News and Media Research Centre, University of Canberra
Australia’s media landscape has undergone a period of significant transformation over the past year. Outdated media regulations have been scrapped, US media giant CBS has entered the local TV market, and inquiries are being held into the impact of digital platforms on media competition and the future of public interest journalism.
After more than a decade of debate, outdated media ownership laws have been overhauled to reflect the digital environment. The changes involved scrapping the ‘75% reach rule’ which prevented one organisation from broadcasting to more than three-quarters of the Australian population, and removing the ‘2 out of 3 rule’ which prohibited ownership of television, radio, and newspapers by a single proprietor in one region. The reforms were welcomed by the media industry, but critics warn concentration of ownership could increase further.
Concern about the health of the news media in Australia has been the subject of two separate inquiries. The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission is looking into the impact of Google and Facebook (plus other search engines and platforms) on the supply of news and journalistic content and the implications for media content creators, advertisers, and consumers.
A Senate committee Inquiry into the Future of Public Interest Journalism also considered ways the government could maintain a strong media sector. The inquiry recommended the government examine tax deductibility of news subscriptions, and extending deductible gift recipient status to not-for-profit news media organisations. The inquiry also called for an audit of national security and defamation laws which limit free reporting, improving media literacy in schools, and maintaining adequate funding for the two public broadcasters — Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).
The ABC has also been under organisational and political pressure. A major restructure has removed the traditional demarcation between television and radio, with content creation now organised around general themes of news, entertainment, and regional/rural. The changes have led to additional regional reporters and a boost to podcasting, but have also meant cuts to late-night news programming. The national broadcaster has also been in the spotlight for perceived anti-government and liberal bias which has led to concerns about the government exerting political pressure and undermining editorial independence.
Contrary to concerns about increased concentration of media ownership, US media giant CBS bought the failed commercial Ten Network, which had gone into administration. The arrival of CBS is expected to boost Ten’s subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) presence, and there are hopes the company will also invest in news and current affairs which have been savagely cut at the network.
Print publications have had another difficult year. Newspaper print circulations continue to fall, with a 10% drop across the board in the 12 months to November 2017. However, combined readership figures across online and print present a more stable picture, suggesting readers are shifting from print to online editions. After a failed crowdfunding campaign, the independent children’s newspaper Crinkling News shut down. Bauer Media ceased production of three of its smaller magazine titles, and Rolling Stone Australia also closed.
Online, an increase in the number of publications has led to mixed results. After three years, HuffPost ended its joint venture with Fairfax media, resulting in the redundancy of 30 staff, who have moved to other news organisations and start-ups. In contrast, Guardian Australia has experienced a period of strong growth. In response to a membership drive, the organisation expanded its paying supporter base to 33,000. This success might partly explain an increase in the number of Australians paying for online news from 13% in 2017 to 20% this year.
Advertising continues to shift away from print to online, which now makes up 50% of ad spend, the majority of which is going to the major platforms Google and Facebook. Deloitte’s media survey tells us there has also been a large increase in mobile advertising with ads on social media now rivalling TV in impact on buyer decisions.
The majority (82%) are now using online sources for news, and 52% accessing social media sources. Even so, just 24% of news consumers trust social media. In contrast trust in news overall has risen to 50%.
SOURCES AND DEVICES FOR NEWS
The shift to online and mobile is being mirrored in news consumption. 58% of news consumers are using their smartphones to access news, overtaking computer and tablets for the first time. Two thirds (66%) continue to watch TV news.
There has been a significant increase in general trust in news from 42% in 2017 to 50%, but trust in social media for news is low at 24%. This possibly reflects a growing awareness of a distinction between quality journalism and ‘fake news’. The data shows that people who mostly consume news via traditional platforms have higher trust in news than those who rely on social and online sources. Legacy TV brands continue to be the most trusted sources of news.