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The Role Of The Media In Australia

.. d a powerful and persuasive influence over society. This is largely due to the sheer amount of information provided to the public by the media. The governments’ control of the media during the wars has relevance today as they censored the news as they saw fit to prevent anti-war sentiment arising. A perfect contemporary example of how the various facets of the media in Australia can control society can be seen in light of the terrorist attacks on the USA in September 2001, and subsequent coverage of the ‘War on Terrorism’.

All newspapers, radio stations and television stations were biased in their presentation of the facts. By presenting wall-to-wall coverage of the event, the media controlled society simply by deciding what they should view and think. This type of media coverage available only in this ‘technological age’ has a profound impact and control over society. However, it was not the excess of the coverage that was the main controlling factor. The manner in which the information was presented was extremely biased and definitely in favour of the USA.

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The mainstream media has largely ignored or downplayed public questioning of US actions, and protests against continual bombing of Afghanistan. For example, a number of protests were held across Australia to demonstrate anti-war feelings on October 8th, 2001 and yet the major daily newspapers did not cover this at all. Ultimately, mainstream media presents the views that the government wants to put forth in a bid to ensure regulations are not tightened on the media. In the US, the CEO of CBS Dan Rather stated that “George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions, and, you know, I’m just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.” This blatant statement enforces the notion that the media falls in line with the current government.

The issue of bias and censorship, particularly during times of war is further evidence of the controlling influence of the media. Repeated showing of a message from Osama bin Laden over all major US television news networks, in which he urged more violence against Americans, resulted in the decision to edit all further messages from bin Laden and other terrorist groups as the White house had “reservations of allowing bin Laden such access to American television” . Similar control over the media is also evident in Australia regarding what is shown to the public of the ‘war on terrorism’. The mainstream media clearly support John Howard’s stance on supporting the US ‘war on terrorism’ and as such have not published any articles condemning his actions or the actions of the US. Little coverage of anti-war protests and saturation coverage of the terrible and tragic side of the attacks on the US use emotion to sway society thinking. For example, the media in Australia presented snippets from personal accounts of the terrorist attacks in America and personal reflections on those who were lost.

In contrast, the personal stories of those killed in the US bombing raids on Afghanistan are not told. Therefore, the media’s discretionary power of deciding what to feed to the public, which is largely influenced by an understanding between the media and the government, allows information and communication to be a controlling influence in Australian society. Racial tension can be created by the media’s heightened sense of the news. Unlike in the US, where the notion of free speech is a fundamental part of the psyche, free speech has “rarely been a sustained aim of Australian governments, the commercial media, the public sector broadcasters or the universities” . This is significant because it is partially responsible for current thinking toward media communication and information. Censorship, freedom of speech and the public and community right to know are all issue which come into play when discussing the control of the media. “Truth has no inherent power to prevail against the arrogant censor.

Truth requires liberty of the press as its ally. No special laws should exist to hamper the freedom of newspapers, journals, books and pamphlets to print facts and advance opinion.” This view, while noble, is not representative of the current situation in Australian media. Although the media is a self-regulatory body, the unspoken control of the government and powerful companies over what is produced in the media ensures that freedom of speech is not entirely possible in the mainstream media. The media can be threatened with libel and defamation suits if they dare to produce something unflattering about someone who is powerful or rich. So, this results in mostly tame journalism, with the media too afraid to speak the truth as a whole for fear of being sued.

Thus, the notion of freedom of speech is not essentially relevant in the Australian media, and as such the censored facts control and bias the society. A final component of the media as a form of societal control that needs to be addressed is the issue of the wide-reaching capabilities of the modern media. With the advent of each new technology, the media’s control has been ever further reaching: the printing press allowed the mass publication of news; the radio allowed news to be broadcast to more remote areas; television added a whole new dimension to news. However, it is only with today’s satellite, computer, and wireless communications technology that the spread of the media has erupted. Although this may be perceived to be a good thing due to the spreading of knowledge to remote parts of the world, it further enhances the idea of the lack of a balance for information.

The poor polling of the “One Nation Party” in some areas can be directly attributed to the mass media’s influence on the public; likewise its success in the more rural areas can be attributed to support from the media in those regions. It is evident that the differences in the information people receive can create differences in society. “[The media] is making the difference. I think there has to be because we are getting fed different stuff. A sure way to prove your bloody point is to feed us different information and we’ll be different.” This perspective is indicative of the control by media held over particularly rural and regional society in Australia. By feeding the community information which is decidedly different to that of the urban communities, the media is creating a social divide between rural and urban Australians.

Thus, the media’s control over Australian society is enhanced by the diverse and far-reaching influence they maintain. The Australian media and industries of communication and information can be seen as exerting control over the society. Although this situation is said to reflect other western societies in the world, such as the USA and Britain, advances in technology and the various changes to the Australian culture have led to changes in the way in which the media operates and thrives. To an extent, the media helps to inform society and keep the population up to date in matters of interest that affect them. However, the growing control of the media influence over society has become a matter of concern.

It is important to acknowledge, however, that it is not only the media which controls the society, but also various other elite forces including government and big business. While more channels for information communication become available, there are less and less controllers of this information. It is vital that consumers of the media realise that the media is owned and controlled by particular groups who make sense of society on behalf of others, and thus have a controlling influence. In conclusion, if the media is analysed for its motives and values, it can become an informative source, rather than a controlling one. Bibliography Bibliography 1. Bigsby, C.W.E., (1978), Approaches to Popular Culture, Edward Arnold Publishers, London 2. Billington, R., 1991, Culture and Society, Macmillan Press Ltd, London, 3. Carter, B., “At U.S. Request, Networks Agree to Edit Future bin Laden Tapes”, The New York Times, 11/10/01 4. Fordes, S., 1998, “Monitoring the Establishment: The Development of the Alternative Press in Australia”, Media International Australia incorporating Culture & Policy, no. 87, May 5. Green, L., 1998, “(Not) Using the remote commercial television service to dispell distance in rural and remote Western Australia”, Media International Australia Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 88 6.

Keane, J., 1991, The Media and Democracy, Polity, London 7. Lull, J. (ed), 2001, Culture in the Communication Age, Routledge, London 8. Media Analysis: Questioning the US Media’s Coverage of War, (available at 9. Noake, F., “Producing the Alternative Media”, The Green Left Weekly, (available at ) 10.

Osborne, G., Lewis, G., 1995, “Post-modern Australia – Adrift in time and space?”, Communications Traditions in 20th Century Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 11. Shawcross, W., “Rupert Murdoch”, Time, 25/10/99 (available online at 12. Woodward, D. (ed), 1988, Government, Politics and Power in Australia, Longman Cheshire Pty Ltd, Sydney 13. Schroth, R.A., “Tragedy and Journalistic Conscience”, September 1995, Columbia Journalism Review, 14. ———-, “The Real Dangers of Conglomerate Control”, April 1997, Columbia Journalism Review, 15. The Parliament of Australia Parliamentary Library, (available at 16.

Watson, J., 1998, Media Communication: An Introduction to Theory and Process, Macmillan Press Ltd, Sydney 17. Young, P., “The Ascendancy of the Media over the Military in the Gulf”, Australian Studies in Journalism Social Issues.


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