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Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism
Impact of search engines, social media and disinformation on journalism in Australia

MURRELL, Dr Colleen, Co-Secretary, Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia

ROMANO, Associate Professor Angela, Vice President Networks, Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia

WAKE, Dr Alexandra, Executive Member and Media Officer, Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia


ACTING CHAIR: Welcome. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses in giving evidence to Senate committees has been provided to you. Would you like to make any remarks about the capacity in which you appear?

Dr Murrell : I'm also from Monash University.

Prof. Romano : I'm from the Queensland University of Technology and I'm a journalism lecturer and the honours coordinator.

ACTING CHAIR: Would you each like to make an opening statement, or will one of your make it on the behalf?

Dr Murrell : I'm going to make an opening statement. Thank you very much for inviting us and for actually doing this work in the first place. I'm representing JERAA, which is the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia, which is the peak body representing journalism educators and researchers in tertiary education. I would also like to mention two of our colleagues who can't make it today: that is Professor Matthew Ricketson from Deakin and Associate Professor Johan Lidberg from Monash.

JERAA's primary aim is to raise the standards of teaching and training in journalism, and to foster excellence and integrity in the future generations of journalist. We also give prizes for research that addresses questions of importance related to the media.

This submission from the JERAA executive addresses three terms of reference: firstly, ensuring a viable, independent and diverse media; secondly, supporting the future of public broadcasters in delivering public interest journalism; and, thirdly, dealing with fake news, propaganda and public disinformation.

We believe that journalism in the public interest is journalism that is interested in the common good. It holds people in power in question and explores important policy areas that aren't just about clickbait et cetera. JERAA broadly agrees with the statement, put out on 31 May this year by CEOs from Australia's major commercial media companies, in support of media reform and a competitive and independent media sector that is able to deliver checks and balances in a healthy democracy. However, we believe that a competitive and independent media sector should extend beyond commercial media to include publicly funded broadcasters, community broadcasters, online media outlets, start-ups and journalism produced by students within the university sector. In answer to the question, 'Should government intervene to support public interest journalism?' we say yes, and believe it can be done while also ensuring that any support does not jeopardise recipients' independence. Three major studies detailed in our submission have shown that financial support need not compromise media independence if safeguards such as statutory eligibility criteria are in place.

JERAA suggests the following: tax breaks for digital and print publishers engaged in producing public interest journalism and/or a general basic subsidy for all publishers—and we include the commercial media here—to support any areas of their content production that engage in public interest journalism and in particular rural and regional reporting; the setting up of an Australia Council-like body operating at arm's length from government to fund public interest journalism projects and provide seed funding for digital start-ups; an endowment fund for journalism education, with contributions from both government and philanthropic bodies, to support public interest journalism projects housed and administered by journalism and media schools in Australian universities; and the taxation of global companies, such as Google and Facebook, who make money from media articles paid for and written by media companies. Taxation experts should advise how this money could be retrieved and then ploughed back into the industry. Australia also needs to properly fund the ABC and SBS so they can practice meaningful public interest journalism. The ABC and SBS should be funded to at least the levels before the last round of cuts in 2014. Summarising the findings of 43 research studies, in a 2016 paper Nielsen and his colleagues noted a positive relationship between strong public service media and strong private sector media, not the negative relationship that the crowding-out hypothesis would lead us to expect.

In terms of fake news, propaganda and public disinformation, our priority is to increase digital media literacy education, because younger Australians, including schoolchildren, who are such prolific users of new media, need skills to critique such media, in addition to technological competence. JERAA works to improve journalistic education on these matters by conducting research and equipping the future generations of journalists with a better understanding of how they can tackle a future of disruptive bots and digitally engineered fake news stories. We also believe that Facebook, Google and other rich aggregators of news content should be required to do more than the minimum to assist in the fight against fake news and hate speech. This could be done through legislation and fines as have been introduced recently in Germany; however, JERAA recommends that greater emphasis should be placed on encouraging self-regulation by social media companies, robust fact-checking services and increased media literacy in Australian communities. Today we're sad to hear of redundancies at Channel 9. The Northern Territory will lose its local bulletin in Darwin, leaving only the ABC to do local television.

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you very much for your comprehensive submission with its many references. This inquiry is looking at the future of public interest journalism in the context of the government's bill to deal with the two-out-of-three rule in terms of the government's media reform legislation. What do you say would make an immediate difference? You've given some solutions, but short of a scheme that would involve giving Australia Council-style grants or something like that to journalists, do you think a system of tax incentives or tax breaks would make a difference towards having more rather than fewer journalists working in the media landscape in Australia?

