New Canadian Media

By: Dr. Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

It was never spectacular, but the Australian media scape is set to become duller, more contained, and more controlled with changes to the Broadcasting Services Act.  In an environment strewn with the corpses of papers and outlets strapped for cash, calls for reforming the media market have been heard across the spectrum. 

The foggy deception being perpetrated by the Turnbull government, assisted by the calculating antics of South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, is that diversity will be shored up by such measures as the $60 million “innovation” fund for small publishers while scrapping the so-called two-out-of-three rule for TV, radio and press ownership. Such dissembling language is straight out of the spin doctor’s covert manual: place innovation in the title, and you might get across the message. 

As Chris Graham of New Matilda scornfully put it, 

“The Turnbull government is going to spend $60 million of your taxes buying a Senator’s vote to pass bad legislation designed to advantage some of the most powerful media corporations in the world.”

Paul Budde of Independent Australia was similarly excoriating.

“To increase power of the incumbent players through media reforms might not necessarily have an enormous effect on the everyday media diversity, but it will allow organisations such as the Murdoch press to wield even greater power over Australian politics than is already the case.” 

As the statement from Senator Xenophon’s site reads, 

“Grants would be allocated, for example, to programs and initiatives such as the purchasing or upgrading of equipment and software, development of apps, business activities to drive revenue and readership, and training, all of which will assist in extending civic and regional journalism.”

The communications minister Mitch Fifield went so far as to deem the fund “a shot in the arm” for media organisations, granting them “a fighting chance”. 

The aim here, claims the good senator, is to throw down the gauntlet to the revenue pinchers such as Facebook and Google while generating a decent number of recruits through journalism cadetships. Google, claimed Xenophon in August, “are hoovering up billions of dollars or revenue along with Facebook and that is killing media in this country.”

Google Australia managing director Jason Pellegrino had a very different take: you only had to go no further than the consumer. 

“The people to blame are you and I as news consumers, because we are choosing to change the behaviour and patterns of (how) we are consuming news.” 

Xenophon’s patchwork fund hardly alleviates the consequences that will follow from scrapping of the rules on ownership. Having chanted the anti-Google line that its behaviour is distinctly anti-democratic, his agreement with the government will shine a bright green light for cash-heavy media tycoons keen on owning types of media (radio, television, papers) without limits. The line between commercial viability and canned journalism run by unelected puppet masters becomes all too real, while the truly independent outlets will be left to their social Darwinian fate. 

Labor senator Sam Dastyari saw the Turnbull-Xenophon agreement has having one notable target, and not necessarily the social media giants who had punctured the media market with such effect. 

“They are doing in the Guardian. You have thrown them under the bus.” 

The measure is odd in a few respects, most notably because regional papers were hardly consulted on the measure. This, it seemed, was a hobby horse run by the senator through the stables of government policy. In the end, the horse made it to the finishing line. 

The very idea of linking government grants to the cause of journalism constitutes a form of purchasing allegiance and backing. How this advances the cause of civic journalism, as opposed to killing it by submission, is unclear. The temptation for bias – the picking of what is deemed appropriately civic, and what is not, is all too apparent. 

The package supposedly incorporates an “independence test” by which the applicant publisher can’t be affiliated with any political party, union, superannuation fund, financial institution, non-government organisation or policy lobby group. Further independence is supposedly ensured by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which will administer the fund. 

The decision about which organisation to fund is already implied by the scale of revenue. The cut-off point, for starters, is an annual turnover of not less than $300,000 in revenue. The other end of the scale is a ceiling of $30 million, which, for any media outlet, would be impressive. 

This media non-reform package also comes on the heels of another dispiriting masquerade: an attempt to import a further layering of supposed transparency measures on the ABC and SBS, a position long championed by senator Pauline Hanson. This reactionary reflex, claimed the fuming crossbench Senator Jacqui Lambie, was “the worst lot of crap I have seen”, the sort of feculence designed to punish the public broadcaster for being “one step ahead when it comes to iView and their social media platforms.”[6] 

Between the giants of Google and Facebook, and a government happy to sing before the tycoons, a small publishing outlet is best going it alone in an already cut throat environment, relying on the old fashioned, albeit ruthless good sense, of the reader. Have trust that the copy will pull you through, or perish trying to do so.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMITUniversity, Melbourne.

