ACCC Digital platforms inquiry: Audiences are boycotting mainstream news media

As the ACCC enquiry continues, the government must avoid blindly accepting media owner's views without considering the audience behind them, argues MediaScope’s Denise Shrivell.

When looking through the submissions to the ACCC Digital platforms inquiry, there is one voice which seems to be largely missing – the audience.

So my submission to the ACCC Digital platforms inquiry included the audience’s view, with the aim of showing the range of other reasons aside from digital disruption and revenue decline in our mainstream news media.

On April 2 and 3 I put out a survey to the #auspol Twitter audience, attracting 500 respondents within 24 hours.

First let’s be upfront – this survey data comes from a large, active, media and highly politically savvy, mostly progressively minded audience.

They are not ‘low news’ media consumers – in fact I’d argue they are representative of a group of news consumers whom parts of our mainstream news media once actively pursued – and are an audience our democracy needs.

Here’s some top line survey results from the 500 respondents.

They shared their news sources:

Then their trust of news sources:

Quite alarmingly, survey respondents overwhelmingly said our mainstream news media has a negative impact on our democracy and that they actively choose to boycott mainstream media:

And finally, the answered if they do or would pay for informative and trustworthy journalism:

Survey respondents were also asked for their views through a range of questions – where a word cloud was then created:

When taking into account these views of our news media landscape, it’s clear to see the presence of digital platforms are not the only reasons some audiences are leaving mainstream news media. My submission asks the ACCC Board to recognise this as part of its Digital platforms inquiry.

The findings and comments found through this survey are not too different from what many of you – my colleagues – say to me privately. You know this is happening too.

While it is valid to scrutinise the fast changing and greatly disrupted Australian media landscape, the ACCC inquiry cannot be looked at without also considering the current political climate. Key factors in bringing about this inquiry into digital platforms include Facebook, Google and ‘others’ – think Amazon, Netflix and possibly Twitter.

The ACCC inquiry came about as part of last minute horse trading and concessions, when long-awaited media ownership reforms were pushed through Australia’s Senate in September 2017.

The key media reform repealed was the two out of three rule – set up prior to the internet – which stopped a single media proprietor owning TV, radio and print in one market. This two out of three rule has particularly inhibited NewsCorp from possibly achieving some of its market ambitions.

Australia is one of the most concentrated media ownership landscapes in the world, dominated by a few commercial traditional organisations. As we’ve seen worldwide, audiences, advertising revenue (and political influence) has continued to shift away from traditional to other media platforms, with the main beneficiaries being Facebook and Google.

Traditional mainstream media – particularly NewsCorp – still largely sets the news agenda of the day, and uses its reach and influence to lead the political narrative. NewsCorp is known for its bias to the current government – the conservative centre to extreme right-leaning Liberal National Party Coalition.

Australia’s Government is down in the polls and subject to internal idealogical and factional infighting, while holding a slim majority in parliament. To put it simply, it’s within government’s interests to keep traditional media owners on side. We’ve also seen the government cut funding to our national broadcaster and launch an inquiry in what is clearly a political move to narrow critical voices and to find further favour its supporters.

Overall the ACCC inquiry benefits Australia’s current government and brings traditional media owners a step closer to regulating its competition.

It is also through this lens which the ACCC Digital platforms inquiry should be viewed. Scrutiny is valid, but with the evolving media habits and needs of audiences in mind – not only those of one incumbent sector of the media landscape. This is what will ensure the survival of the Australian media industry.

Denise Shrivell is the founder of MediaScope. Subscribe to MediaScope’s Friday Newsletter here.

To hear Mumbrella co-founder Tim Burrowes discuss his own experience presenting at the ACCC enquiry, take a listen to this week’s Mumbrellacast.


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