Dr Murrell : I think that in Australia we shouldn't be so scared of giving either indirect or direct subsidies.

Senator XENOPHON: I suppose we do that through the ABC and SBS, don't we?

Dr Murrell : Yes, but little else, really, when you compare it to the situation in lots of other countries.

Senator XENOPHON: Who do you think has the best model? You have the French and you have the Norwegians—who do you think?

Dr Murrell : It really depends on what their goals are. If you look at countries like Belgium, they are trying to cater for the fact that there are Francophone and Flemish communities. If you look at Norway and Finland, they are trying to solve the problems of the Sami-speaking people that don't have representation otherwise in their newspapers. I think the best models are probably in countries like Sweden, where they use a broad approach and they use both direct and indirect forms of subsidy. They are quite large amounts of money. Through the EU as well.

Senator XENOPHON: We have a situation where we have a government that wants to reduce the deficit. Unless there is a revenue stream to offset that, I would imagine that there would be political resistance within the government. I don't think I am being presumptuous to say that. An obvious revenue stream would be Google and Facebook. In your view, what would be the obvious revenue stream to deal with these sorts of issues?

Dr Murrell : I think that that is definitely one of the cases. A number of countries have pursued this up to now, but nobody has managed to do it successfully, as far as I'm aware. The EU has recently taken on Google with a large fine in not an unrelated area, but I think that it could certainly be pursued. I think that tax subsidies are definitely worth looking at.

Senator XENOPHON: Can I go to the issue of fake news. What would you define as fake news?

Prof. Romano : To add to the last question before we move on to the issue of fake news, I think Professors Wilding and Fray of UTS put forward the idea that one shouldn't be putting a levy on organisations like Google and Facebook, and they put forward a number of reasons for that. They argue that Google and Facebook are not unpopular—unlike the banks, where there is a banking levy. I don't think it is an issue of popularity. I think, in terms of how the public tends to view these situations, that they may love Google and Facebook but they are not convinced that these organisations pay a reasonable amount of tax for the income that they earn.

Senator XENOPHON: It is also the way they derive that income in terms of being able to piggyback, if you like, off of the content creators.

Prof. Romano : I would say that JERAA does not comprise of any taxation specialists, so we are not in a position to give great advice about that. We simply put forward that there is a strong public sentiment in favour of exploring options in terms of increasing that revenue and looking through maximising tax outcomes. I wouldn't imagine that is an exactly unprecedented sentiment to be expressed.

Looking into fake news, how do we define fake news? It does have multiple elements to it. Some of it can be quite inadvertent—those cases where there is either a lack of rigour in terms of how information is being found and checked, or there is that issue of political or personal bias that leads to a particular slant on how one understands what is happening in the world. That leads to information that is misleading, inaccurate and sometimes completely false. The current concerns about fake news are more about those elements of information that are deliberately embellished or fabricated to add on to what is happening in reality or things that are completely, blatantly made up. We can say in Australia that we are fortunate compared to many countries around the world, in that fake news has not been as big a problem as we have seen in Asia for quite a number of years, where fake news has had the quite extreme consequences of causing social division and, in some cases, quite large amounts of damage to individuals or particular social groups.

Senator XENOPHON: Can you give an example of some of the more egregious?

Prof. Romano : In Pakistan recently there was a story circulated about a particular journalism student and claims that he had blasphemed. That student was grabbed by mobs and killed, and it seems that this was just a hoax. The police have no evidence that he ever made the blasphemous statements that he was accused of. In a country like Indonesia, there are a lot of inflammatory comments put out about different political parties or different political forces by rival factions or, sometimes, by certain community-based groups, which are not necessarily political per se but have vested interests in—

Senator XENOPHON: It happens here in Australia too.

Prof. Romano : unseating such interests. We in Australia tend to know the situation in America better, but in Asia we have seen this existing for quite a few years. It's not as high profile in our media, so we don't know as much about it. In terms of Australia, we haven't had a serious problem, but we do need to be aware of the fact that certain vested interests can manipulate news, and they have quite masterful examples now to copy from of how it's done. We want to be alert to the situation and prepare.