Published in Top Stories

By: Tim Mayfield in Melbourne, Australia

The latest Australian census data is in and it makes for interesting reading. Of particular note, 72 per cent of residents reported speaking only English at home, down from nearly 77 per cent in 2011. Moreover, for the first time since colonisation, most of the Australians who were born overseas came from Asia rather than Europe.

So what to make of these shifts?

On the face of it, the data indicates that Australia is becoming an even more diverse society with greater links into our immediate region and beyond. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story.

To properly assess where we are at as a nation, we need to critically examine the quality of the engagement between Australia’s ethnic communities, as well as the depth of our links into Asia (given that our immediate neighbourhood is so crucial both in terms of trade but also as the major source of new immigrants).

According to these criteria, there is much work to be done. The shortfall is borne out by a quick examination of the state of Australia’s second-language teaching from early childhood through to tertiary level.

Australia is not just failing at languages (especially Asian languages), we are failing spectacularly. The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has decreased from 40 per cent in 1960 to around 10 per cent in 2016 – and this includes native speakers.

Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.

It just doesn’t make sense in the context of our increasing interconnectedness with the global community both at home and abroad.

Of course, one could argue (and plenty do) that because Australia’s foreign language capability is on the rise, driven by immigration, there is a decreasing need to commit time and resources to second language learning.

There are several issues with this perspective. The first is that our collective commitment to multiculturalism should not start and end with those who arrive on our shores. For multiculturalism to work, it requires genuine commitment to engagement and mutual understanding from all sides.

Learning a second language is both an end in itself but also an effective proxy for the kind of intercultural understanding that will be essential if Australia is to continue to thrive in its diversity. Assistant Professor Ruth Fielding argued recently that Australia’s multilingual diversity is being stifled by a monolingual culture and approach to curriculum in schools.

By engaging with an unfamiliar language, students are also engaging with the culture and history that comes with it. In doing so, they gain perspective into a world beyond their immediate experience, greater insight into their own communities and curiosity to broaden their horizons.

This latter point is crucial when it comes to preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.

The reality is that nearly all young Australians are likely to be working either in highly culturally diverse communities in Australia or in global teams with global clients and markets. Bilingualism is a skill most people will benefit from, and is something that other countries have recognised for years. That’s why Australia is now lagging at the very back of the OECD pack when it comes to the time our school students spend learning a second language.

We have been coasting for too long on the natural advantages of being a developed nation, proficient in the world’s lingua franca, and with an economy powered by an abundance of natural resources.

That is all changing. As Australia’s economy continues to transition to services, so too do the requirements of our workforce. New opportunities will be driven by evolving skills and possessing a second, third, or even fourth language will be prime among these.

It is therefore a matter of great urgency that governments at all levels get the policy settings right. At the moment, our track record on languages is abysmal. The first step to a solution is admitting there is a problem. The second is developing a road map for this vexed area of education policy. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has undertaken considerable research to address this second aspect, especially at the senior secondary level.

We advocate expanding opportunities to study languages in senior secondary certification structures. Simultaneously, governments and schools need to provide access to high quality languages programs to build and sustain student participation.

These efforts must be supported by engagement with all relevant parties (including students, parents and educators) to recognise and promote the value and utility of languages. At a higher level, governments and sector bodies should collaborate nationally to support languages planning and implementation in a unified way across the country.

The question is who within government and the education sector will drive this change? 

Tim Mayfield is the Executive Director of the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne. This article has been republished with permission.

Published in Education

Commentary by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

While the shattering Brexit vote of June had a deservedly chilling impact in Brussels and other European capitals, the grey suits have been busy pushing various lines on the consequences Britain faces for leaving the European Union. The technocrats in Europe will be making sure they make things as difficult as possible. 

Back in London, rhetoric and deflection is in heavy supply. Canada may offer a model, especially in the area of immigration. 

Various multinational companies find the notion of uncertainty certain economic death.  Japanese and U.S. firms, for instance, have sought clarity on what passporting arrangements will exist in a post-Brexit order.  So far, they have gotten little other than poorly minted assurances. 

