Ownership + Culture + Stuff

Andrew Ryan

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I did some journalism units at university, and because of this I am always wary of anything that calls itself journalism (same as the result of doing one year of a fine art degree: wary about anything that calls itself art). I think the term “journalism” is a little misunderstood, and I think that Australian democracy suffers as a result. This week, I am about to make no attempts to define “journalism” – that ain’t my role right now – nah, I just wanna explore how I feel about that stuff as a result of reading annoying Australian “journalism” and feeling despondent because of it.

So: last year I enrolled for a degree in communications at a well-respected in-that-field university. I was doing it online because that university is in Queensland and I wasn’t prepared to up and move to Brisbane just for study; even though the weather is pretty agreeable with me up there, I needed a little more time than I had to prepare for cultural and social and financial switches to move to a state I’ve never lived in before.

And I got the text books and I read right through them, and I started some of the assignments but didn’t finish all of them, got pretty fucking good marks when I did finish them and hand them in, and I engaged with the online course discussion groups no matter if it was compulsory or not, and I got good feedback and thumbs ups from my online tutors; I’m sure I would have had some kind of bright future in that path if I’d followed it but, yanno, I went to Tasmania last minute for the thrill of following musicians around the country so I dropped out because I fell behind in my school work. Also, that was around the time that politicians were proposing to send any journalist who reports on information provided by “whistleblowers” (see: concerned citizens) to jail for ten years, and I was like “that’s the most important journalism to me, that’s what I would morally prefer to be doing when I graduate” and I got scared of that gross authority and dropped out. Better to just paint and make music videos; can’t get thrown in jail for that right? No prison for artists in Australia right? Yeah, you’re right. She’ll be right mate.

But the point is, I’ve got some book learnin’ on top of my street smarts. Got some theoretical understanding, from peer reviewed sources no less. Academia. Ethics and philosophy and psychology and sociology and non-humanties based sciences, on top of 10 years working as a bar tender in Perth and Melbourne and a little time spent in country towns and a general global internet culture mind-view stretching. So I look at current journalistic practices in this nation I was born in to and my mind is a little blown in to despondency.

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Media ownership in Australia is gross. It is essentially a duopoly. One could write a book on it; books have been written in the past about this issue, and they’re worth the time it takes to read a book. But I don’t have time to write a book, and you don’t have time to read one, so here we are and I’ll touch on one tiny, tiny little portion of a much bigger and complicated thing for the rest of this word blurt:

Did you know that Gina Rinehart has a 10% share in Channel 10 (and also that Rupert Murdoch has 5% share in Vice, but that won’t be expanded on any further today)? She was on the board from 2010-2014; when she stepped off the board, the chief development officer of her company (Hancock Prospecting) took her place as a director.

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A big thing I learnt during my studies, when I would go on epic 12 hour long research tangents that were more suited to late-degree assignments than first semester of first year assignments, was that media ownership is an important factor in how news – and culture as a whole – is projected (see: sold) back to citizens, to consumers. Cui bono? To who’s benefit are the actions in question? How much money is involved? How much greed is involved?

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Waleed Aly is on Ten Network’s “The Project”, and that guy has an incredibly grounded and fairly nuanced understanding of political and social issues happening in Australia, which is a pleasure to watch in the snippets I see of his media appearances online when I open facebook. A much-shared-on-the-facebook guy. He’s a hit with progressives because he speaks justified criticisms of neo-liberal mentality. He’s a very good speaker, and a clever man; well suited to public discussion. Board of directors for Ten Network is watching him closely I’m sure, but his popularity must keep it all (his job) afloat. I’d like to see him in politics, but it seems like being in politics pretty much sucks the life out of everyone because of the pre-existing shitty culture of multi-generational-business-and-political-elite-rich-white-man bullshit that everyone who is interested in that world has to contend with. Exclusionary. Awful.

Side note: I first encountered Waleed Aly in 2011, when he was the opening speaker at Abdul Abdullah’s “Them and Us” exhibition. I recognised him vaguely, vaguely, and could tell by Abdul’s excitement that he was a fellow to be listened to, a fellow to note. My camera was there too.

I can’t remember exactly what was said in his speech, but Aly was standing in front of a photograph of Abdul’s father, a white Australian man who converted to Islam when he married Abdul’s Malaysian mother. The image is arresting, with the word “Assimilate” printed below it (see image above). Abdul’s work is predominantly about his cultural heritage, Muslim in Australia, remembering life as a child before 9/11 and his life as a teenager and adult post 9/11; how 9/11 changed the way non-Islamic people view him and his kin.

Looking back, I view this exhibition as a little prophetic. Conceptually, this is not a completely uncommon thing in Abdul’s work. He has been privy to and on the wrong end of the worst sides of Australian “nationalistic pride” since he was a child, and it’s only been recently that this side has become properly reported on in mass media. He’s got a longer depth-of-insight in to the workings of white Australia than many white Australians I have met. The grossness of extremist nationalistic pride present in some of Abdul’s work, his research, his thinking, his expression, was being exhibited in galleries in multiple Australian cities years before the Australian media duopoly started reporting on the kind of abuse Islamic people can experience at the hands of extremist nationalists.

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Australia, as a nation, is a big colonial nation sitting on top of many, many pre-existing nations. The other day I listened to an interesting (well constructed, informative AND vaguely entertaining) podcast about nationhood, what it means to be a state. It was specifically about micro nations, the old metal platform sitting off the coast of England known as the Principality of Sealand and whatnot, but I was listening to it through the ear-goggles of Australia, through the ear-goggles of being familiar with recent attempts to flex First Nations sovereignty muscle under the veil of Colonial Law…

Listen to the podcast here.

And then listen to this song and think about salt lakes.