My Twitter feed has turned into a sea of boohooery over Gina Rinehart’s announcement to buy into Fairfax.
The problem, it seems, is that rich people are not allowed to buy media companies. Media companies are a sacred trust, a public good, a pillar of democracy, and therefore ought not be owned by the wealthy.
There is a lot of mythology about the media, most of it cooked up and spread by the media itself. A healthy, independent, fierce media is essential to a functioning democracy… apparently. I have no idea why this is believed to be true. Every ‘essential’ element to a functioning democracy is regulated to ensure that power isn’t unchecked. These checks and balances do not always work well, but no institution is unfettered or unrestrained.
No other profession in the West receives this kind of kids’ gloves treatment. Politicians will happily savage the Church, the military, and even the police before it takes a long hard look at the press.
Rinehart’s purchase of part of Fairfax might prompt some people to question whether the Specialness of the Press is justified, or whether it’s just the spin of a deeply insecure profession.
Further, Rinehart’s purchase has highlighted the question of media ownership. At least now we know mining stories might not be 100% kosher. Until now, I had very little idea who was behind Fairfax. If I read a story in The Age or SMH, I don’t know what commercial interests are behind the ventures.
For instance, until I looked it up, Fairfax is behind RSVP.com.au. I’m pretty sure I’ve read articles about online dating on SMH; was the article influenced by Fairfax’ commercial interests?
Finally, Rinehart’s purchase might prompt people into getting a bit more serious about supporting alternative media. If the major newspapers are bought out by disliked commercial interests, people will have to turn to the newly emerging outlets which support the next generation of journalists and writers.
Perhaps we’re all being a little bit uncharitable. Fairfax has been desperate for cash and now it has one of Australia’s wealthiest people backing it. Making Fairfax financially viable can hardly be a bad thing.