Facebook’s “Zucker” punch on February 18, disabling large sections of Facebook in protest at the federal government’s News Media Bargaining Code (NMBC), which led to amendments and the bill becoming law on February 25, reveals the enormous power of the media corporations.
It also shows how far we are from public interest journalism.
Despite all the talk, the NMBC is counterposed to a democratic fourth estate; it instead favours big media barons — especially Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
There is nothing in the new bargaining code that will help content creators and independent journalists. Nor is there anything to help redistribute revenue to community media. Nor will it reverse the cuts to the ABC and SBS.
Independent and community media organisations, which do not have legal and financial muscle, will not benefit. They will need at least $150,000 in revenue each year to be eligible to enter into arrangements under the new code.
There is nothing in it that commits media corporations to hire journalists or invest in long-form investigative journalism.
If anything, it will encourage even greater media concentration in a country which already has one of the highest concentrations in the world.
It could also be used to justify further cuts to the ABC and SBS — as they will now be able to make their own agreement with Facebook and Google.
Instead of supporting journalism, the new media laws aim to help in the transfer of profits from one section of big capital to another.
Over the past week, the mainstream debate became stuck over whether this, or allowing new capital to supersede the old capital, was best.
It is the establishment’s fake solution to the very real funding crisis for journalism and growing social media market share. It is unfortunate that the Greens, the Guardian and other liberal left groups threw their weight behind it.
The Greens did strengthen their position over the week, however, pushing for amendments including new tax measures and more funding for journalism.
But, for real democracy and accountability of those in power, we need more radical measures.
Facebook’s shut down of media sites should be a wake-up call to the power of Zuckerberg. It should remind us that real public interest journalism comes from people-owned alternatives, accountable to those using them and not a single majority shareholder.
How can we create a space on the internet where content creators are supported, marginalised voices are given a platform and algorithms work for people not profit?
Rather than redistribute advertising revenue to the big end of town, funding needs to be directed to community media organisations and content creators.
The $700 million in cuts to the ABC since 2014 must also be reversed. ABC internships, once a landing post for new journalists, including John Pilger and David Bradbury, do not exist anymore.
We need alternatives that include funding open source software and web projects and media production hubs, which are set up for training and have access to equipment and exposure.
We need journalism to be crowd supported, not beholden to the advertising dollar or funded by vested interests.
It is common, for instance, for regional newspapers to regularly run large advertisements for mining corporations which has its own flow-on impact to content. This needs to be broken.
Where is the money going to come from?
Easy. Tax the big media companies. Currently, Facebook and Google pay next to no tax in Australia, while Murdoch pays zero tax.
In addition, we need to support journalism that works for us.
These ideas are just the beginning of the answer to how to revive public interest and accountable journalism that speaks truth to corporate power.
If there is one thing the Zuker punch should tell us, it is that corporations not hold too much power over government.
The push for a new bargaining code started with Murdoch wanting more money from new capital, which it saw as taking away their advertising and market share.
The government produced an illogical piece of legislation that asked Facebook and Google to pay media corporations who choose to post their content on its website.
Facebook responded by disabling large parts of its platform until the government agreed to its amendments — which it did within a week.
Facebook claims that the government’s amendments will allow it to decide which media organisations to support and it retains the power to block all news on its platform.
That means that the new law further entrenches Facebook’s control over what is, and is not, “news” or “fake news”, on a platform which is used by 17 million Australians — a huge proportion of the population.
Another concern not widely discussed is a new voluntary code of practice, pushed by a private industry group DIGI, allegedly to stop misinformation and disinformation which Facebook and Google signed on to as the media bargaining debate has been raging.
Why, given their track record, would we trust big tech to decide what is news or not?
The ease in which Murdoch and Zuckerburg have been able to force concessions from the government reveals much about what is wrong about our “democracy”.
It shows that fearless independent journalism is needed to challenge corporate power and the only way to get that is to fight for it.
[Zebedee Parkes is a film maker and photographer and a member of Socialist Alliance.]