The defect of those assurances lies in the inability on the part of officials in London to know exactly what the EU will do. The EU, in turn, is also wondering what that position will manifest.  To make war, it is always wise to know the strategy of your opponent.

As the Economist reports, the view in Europe on Britain’s logistical quandary has become “the sexiest file in town”. It is daring, it is challenging, and it seems to some, near hopeless.  The hopeless element is not incurred because of pessimism; it merely seems that all sides are having each other on, mixing the bag of seduction with that of indecency.

Everyone is accusing the other of feeding uncertainty.  EU officials have been accused of creating it for not clarifying the position of British expats in Europe; Donald Tusk of the European Council has said in kind that the British decision to leave the EU was the cause of all the headaches, in turn causing EU expats in Britain troubling concern.

“Would you not agree,” he claimed supremely in a note released on Twitter, “that the only source of anxiety and uncertainty is rather the decision on Brexit?”  When officials need a worthy scapegoat, the unruly outcome of the democratic will always be there.

Theresa May’s government has been telling the British public that there will be no “soft” or “hard” Brexit, but a “red, white, and blue Brexit.”  That particularly statement, made during a visit to attend the Gulf Co-operation Council, was a weak retort to the mooted idea that a “grey Brexit” was circulating as an idea. 

The idea of a more ambiguous greying Brexit has its roots in the offices of the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and Brexit secretary, David Davis.  (The May cabinet these days is an uncertain one.)  In what started looking like projections from a set of colour crayons, variants of Brexit were being thrown around from the lightest form (“white Brexit”) which would supposedly not defeat the referendum’s aim while keeping Britain in the EU market system, to that of the darkest (“black Brexit”), which would terrify those providing financial services.

The greyer variant would entail an analogous arrangement with that of Canada:  limits on immigration favouring skilled migrants would take place alongside access to various parts of the free zone.

May’s response to the crayon version of Brexit was to steer the cause back to the bromides of false patriotism, and perhaps false hope.  “I’m interested in all these terms that have been identified – hard Brexit, soft Brexit, black Brexit, white Brexit, grey Brexit – and actually what we should be looking for is a red, white, and blue Brexit.”

Such flag-driven terms are meaningless, vacuous, even silly.  The consistency of what May’s version of Brexit is vague, and again suggests a different message for a different audience.  There is no need to define the strategy, merely the outcome.  “That is the right deal for the United Kingdom, what is going to be the right relationship for the UK with the European Union once we’ve left.”

On that score, the Labour opposition did, at the very least, secure a promise from May that her government publish the Brexit plan before the formalities of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty are triggered.  That plan is bound to spawn a new industry, creating specialists on how to evacuate from a tightly bound, financial and social compact.

The plan, for the moment, remains shrouded.  As Italy’s Europe minister, Sandro Gozi, explained, the case in London seemed “far from clear”.  As was the starting basis for negotiations.  “It seems there are disagreements and divisions within the cabinet. There are many uncertainties.”

May’s message to Michel Barnier, charged with the task of Brexit from the EU side, will be a different one from that directed to British audiences. There are few choices on the table, with Barnier insisting that “time will be very short” for the negotiation period.  “It’s clear that the period of actual negotiations will be shorter than two years.  All in all, there will be less than 18 months to negotiate.”

Barnier’s promises have verged on threatening, though they have been delivered with tepid calm.  For one, he is busying himself identifying a common position with all of the 27 remaining members in the EU towards Britain. This should be completed by the end of January.  

The unmistakable emphasis here is that of inferiority: the British decision to leave, Barnier promises, will be saddled with consequences, placing the country in a position worse than it would be if it remains.  “Being in the EU comes with rights and benefits.  The single market and its four freedoms are indivisible.  Cherry picking is not an option.”

Barnier might have also reflected on the other side of the European problem: the populist challenge to grey, bureaucratic technocracy; the need for institutional reform that does more than utter financial messages and praise the God Market or Civil Servant King.  The May government may well be struggling with its strategy on exit, but the mandarins on the continent should be equally troubled by a strategy that is failing to curb a far deeper, inner rage. 

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Published in Commentary

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