Our key proposal would be promoting digital media literacy. You can do fact checking, and it is important to have nimble fact-checking organisations that can respond very quickly, but we'd say—

Senator XENOPHON: Sorry, can you just pause there. Will that fact-checking organisation be something that has the imprimatur of a respected organisation or the imprimatur of the state? Would it be something that's—

Prof. Romano : We have the model of RMIT and ABC coordinating with their fact-checking unit. We would encourage funding of those kinds of organisations. Certainly, when funding is tight for media organisations, it is the subeditors and the traditional fact checkers who tend to be the first to lose their jobs. They're not the public face of what is seen in those media organisations, and they are often given the axe quite early in the piece.

We would support robust fact checking, but recognise that that fact checking often needs to occur quite quickly after the event. Once people have been exposed to inaccurate information—there's been a lot of research over many decades that shows that once you start to believe something, even when you're shown the facts that show it's not true, you tend not to believe those facts. You stick to your original beliefs.

Senator XENOPHON: That can be very corrosive in a democracy, in the sense that people can make a decision as to who they support—who they vote for—based on fake news or false information; can it not?

Prof. Romano : It can have quite strong political implications. We probably see it most strongly in areas like, 'Are you pro- or anti-vaccination?' Those are political decisions, in a sense, but they're actually often personal decisions. It certainly can affect support for political parties or for various political decisions, actions or policies as well.

Recognising that fact checking isn't always the answer and it's not always possible to occur in the kinds of time frames that it would be most effective, we do support digital media literacy in schools because our young people are enormous users of new and social media. We don't need an overhaul of the curriculum or to crowd out the existing curriculum. We would be looking at those existing classes that all the students already do—English, science, maths, geography, history and all those types of classes—and simply enhancing that curriculum. When students are doing what they already do—looking for information—they are assessing which information sources are the best ones to use: 'Are those information sources reliable? When do we need to cross check?' And it is having a little bit of appetite for the information. Just those simple tweaks of the curriculum could help to increase literacy amongst them.

Senator XENOPHON: Whilst that would no doubt be welcome, and it's obviously a matter that will be considered by this committee, for those who have already gone through school—those who are already absorbing that information and acting on it, particularly voters—it's kind of too late for them; isn't it?

Prof. Romano : This is true. You can introduce things through schools and it is important to look at schools because, as I said, that generation has incredibly intense media users. For the rest of the population, sometimes those fact checkers in and of themselves—even though they may not necessarily convince you to change your mind—have an educative function every time they do something or if they put forward, 'This particular claim has come out and we've used these different sources and debunked the myth in this way or that way.' It's almost like an exercise or a learning experience in how to, I guess, smell when there's a rat and how one goes about checking. So they actually may also have broader educative functions for communities.

I think we also want to look at history to a certain extent. Every time there's a new medium—centuries ago it was pamphlets and newspapers, last century it was radio and technologies like that, and now we're looking at these new media forms—there are levels of disinformation that come through those new media. I think societies take time in which they learn the skills for how to recognise what's good-quality material and what is not. So we want to recognise that maybe in the next five to 10 years there's a big learning curve for society.

Senator XENOPHON: But doesn't it have to be more than recognition? If something is fake news, with the corrosive and damaging effect that can have, do we need to go down the path that you've referred to in the submission at heading 3.4, at the bottom of page 8, which says:

Several countries have attempted to address the issue of fake news through legislation. A recent example is Germany, which has called for EU-level laws against hate speech and fake news. Germany has also drafted a new national law, the Network Enforcement Act. If passed, the Act will impose fines on social media companies that do not swiftly remove 'obviously illegal' content such as hate speech, incitement, threats, and fake news.

You go on to say that it's been widely criticised on the basis of constitutional freedoms, but can anyone—whether it's you, Professor, or anyone else—comment on what's happened in Germany since you made that submission? Is it still going?

Prof. Romano : Yes. Since we made the submission, the German Bundestag has passed that law. It is now in effect. It has happened, I think, in the last two weeks or a week ago. So it is very new. It passed in June. It has come into effect, and I think that will be something to watch during the course of the Senate select committee's life.

Senator XENOPHON: Can you elaborate on what it actually involves?

Prof. Romano : My German is not fabulous. In a broader sense, it basically puts the onus on social media companies to be alert to what is happening within their domains and to detect when there is information that may involve hate speech, defamation, incitement to violence and those kinds of threats.

Senator XENOPHON: Fake news is what I'm particularly interested in.

