Australia’s need for accurate news and other information content is large, and not going away. Access to accurate, timely, objective information and news is an essential ‘public good’: it affects our ability to function in a healthy, cohesive, and democratic manner. However, for over a decade, the number of Australians employed to produce that essential information has been shrinking: suppressed by corporate concentration and cost-cutting, reductions or complete closures of news gathering, and the outright theft of domestic content by global digital platforms that, until now, have been permitted to free-ride on the investments others make in Australian news and content. Despite these challenges the industry has survived – and the dedicated efforts of thousands of professionals to keep generating timely, accurate content has been critical in helping Australians traverse the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters. But it is clear that the industry’s current structure is unsustainable.
Active policy intervention to sustain and support domestic media does not constitute a ‘bail out’, nor is it part of an insidious government effort to ‘control the news.’ To the contrary, it is a necessary policy response to the failure of private market forces to create the conditions under which this essential service can be viably conducted. This fundamental failure of the private market for information necessitates strong policy responses to ensure that a healthy and capable domestic media industry continue to serve Australians – now, and to face whatever unforeseen challenges will confront our society, and our democracy, in the years ahead.
This paper reviews the systemic and structural challenges facing Australia’s diverse and evolving media industry, with a special focus on how the nature of journalism – and the conditions faced by journalists and other media workers – are changing in light of technology, new business models, globalisation, and other tectonic forces.
The report is organised as follows. First, it provides a comprehensive statistical overview of information and media industries in Australia, including employment levels, wages, GDP, and productivity. This review confirms that information and media industries remain a vital and valuable part of the national economy – although their capacity to meet Australians’ growing information needs may be falling behind. The next major section reviews the various forces that have restructured media industries in recent years, including new technologies, cross-ownership across media modes, and growing concentration of ownership. The third section reviews several ways in which the jobs of journalists and other media workers have changed in the face of this restructuring: including new technologies, new employment relationships, and new skills. The final section considers the economic evidence for understanding journalism and the media as a ‘public good’, thus justifying (and necessitating) active policy measures to sustain its capacities. It then considers a range of policy proposals that would help to sustain a high-quality, independent, and trustworthy media sector in Australia for decades to come.