Ita’s Take on Media Ownership

When Australian media icon Ita Buttrose adressed the National Press Club last week, she was speaking as an advocate for Alzheimer’s Australia, but given what a tumultuous week it has been for the Australian media, question time soon turned into a fascinating exchange about editorial independence.

These National Press Club events can be rather droll affairs, but not this one!  Following her warm and funny speech about Alzheimer’s, the assembled media pack, who rightly recognised they were in the presence of a giant in their field, asked Ms Buttrose about the latest machinations at News Ltd and Fairfax, and her answers delivered a genuinely fascinating insight (from close range and long experience) about what it is like for a senior reporter, publisher and editor to work for different media masters.  Her remarks were also picked up by Milanda Rout of The Australian.

She called on the media industry to stand up for itself against calls for government regulation and tell politicians to “get out of our turf”, and called on journalists to start advocating for themselves in the face of “knee-jerk” reactions by politicians to regulate the media.

In the face of concerns about what the potential influence of media wannabe owners, like Gina Rinehart, she said what really mattered was that the public understood proprietors influenced their publications, “balanced by good journalism of the kind that provides an impartial point of view”.  Journalistic impartiality and independence – I remember that!

Ita said: “It seems a new blood sport to guess what Gina Rinehart might or might not do if she was to get a seat or two on Fairfax media,” she said. “It is all too readily assumed that the Australian public are mugs who buy any line that is spun to them, whether by politicians or the media.  My experience tells me that this is simply is not true . . . the public eventually has the good common sense to make up its own mind about what is being said. I find it disturbing that the knee-jerk reaction to events in the media is that it should be regulated.”

Rather than being pessimistic about the future of Australian journalism, she said the future for newspapers was bright and journalists might all become publishers because “you will be able to do it from your bedroom”.  “We will be able to do things in digital publishing that we have not been able to do before,” she said. “It’s a good world we are moving to and we should be excited about that, not negative.”

For her fellow media colleagues Buttrose expressed concerns about the number of job losses that were anticipated under the restructure.

What was also fascinating was her recount of the real and actual influence exerted by media moguls she had worked for in the past including Sir Warwick Fairfax and Kerry Packer, who according to Ita, left their staff in no doubt about the kinds of stories they wanted covered in their newspapers.  Is it realistic to expect any modern-day media barons to hold back from similar influence? Surely this is naive at best.

There is a universal truth that applies here, and it is about the intrinsic quality of the reporting done for a media outlet will always tell – as Oscar Wilde once wrote – the truth will always out.

Any journalist worth their salt will not play it safe and run the ‘party’ line – they will continue to do investigative reports about matters of serious import, they will break the news, not repeat it or quote it from a media release, and they will continue to provide an invaluable service to the Australian people in reporting the big stories that reflect who we are as a nation, and inform our national identity.  If they don’t, people just won’t buy their newspapers, or sign on for their digital subscriptions, and the media companies will be penalised accordingly.

To watch Ita’s address in full, click here.  It is thoroughly worth a look.

Yours in PR


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