Prof. Romano : Yes, fake news—to be aware of that, but probably not so much the fake news that is banal and benign, such as maybe something about Hillary Clinton's cat or something like that, as serious fake news that may have some implications for political or social life or public safety, and to withdraw that as soon as possible. The critique of that is that in some cases, yes, it will be quite clear cut that this is hostile, hate speech and despicable—it should be pulled off, and it is easy to decide—but that it may be beyond the scope of some of the social media companies to make rapid-fire decisions to pull off stuff quite quickly when we know that historically there have been some contentious claims that may have gone to court about this comment or that comment, and courts can take months to decide whether this was fair comment or something that was defamatory or, for some reason, vexatious. Within the German context, it provides an interesting example to see how it will progress in its first few months and to observe whether it is effective or not. There are also concerns that it may even be slightly unconstitutional, although somehow or other it has passed through parliament, so I guess that will be something to watch. We would put forward that maybe an approach that would be taken is that, rather than developing a specific law around network enforcement in the way that Germany has, we would look at existing laws and making sure that, as much as possible, those laws are robust and cover the social media companies and the kinds of activities that may occur within the social media networks.

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: There are so many interesting issues to pursue here, so I'll try to limit my questions to just two separate ones for the sake of time. I want to pick up on two things you've mentioned in your opening statement, Dr Murrell. The first you only mentioned in passing, but I think it's worth drawing out, because we've heard some other evidence about it: the crowding-out effect and the extent to which public broadcasting impacts on the viability of private media. I'm not sure if you heard it, but Greg Hywood, the CEO of Fairfax Media, appeared before the committee about a month ago, and he made quite strong remarks about how he believes that the ABC in particular is having a crowding-out effect on Fairfax. He said, in essence—I am kind of summarising—that they are in a war for eyeballs and anything that takes eyeballs away from them to an alternative competitor impacts on their profitability. But, from your opening statement, I got the sense that you did not agree with that. So I just wanted to provide an opportunity to comment on that or expand on that.

Dr Wake : We do have some evidence in there and some references to some reports that have found that government support for public interest journalism does not jeopardise editorial independence, and there has been a long history in many democratic countries of various political persuasions that support media industries, public and private, alongside each other. A 2014 study from the London School of Economics looked at the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia and found that government support for public interest journalism does not jeopardise editorial independence.

ACTING CHAIR: Sorry to interrupt. I see independence as a separate issue, which is the second line that I want to come to soon. I am specifically referring to the crowding-out effect, which is the idea that taxpayer support for a public media organisation impacts on the viability of private media organisations that have to compete with it and collect revenue through advertising.

Dr Wake : Again, the research that we refer to has found that a competitive and independent media extends beyond commercial interests to public sector broadcasters, community media, online and journalism produced by students. We found that they do not crowd each other out and in fact work hand in hand together. I will try to find that exact reference—which I only read this morning and now I seem to have lost. We would refer you to the Schweizer, Puppis, Kunzler and Studer, London School of Economics report, Public funding of private media. It clearly says that they can work very well side by side and hand in hand.

ACTING CHAIR: What year was that publication?

Dr Wake : 2014.

ACTING CHAIR: Just coming back to Mr Hywood's comments, doesn't it logically follow that there is a limited number of eyeballs available for media organisations and we cannot grow it unless we grow our population—so there is a fixed amount—and media organisations compete with each other to attract those eyeballs and, if you are a private media provider like Fairfax, whose profitability is linked to their ability to sell advertising, attracting more eyeballs makes them more viable and attracting fewer ones makes them less viable? So it would seem to logically flow that the existence of an alternative source of news which is free and is funded by taxpayers would make it harder for Fairfax to compete because they are losing potential eyeballs because people have a choice and then will, for example, go to the ABC rather than Fairfax? Do you not agree with that? If not, why not?

Dr Wake : Overall, our submission overall argues that government media should be supported—and by 'government' I mean public sector broadcasters, the ABC and SBS—and so should commercial media and community media. Certainly there is only a certain number of eyeballs. I do not know how you read the news, but I certainly do not stick to one publication or one news outlet and my kids certainly do not—they surf all over the place. I think that we need to have a diversity of media available—and the more the merrier in the Australian market. I do not think that we can continue to rely on advertising to fund an incredibly important part of our society. The media is vital to democracy, and we cannot just give that over to advertisers to pay for; we need to come up with other ways of funding that. And that is what some of the suggestions here today are about—for example, putting a tax on Facebook and Google and license fees for devices. I would like to charge my children to use their own devices. There are all sorts of different ways that you can raise funds, and it should not just be the old advertising model.

