Investigation 2: Who owns the media?: Media ownership and influence
Owning or controlling a media outlet or corporation is considered to be a very powerful position, as it potentially enables the control of information and the shaping of popular opinion. In this section, you will investigate the rules for media ownership in Australia, and examine the debate about the diversity of media ownership and its relevance to democracy.
In many countries, there are restrictions, not just on what can be published in the media, but on the very ownership and establishment of media outlets or corporations. It is usual for governments to run radio and television programs, and, in some countries, even ‘official’ newspapers.
In countries that are not democracies these restrictions and controls operate to support the ‘official’ or government point of view, to the exclusion of other perspectives or criticisms. In democracies, however, media laws regarding ownership are enforced to ensure a diversity of choice of media, so that there can be a plurality of views, and the extent to which they can or should do this is often the source of public debate.
In Australia, some people assert that the choice of media has gradually been eroded in recent decades, pointing to the extinction of the afternoon paper and the dominance of just one newspaper in some Australian capitals. Others, however, see in the rise of new media, such as the Internet and digital broadcasting, as opportunities for a diversity voices and opinions to be heard.
Revisit your My Media Chart, and use the Internet or your media sources to find out and list the owners of the media you use to obtain information, before responding to the questions below.
Type of media
Name (program, newspaper, website)
Frequency (every day, twice a week, etc)
Owner (corporation or individuals)
- Compare the sources of the media you consume to the owners of your media. Do the owners change with the source? Why would this be important in a democracy?
- Now, using the Internet, make a list of the other media sources (national and international) owned by the media owners you have identified. Describe the pattern of ownership that emerges from your table, being careful to note the different types of media owned by the corporations, and their locations. Consider the following in your description of the pattern. Is the trend towards:
- concentration – a small number of owners of the same or many different media types;
- diversity – a large number of owners of the same media type or of different media types;
- diversity or concentration within media types; or
- diversity or concentration within locations.
Which of these situations would be most beneficial to democratic societies and why?
- The following research may be undertaken by individuals or students working in groups. Using the internet:
- Compare two editorials from different daily newspapers owned by the same corporation but in different Australian cities.
- Compare the editorials of two newspapers of different owners in the same Australian city.
- Compare a news item or editorial of a radio station or television network with a newspaper editorial in the same Australian city.
- Use the following questions to make the comparison.
- Did the editors select the same material to comment on or to lead the article or bulletin?
- What position did they take on similar events or issues?
- How did they justify the position(s) they took?
- Is there a difference in tone or style?
- Is there any evidence that ownership makes a difference to content?
Examples of editorials
- 'High Court ruling a reform positive'The Australian Editorial, 15 November 2006
- 'The High Court changes the balance of power' The Sydney Morning Herald Editorial, 15 November 2006
Now that you have examined different editorials and media sources, create a mind map of the factors that affect an editor’s decision to publish a story or to take a position on an event or issue in an editorial.
Reporting and presenting your findings
In July 2006, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator the Honourable Helen Coonan, announced that the Government would make changes to the Cross Media Ownership laws which came into effect in 1992. Consult the following sources and, using your earlier research, do one of the following activities below:
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper on the issue of media ownership and diversity of opinion in the media
- Create a cartoon on the issue of media influence and ownership
- Organise a class debate on whether or not media ownership affects media influence in the ‘digital age’
- Create a multimedia advertisement on the issue of media influence and ownership in the ‘digital age’
- Govt to change media ownership laws, ABC, The 7.30 Report
- Media Ownership Regulation in Australia, Parliament of Australia