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Monday, 3 April 2000
Page: 15052

Mr MURPHY (5:50 PM) —The motion by the honourable member for Parramatta reflects the concern for all citizens affected by Australia's commercial mass media ownership. In his five-point motion, he wants us to believe that our current laws of decency and libel give every Australian an equal unfettered right to freedom of speech.

On 7 March 2000, the member for Parramatta said in this House, amongst other things:

A media magnate is just as entitled to a political opinion as any other citizen, perhaps more so.

Does he mean that the rich have more rights than the poor? If so, his point of view is surely in conflict with the United Nations Bill of Rights. Albert Einstein said:

I am absolutely convinced that no wealth in the world can help humanity forward, even in the hands of the most devoted worker in this cause. The example of great and pure individuals is the only thing that can lead us to noble thoughts and deeds. Money only appeals to selfishness and irresistibly invites abuse. Can anyone imagine Moses, Jesus or Gandhi armed with the money-bags of Carnegie?

All research has indicated that the mass media have substantial direct influence on any one of us. We have only to read Professor Noam Chomsky's book Manufacturing Consent to conclude that media moguls specialise in reinforcing their opinions. On 28 March 2000 in the Age Vision 21 speech, the minister for communications, Senator Alston, said, `Diversity of ownership does not necessarily lead to diversity of opinion.' He also said, `Convergence is also making a nonsense of cross-media laws.' This sets alarm bells ringing for the public interest, and I am fortified by what the member for Hindmarsh had to say, and I hope she speaks to Senator Alston.

The challenge is not the convergence argument but an equity argument for democracy and the Australian voter's quality of life. Everything is connected to everything else. The mass media is the engine room for monopolised capital control. It is the priesthood. If the parliament does not maintain equity and balance—that is, control—the media will devour our souls. Further concentration of media ownership in Australia is the greatest threat to our democracy.

In 1989 in the USA, Peter Karl, an investigative reporter for Chicago's NBC affiliate, WMAQ-TV, prepared a story for the Today Show about the faulty nuts and bolts used in construction projects such as bridges, aeroplane engines, nuclear missile silos and in the NASA space program. Karl also cited the General Electric Corporation, which builds aeroplane engines, as a user of shoddy nuts and bolts. The story was broadcast on 30 November 1989 but was edited to delete all references to General Electric, which happens to own the NBC network. Is this not an obvious lesson for those who want deregulation of the mass media? Adam Smith was very concerned about monopolies. He said:

A monopoly granted either to an individual or to a trading company has the same effect as a secret in trade or manufactures. The monopolists, by keeping the market constantly understocked, by never fully supplying the effectual demand, sell their commodities much above the natural price and raise their emoluments, whether they consist in wages or profit, above their natural rate.

Economic rationalists continually use the mass media to convince us that deregulation is necessary to free the market. But what are the consequences? Without intelligent regulation by a government, the principal forces of our media will obviously further concentrate their powers through mergers, acquisitions, strategic alliances and sweetheart deals. They will work against the public interest and over time compromise the decision making of this parliament.

Australia's publicly owned media, the ABC and SBS, provide an excellent level of programming, particularly in local, national and international news. They perform in an unbiased way. Because of this and their unique independence, they are highly valued by all Australians. Before I support any changes to media laws in Australia, I want an in-depth examination of five functions of the mass media. These are: reporting the news, interpreting the news, influencing voters' opinions, setting the agenda for government actions and informing constituents about the current political ideas.

The Treasurer's terms of reference in the Productivity Commission's broadcasting draft report of 1999 focus on ways to improve competition. However, I believe that more needs to be done to investigate the negative impact of media monopolies and how they affect us. I believe that this parliament must establish a more scientific inquiry to achieve this outcome. Australian voters hold dear the values of free speech and democratic government, and expect information to flow freely in both directions at all times. If the member for Parramatta wants me to support his motion towards openness and transparency in the mass media, then I must be convinced that we, as parliamentarians, have done everything possible to reach this ideal. I must be able to say to my constituents of Lowe that I believe that they are being openly and honestly served by the laws we make concerning the media. There is no valid reason for any government policy that claims the weak must suffer so the strong can become stronger. It is a vile proposition and even worse when it comes from an Australian parliament. I will have no part of it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield)— Order! The time allocated for private members business has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 104A. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.