Dr Murrell : As well, if you just rely on free-market principles, what has happened today in Darwin is an example of what can happen—Channel Nine is losing jobs and everyone will be watching the ABC. Fairfax has issues that extend beyond simply competing with the ABC at the moment.

ACTING CHAIR: No doubt. I think we could say, though, that the media industry in Australia is far from a free market. It is highly regulated—and, according to the evidence from the media companies, in a very unfavourable way to them that disadvantages them against their competitors. And it obviously has substantial state intervention in $1 billion a year of funding for public broadcasting. So, I do not think what we are seeing is really the free market in action, isn't it?

Dr Murrell : Yes, but actually the amount of money that goes to the ABC is far less than, say, the licence fee money that goes to the BBC. The BBC does get some of its profits—its money—siphoned off to help other broadcasters and other local media, but then they are getting an awful lot more money in the first place.

ACTING CHAIR: Sure, but it is also much more than is provided in New Zealand or the United States. It is a spectrum, and we are probably somewhere in the middle. It is pretty generous in the context of such a declining revenue for private media providers. Relatively, proportionately, the ABC and SBS are getting larger, because their funding—although you mentioned that there have been some cuts in recent budgets—has been much more stable than the falling revenues for private media providers.

Dr Murrell : Yes, but all media are in trouble at the moment, and parliamentarians should be more aware of that than most people, because essentially it is especially local governments, courts—and eventually your own parliament will not get covered properly.

Dr Wake : And you do not need to take from one to give to the other. Surely we can find ways of finding money for commercial as well as a strong ABC and SBS. It is not necessarily one or the other. Both should be supported. We need a range of voices. We do not need just the ABC and Fairfax. We need the commercial outlets to provide that variety, and we need strong community media, strong online media, and media that is innovative and is producing stories in a way such that young people want to engage with it. It is all well and good for us to talk about 'fake news' and how we interact with it, but anyone who has kids is terribly worried about what their kids are seeing—and believing—right now.

Prof. Romano : I think also in this set of circumstances we look at what the threat is to the traditional commercial media, and it is not necessarily the publicly funded media. The threat clearly comes from a very rapid pace of change in the whole media ecosphere, if you like. If one was to suddenly—bam!—shut down the ABC, it would certainly be a short-term impetus for all those ABC listeners and viewers who might switch to the commercial media. But that is not actually a long-term solution anyway, even if you were going to do something so radical—which is so remarkably improbable that we would not even necessarily want to go in that direction. What we do want to do is look at how the modern mass consumer does consume all the different media that are available. How do we increase that appetite for good-quality television, radio, print media and so on amidst that diversity? And I think having high-quality products, innovative products, increases the overall appetite and the desire to stay so that we can actually see in some senses that when the ABC does great television, radio and online work it enhances the profile of traditional media more generally and those traditional organisations and the desire to keep them as part of the overall palette of what we consume during the day. So, I do not see them as necessarily undermining but creating a broader sense of what it is that we still include in our lives.

Now, there are also people in this country who will never switch from the ABC to commercial, and vice versa. There are those who do cross over. We are willing, if it would be useful, to dig further into the report by Nielsen and his colleagues, which did indicate that there was actually a relationship between public-funded and commercial media rather than a competitive one. We can pull out some more of those findings and send a short summary of that to you if that will be helpful.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. That would be good. Let's move to the second issue now, the issue of independence, particularly if the government were to be involved in funding in some way directly more media organisations than it does today. You mentioned in your opening statement a number of possible models—tax breaks for public interest journalism. I know this is something we could spend literally hours on. But without going too far into it, how could we define public interest journalism in a way that would be broadly accepted and not controversial? I suspect that different people have a different idea of what constitutes public interest journalism.

Dr Wake : We say in our statement that public interest journalism is journalism that matters to everyone in society; it is about the common good, general welfare and security for all.

ACTING CHAIR: I appreciate that as a holistic high-level summary. For taxation purposes it might not be all that helpful. If you are applying to the ATO to get DGR status or some other tax break, that is a pretty big truck to drive.

