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Netflix and Fairfax in an uncaring new media environment

  • 30 March 2015

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