Study in media power an essential Australian text

The Queensland Independent (University of Queensland newspaper 9th March 1999)

By Michelle Skog

Scott Balson wrote a book and put Lachlan Murdoch and James Packer on the cover and called it "Murder by Media - Death of Democracy in Australia".

The man has courage. He believes in truth. That is what he wanted his book to be about.

Scott Balson is concerned with Australia's high level of media ownership in this country and his book is a rather bald account of what he believes are the flaws with our current status quo.

Balson has been the One Nation web master since the party's launch in April 1997, and isn't shy about his support of the party, but his book isn't about One Nation, it is about Australia.

"Murder by Media - Death of Democracy in Australia" is a book that pulls the heartstrings of a democratic heart and certainly challenges the powers that be in this country.

So are we? A democracy I mean?

That is what Balson wanted to know.

So he wrote a book about the level of media ownership in this country to see...

His book lasted three weeks on the shelves of Dymocks' bookstores.

What Balson argued in his book is that Australia's high concentration of power, influence tends to spread unchecked like bacteria in the blood stream - it goes unnoticed until wham! Your system is down with flu. What is worse is that it becomes tolerated just as people put up with flu.

Governments also, like patients, usually make an outward attempt to fix things. A patient takes a drug which doesn't cure them but only masks the symptoms often resulting in others. Similarly, Balson argues, governments will try to solve apparent declines in media standards with more legislation, effectively tightening a journalist's independence and freedom.

Scott Balson wrote he did not believe that watering down a journalist's powers by acts of parliament would solve the problems resulting from media ownership.

Balson write during the last federal election a topic of national interest was simply not discussed in the media. He was referring to the appointment of Packer's executive chairman of Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd (PBL), Brian Powers, as Chairman at Fairfax on the same day he resigned from PBL (May 18th 1998).

But how can this be? There is a law which specifically prohibits one party controlling both a major media group and a television network?

Balson is concerned that if the buyback is completed, FXF's (a Packer/Poers vehicle) shareholding in Fairfax will rise to 16.5% breaching the 15% maximum allowed under cross-media rules.

Balson also discusses the problems of the shift of the tax burden through legal loopholes.

He finds it astounding that this is something we have always shrugged our shoulders at simply because according to our legal system it's acceptable, so we deem it so. And he is right. Those who do reduce or avoid their taxes through loopholes in the system can't really be blamed. Most people with the resources would seek to do the same with their hard-earned money - who wouldn't? But, as Balson wrote, at the end of the day the result is still more tax being paid by those who can't afford it. Where taxes are avoided in one area they have to be generated in another.

Balson is the editor of the online newspaper, The Australian National News of the Day, in operation since October 1995. It is from this archive that much of the material in this book has been collated.

He has done this brilliantly. The level of research that has gone into producing this book is what makes it.

Far from crying wolf, Scott Balson has gone running through the village with photographs.

His views are supported, his assertions are researched, and so his attacks are grounded.

Surely, within any democracy, the powers that be need to be questioned, checked and challenged?

Surely, freedom of speech infers a right to speak freely?

In his research on media coverage of One Nation, Balson notes the numerous caricatures of Pauline Hanson featured in The Courier-Mail and it is interesting that an ordinary Australian who writes a book of some of his own opinions doesn't seem to be allowed the same degree of freedom?

When Scott Balson launched his book on January 22 he invited members of the media, distributed free copies to several of them and accepted an invitation to sign copies of the book but no one turned up.

I don't know, perhaps democracy isn't popular any more, it seems an ugly word these days. There are more profitable ways for society to operate and it just takes too long for things to be done if we let people have a say.

"Murder by Media - Death of Democracy in Australia" has a few typos and could have a better layout (though the publication boasts 40 colour photos).

Still if you are interested in the powers at work in this country and what they mean for Australia's definition of democracy, then I recommend this book.

Return to "Murder by Media" Home Page