Dr Wake : I was going to go onto specific impact journalism, which is reporting on the courts, parliament and local government, and investigative journalism. I am not sure we have a fuller definition.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you envisage as part of that that you might get people applying for and registering under this system that would have a campaigning journalism or perspective journalism side? I am thinking that Greenpeace, for example, might like to dedicate an arm to environmental investigative journalism. Is that the kind of thing that you expect should be included?

Prof. Romano : As Bill Birnbaeur pointed out in his submission, which I believe is submission No. 1, the American system does have a model for that. It has written up relatively clearly that one can distinguish between something that has an educative function and something that is advocative. And we would certainly be looking at the educational function being the priority here. We would not be seeking simple advocacy as being public interest in and of itself, unless there happened to be advocacy within what was a broader educational—

ACTING CHAIR: Sure. But included in the American tax code under that educative function are most of the American think tanks, which take very strong ideological positions—from the Heritage Foundation on the right to American Progress on the left. They take very strong points of view. I think that is healthy; I am not being critical. Would you expect, and accept, as part of this that there would be journalism from a perspective?

Prof. Romano : If you are saying that would mean we might have a broader variety and stronger political opinions being expressed by those media, yes, it quite probably could happen. But there would have to be a quality educative function there. When we are talking about some of those think tanks, they do have strong politics associated with them. But they come from a very strong fact based, analytical, logical perspective; they are not just putting forward what might be rhetoric and propaganda.

ACTING CHAIR: No, I am not suggesting that. I am just interested in your view. I suspect that some of the advocates of this have ProPublica in mind, a very large American public interest fund for journalism—very lofty, very high and mighty. But I expect that you would also see a lot of other kinds of journalism that are much more perspective based, and that is not really what people have in mind when they want to open up the tax code or other systems.

Dr Murrell : If you look at a lot of the different countries that we have mentioned in our appendices to the report, they have a set of criteria, governed by a kind of press council, based on it being a newspaper that goes out to so many people so many times a week. There is a set of criteria that each country draws up for its own reasons. Sometimes it is because there are failing second media outlets. Sometimes it is to do with language. Sometimes it is to do with the area they are working in. But mostly it is to do with known media that we all read. Or sometimes there are criteria to deal with the kind of journalism that is practised in those media outlets. So it would be for Australia to decide the criteria that go into getting money from some kind of council.

ACTING CHAIR: I have one final question in this area. You mentioned the Australia Council, in arts funding, as a potential model. I want to explore that a bit further. The Australia Council has been the subject of public and political controversy about the things it funds and does not fund. Ultimately, members of the Australia Council are appointed by government, by politicians, so there is a possibility that it could have political influence brought to bear on it. I guess even if political influence could not be brought to bear on it in a partisan sense, there is obviously politics without partisanship as well; there are people who have a particular worldview, a particular ideology. How could we ensure that public funds, through an appointed body like that, were not given to media outlets to fund public interest journalism in a way that was not slanted in either a partisan sense or an ideological sense?

Prof. Romano : That's not what we see within the academic sector. The Australian Research Council have provided a little bit of a model of that. Although it is quite possible that people who are appointed to the Australian Research Council could come from different political slants or have different approaches, the actual applications that come to it are sent out to peer reviewers. There are bodies of experts who have certain status. There are peer review mechanisms that allow different voices to come in. That prevents overall bias within the overall process. One individual application may be subject to bias. It's potentially possible if the reviewers of a particular application did have a certain slant on things by coincidence, but we don't see objections quite as much to that kind of process as we may see to, perhaps, the Australia Council. So that could potentially be one model—

ACTING CHAIR: I think there is a fair bit of controversy about ARC funding grants from time to time as well.

Prof. Romano : Yes. Obviously there are, and I don't think in life that we're ever going to have one system that is ever going to be without a complaint somewhere or another. If one is looking for the best possible solution to manage this, there are different ways of trying to ensure that, even if a body itself is constituted by appointments by politicians, those who make decisions or feed into those decisions come from a wide range of sources so that one can say, 'We've got a cross-section here of political interests.' They feed in in different ways so that there are ways—

ACTING CHAIR: Sure, and I appreciate your point about how it's never going to be free from criticism. Of course it wouldn't be. But perhaps it is even more important in this space, if we were to go down this path, than it is about ARC grants that people are critical of. Someone's going to do some research that some people think shouldn't happen, but, in this space, given its proximity to our democratic system, a grant that was handed out on a partisan basis or an ideological basis could have hugely damaging ramifications. I think we have to meet an even higher threshold than a ARC system should. Do you agree?

