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Netflix and Fairfax in an uncaring new media environment


Border Mail front page

Serious TV viewers have been celebrating last week’s arrival of legal Netflix on demand content, which offers ’all you can eat’ streaming for just $8.99 per month.

On the one hand, it makes pay TV more accessible to low income earners, who until recently were looking at an unaffordable $50 entry level Foxtel subscription.

But on the other, it’s really not good news for any of us, because effectively it will mean an end to the telling of Australian stories, as our screens become increasingly flooded with overseas content.

The big media corporations are lobbying Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to waive licence fees and reform ownership rules so that they can consolidate and be ready to compete against the likes of Netflix in a new on-demand media environment that will see the end of media forms we know today, including printed newspapers and ‘appointment’ or scheduled network television.

Turnbull feels sorry for our media executives, who are suffering from the reality that the internet has lowered the barriers to entry to the media and, on face of it, fostered greater competition and diversity. This has enabled overseas publications such as The Guardian and the Daily Mail to establish themselves here with a modest outlay, taking significant market share while providing only a limited amount of Australian content.

But it seems our media companies are expecting the government to change the rules in their favour without a corresponding commitment to maintaining  localism. Much of the content of both the Murdoch tabloids, and Fairfax titles – and other media – is networked, with little or no recognition that there are still discrete cultural markings in different parts of Australia that demand particular treatments of national stories and adequate space for local stories.

It was only a few years ago that readers were crying foul when Fairfax announced plans to merge the Canberra bureaux of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. It was argued that Victorian and New South Wales readers needed different coverage of federal politics to reflect their particular needs and concerns. That battle was lost.

Now it is drastic staff cuts that will reduce the ability of Fairfax’s regional newspapers to cover local stories and address concerns of their readers. Independent MP Cathy McGowan told Federal Parliament last week that regional newspapers such as her local Albury-Wodonga Border Mail play an important role providing local news, and job cuts and work practice changes would have an adverse impact on the region. The ABC’s MediaWatch addressed the issue last Monday, highlighting the newspaper’s proud past record in campaigning on behalf of the local community.

Netflix and the Daily Mail and the Huffington Post don’t care about whether people in a local area get a cancer centre, mental health resources, or safer roads, or if they know about what’s going on in their backyard. Nor, it seems, does Fairfax, or Murdoch’s Newscorp.

There was a time when nearly all media outlets were independent of each other, and locally owned, by proprietors who cared as much about the welfare of their regions and cities as they did their own bottom line. That was the case with the Border Mail, which was established by the Mott family in 1903 and held by them until Fairfax bought the paper in 2008.

Big media companies don't deserve favours from the Federal Government until they can demonstrate a commitment to localism. In the meantime, consumers may as well take advantage of the technological advances of the internet and enjoy Netflix and the Daily Mail.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, media, Fairfax, Newscorp, Daily Mail, Netflix, Malcolm Turnbull, media reform



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Existing comments

The flow is all one way and it is mostly irrelevant. Politicians ignore the Public Interest of Australians and act to support private interests. Localism is lost but for the ABC radio. ABC TV seems to have had it too.

Peter Horan | 30 March 2015  

Thank you, MIchael. This issue of localism is one which demands our concern, for sure - but I'd never heard of it until I read your article, despite being a regular Fairfax, and occasional 'Australian' reader. Let's hope the Communications Minister can take this as seriously as it deserves.

Joan Seymour | 30 March 2015  

A very informative article Michael. I love my ABC and watch it 90% of the time. I also read SMH on weekends. Local content is so important to myself and lots of people I know. However you will never stop the global spread of media, movies etc. It is a dilemma and I'm not sure what can be done.

Cate | 31 March 2015  

Government-controlled local content requirements are irrelevant - if there were no restrictions, channels spewing out all overseas content would soon lose out as viewers wander back for local content (provided it's quality content, of course) Where are the Aussie sitcoms and comedies? (apart from crappie ABC parody shows with the types of jokes I fell like I would dream of myself)

AURELIUS | 07 April 2015  

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