Australian commercial news needs to cover a broader news base in order to be more informative, rather than competitive, according to two Australian journalists.
The ABC’s Hamish Macdonald and Ellie Laing from SBS both agree Australia does not cover international news as well as the rest of the world.
Commercial news plays a big role in today’s media scene all over the world and is, by its very nature, competitive. Australia is well represented by commercial news, with three free-to-air commercial TV networks in Sydney alone (Channels 7, 9, and 10), along with public broadcasters ABC and the partially funded SBS, which focuses on international news. In Europe, the balance often falls in the other direction, with Sweden, for example, hosting only two news channels – one public broadcaster, SVT, and one commercial broadcaster, TV4.
Mr Macdonald has worked with both commercial and public broadcasters in Australia and Europe over the past 10 years and is currently working in London as an international affairs correspondent for ABC News.
He told The Newsroom commercial news was an important part of the media landscape in Australia and also in Europe, but he thought that public broadcasters had advantages.
“For example, while digital disruption is significantly damaging the business model of commercial broadcasters, it offers public broadcasters other platforms and avenues to reach their audience,” Mr Macdonald said.
Ms Laing has also been working as a news reporter in Australia for over 10 years, with both commercial and public broadcasters. She told The Newsroom she thought Australia needed commercial news as a part of the country’s media scene.
Ms Laing said it was important to have several news services to choose from, and she thought Sydney had an appropriate number. But she said budget cuts and systematic cuts of resources had led to an even more competitive industry.
Mr Macdonald agreed that Australian media was highly competitive, but he conceded that media was competitive everywhere in the world, in different ways.
“The big difference I would note is the way competition manifests itself,” he said.
“For example in Britain [the different broadcasters] all compete with each other by trying to ensure that their coverage and programs are as distinctive from each other as possible. They develop their own style/brand of journalist and try to put that stamp on to all the stories they cover in some way.
“Competition in Australian commercial TV news tends to focus on mirroring what the competitor does to a large extent, which produces very similar styles and stories across the commercial landscape.”
At a recent TEDx Talk at Macquarie University, Ms Laing said people should be encouraged to care more about news beyond “our own backyard”.
“You see there are different news services out there and you, as viewers, actually have all the power, so if you don’t like what you are getting and you don’t like the way you are being treated, then switch over, and TV newsrooms will get the message, because they live and die by ratings, and they have ratings minute by minute that tell them who is tuning in and who is tuning out at every given story,” she said.
She told The Newsroom she would like to see this change.
“I personally would like to see more world news covered in our local bulletins. But the nature of news at the moment means it’s often overlooked,” she said.
Mr Macdonald said that European media tended to have more of a global focus than Australia because Europe had a connection – political, cultural and physical – to the rest of the world, while Australia remained remote.
He said that the news culture in Europe had built up over centuries due to the history of different empires, such as the British colonies all over the world, while Australia was younger and did not have that legacy.
But Mr Macdonald said commercial broadcasters were needed in the media landscape, since they had a large budget and more resources to cover large news events, which the public broadcasters did not have.
“’Does the world have commercial broadcasting?’ The answer is yes,” Mr Macdonald said.
“The next question is, ‘Should those outlets serve a public service remit by providing news?’ The answer again is yes.” – Rebecka Davidsson
Screengrab of Ellie Laing giving her TED talk at Macquarie University from TEDx’s YouTube channel.