Dr Wake : Yes, but I think that, as long as the governance is removed from government and there's a wide variety of people there and you have a strong corporate governance model, the likelihood of someone gaming the system or coming up with a particular advocacy thing is highly unlikely. In fact, very unlikely, I would've thought.

Senator XENOPHON: Can I just ask a follow-up question, Acting Chair? I think you posed a question about whether—was it the Conservation Foundation or—

Unidentified speaker: Greenpeace.

ACTING CHAIR: Greenpeace, GetUp! and the IPA.

Senator XENOPHON: I was going to mention the IPA. Whether it's from the left, the right or an activist organisation so that they can get the tax breaks, I would feel particularly uneasy about that because I think there's a world of difference between that and, say, Crikey, The Guardian, a regional newspaper or the Saturday paper. Whether it's from the left or the right, at least you can show that they are genuine publications. Was it your attachment that talks about what goes on in other countries?

Unidentified speaker: Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: That was incredibly helpful. Thank you very much for that. For instance, in Norway, it has some criteria there. Your attachment says:

To be eligible for this subsidy a newspaper must:

provide general news (that is, not be focused on a single issue)

adhere to the editors' code, set by the editors and publishers' association

grant editorial independence to its journalists

not pay dividends …

not have profits—

over a certain amount—

Not be a free newspaper or an exclusively online publication.

Similarly, there is, in other jurisdictions, criteria to say that it's got to be, basically, a fair dinkum publication, it can't be an offshoot of an activist group, a think tank or whatever, and it can't prescribe whether it's from the left, the right or the centre—nor should it. Is that how you get around that so you don't have Greenpeace, GetUp! or the IPA being able to avail themselves of a subsidy that is meant to be there for robust public interest journalism? I mean, there's nothing to stop the IPA and GetUp! advocating their views—

Dr Wake : They have no problem getting money themselves at the moment. The IPA and GetUp! seem to do quite well. It's journalism with independence—journalists who sign up to an independent code and stand there and say, 'I'm going to look at this from all points of view.' That's what we need funded. It's not campaigns. They can get money. Some of the journalists who have moved over to work for charities are doing brilliant work. Look at Save the Children's work in South Sudan at the moment—absolutely brilliant. They can raise funds for that. What we need is the kinds of stories that no-one else is interested in. It's Adele Ferguson looking at 7-Eleven. It's that really great journalism that we need to be able to fund. It's expensive and it kills the journalist because of the legal threats and the worry that comes from doing those kinds of stories. That's the kind of stuff we need to be able to support—Fairfax, the Herald Sun, ABC—all of those who are actually committed to telling the stories that no-one else wants to tell. I love the work of GetUp! I love the work of Save the Children. Don't tell my husband, but even the IPA does some good work at times. We need the journalists who want to tell real stories.

ACTING CHAIR: A quick clarifying question: who would donate to this kind of journalism? Who would donate for Adele Ferguson to do an expose on 7-Eleven's practices, if we're going down the path of a tax-deductible donation? That is why I raised the issue to begin with.

Dr Murrell : It wouldn't go to individual journalists like this. It would go to news organisations.

ACTING CHAIR: Who would donate? You mentioned tax deductibility as one mechanism. The reason I raised Greenpeace, GetUp! and the IPA is that donors are motivated by causes, principles, values and outcomes and they donate towards those things. I suspect you might find it more difficult for people to donate for that kind of public interest journalism. That is why I was saying that I think the people who are going to take advantage of it are more likely to be Greenpeace, GetUp! or the IPA than Adele Ferguson.

Dr Wake : It's unfortunate that we don't have the philanthropic culture in Australia that they have in the United States. It's really sad. We have some people out there—like the wonderful man from Western Australia, Twiggy—who are interested in funding certain things. I'm sure we could encourage more people. Certainly as a first step, as we said, Facebook and Google are the ones we are looking at initially.

Dr Murrell : If you go back to what you were talking about with Norway, for example, those aren't philanthropic donations in any way; they're simply direct and indirect subsidies for production and things like that.

ACTING CHAIR: Yes. That's why I was separating the two issues.

Dr Murrell : One of the things that's maybe changing is that, where it said 'mustn't be an exclusively online publication', there are countries that are now giving, including organisations that are just online, because that's the nature of the beast. Even online media is now pressed.

