EDITORIAL: Telling Our Own Stories

As legendary American journalist Joan Didion famously said, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live”.

Story-telling is the oldest human art form, the most ubiquitous form of communication, underpinning every culture. Stories construct our history and our identity, give form to our hopes and fears, provide us with the means to empathise and connect with other people. Without stories we would have no knowledge of our past, no understanding of our present, no vision of our future.

Since human societies grew beyond the confines of their village greens, the media has been the means by which we tell our stories. From the town cryer to 24-hour online news, the media has been instrumental in creating our societies — forging common bonds of understanding and identity. Whether fact or fiction, the stories communicated via our media are essential to our lives.

This week’s edition looks at the current state of our media and its impact on our democratic and civil life.

Georgina Born, leading UK media academic and BBC anthropologist, acknowledges the crucial role of public broadcasting in creating national culture, and questions whether the forces of the free market can coexist with the central cultural and civic role of the national public broadcaster. Her speech to the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, extracted in this edition, raises several issues that have clear implications for public broadcasting in Australia, particularly in relation to the increasing commercialisation of the ABC and SBS.

From the relatively advanced media landscape of the UK, Ryan Heath lets fly at the backward looking policies recently announced by the federal government and asks why Australia’s progress should be thwarted by the determination of a few old-world media barons to artificially extend the life of their 20th Century profit models.

Melbourne University ‘s Jock Given, author of Turning Off the Television: Broadcasting’s Uncertain Future and panellist at Monday’s the Centre for Policy Development media session at the Melbourne Writers Festival, examines the failures of Helen Coonan’s media “reforms”.

Ellie Rennie asks where we can find space on new media platforms for non-profit community media, and finds no easy answers. And Joshua Gans looks at the issue of network neutrality and the growing attempt to harness and control the online sphere for the benefit of traditional media powerbrokers.

All of these articles go to the heart of what the media means for our society. As citizens in a democracy, we rely on the media for essential information about the civic life of our nation and a robust Australian culture. But with ever-shrinking editorial budgets in the print media, attacks on the independence of our public broadcasters, and a landscape increasingly dominated by spin and infotainment, the future of the media is uncertain.

How can the public interest compete with the interests of media owners and their managers? With technological developments rapidly transforming the world’s media, how can we harness this momentum to put citizens at the centre of the fourth estate? Are our current mass media icons, the ABC, SBS and Channel 9, dinosaurs in the new media landscape?

Read on for the Centre for Policy Development‘s take on one of the most important issues facing Australia.

Emma Dawson
Media Policy Coordinator, the Centre for Policy Development

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