Prof. Romano : Also, in terms of the philanthropically funded, not-for-profit journalism centres that Bill Birnbauer talks about, in practice a lot of the work that they're doing is in collaboration with an existing media organisation. In that way, we would probably be most commonly seeing these collaborations when they are being funded, in combination with some kind of traditional media organisation in many cases, be it the ABC, a commercial organisation or SBS—sometimes with the larger community radio or television broadcasters too, of course.

Senator XENOPHON: In terms of best practice models, we're still evolving. There is the fact that the European Union hit Google with a significant fine for, effectively, abuse of market power, but in a sense it relates to their ability to control the data, which in turn has impacted on media organisations here. What is a best practice model in this brave new world? Google and Facebook are almost the Dutch East India Company of the 21st century, given the level of their market power—almost a monopsony. What straightforward measures, if there can be such a thing, can try to revive journalism in this country? Are we talking about tax breaks or subsidies? How would you shape this? You have given a broad outline in your submission. Can I invite you to think about any specific, more prescriptive measures, in addition to your very good submission, that sets out the problems and some of the solutions?

Dr Murrell : We are advocating a broad group of different strategies, because I don't think that any one strategy will necessarily work, and that's why we have argued not only for some kind of a council that would distribute money under certain provisions but also for those to be married with philanthropic funds. We would like some money to go towards start-ups and innovation and research. Every single media company is looking for the perfect solution to the flight of classified advertising, but that's not the only problem. There is also digitisation, and that has affected everybody. Research and development would be another thing that we would want to happen, I would imagine.

Prof. Romano : I think, as Dr Wake pointed out before, it really does require innovation and creative responses. That's where we like to collaborate with industry at this point in time, and if there was a clear cut answer, Mr Murdoch would have found it at this stage.

Dr Wake : The former managing director of the ABC, Mark Scott, did see the online world coming and deliberately put money into that, at the expense of other things. There are some people out there who are thinking ahead. I do find it disturbing that every time we are talking about this issue it's always at the expense of the ABC, that is kind of being punished for thinking in advance of some of these issues and ploughing money into the digital realm 25 years ago. I would just like to urge all media outlets to think about new ways of doing it and for the government to support them. If they've got a good idea, find a way of supporting them. If Fairfax wants to do something, support them. If News Corp wants to do something innovative in public interest journalism, support them. And some of the—

Senator XENOPHON: There needs to be a framework, because otherwise Treasurer Morrison would be having conniptions if he thought there was a blank cheque.

Dr Wake : I would love a blank cheque for journalism.

Dr Murrell : I think we've got to appreciate that there is an emergency out there at the moment, and this goes back to Nick Davies's Flat Earth News in the UK—

Senator XENOPHON: Could you say that again?

Dr Murrell : There is a book from the UK called Flat Earth News. I think it came out in 2012, and it listed all the things that were disappearing from journalism. They included local magistrate court cases in regional areas, meaning that those stories didn't get covered. They didn't go up to metropolitan level and didn't go up to national level. All these stories and important social, political, economic and health issues are not getting covered anymore, because nobody goes out to the courts. I have had students this term going out to magistrates courts and even the higher courts, and there is nobody there. Lawyers are talking about it, but where are the reporters?

Dr Wake : And in parliament you would have noticed there are not as many political reporters in the gallery. There is hardly anyone at local councils. All sorts of things can happen at local councils that people will never hear about.

Senator XENOPHON: There are fewer at state and even fewer at local government.

Prof. Romano : I think also, when we discuss this, we need to remember that this is an overall environment, an ecology. We should not leave the Googles and Facebooks and other similar organisations out of the conversation. Those organisations have acted in high-profile ways. They have publicised massively their efforts to address hoax news, to support different forms of journalism and to do this and that, and that's happened in the last six to 12 months. In a high-profile way they've been very strategic about saying: 'Here we are. We're being good.' And they've done that because of public pressure. I'm not saying that the governments or communities can twist the arms of these organisations incredibly easily, but they are acutely aware of the fact they are being watched. Every time the conversations are directed towards them and every time they are included in the conversations, this increases the impetus for them to be good partners in this conversation and to make sure that some elements of their resources also support this environment. We would not solely talk about it in the terms that we have, in terms of just what the media organisations are doing; we would also talk about those accompanying partners who are part of the problem and must be part of the solution.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you. I think that's a good note to end it on. I really appreciate your evidence this afternoon.