The Senate will investigate the future of journalism in Australia amid sweeping job cuts and the cannibalism of content by social media giants.
It comes as striking Fairfax Media journalists return to work on Wednesday after walking off the job for a week, following the announcement that one in four newsroom jobs will be slashed.
The public inquiry, backed by senators Sam Dastyari, Scott Ludlam, Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie, will examine the structure of media organisations and their tax arrangements, as well as the increase in so-called fake news.
Senator Ludlam said media professionals around the world were under increasing pressure to do their jobs, and that the Senate would examine how to make public interest journalism sustainable.
“We’re going into this ??? looking for solution,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday. “We’re not looking here to give anybody a kicking.
“We want to know, what is the business model that allows any entity – public, private, third sector, whatever – to keep well-resourced journalists in the field, keeping this building and its people accountable and serving up the news and information that we need to maintain a healthy democracy.”
Senator Xenophon said the Australian journalism industry was in crisis. “These are matters that must be dealt with,” he said. “This goes to the heart of our democracy. If we want the fourth estate to be vibrant and diverse we need to deal with the issues that this inquiry raises, including fake news.”
“If we don’t grapple these issues as a matter of urgency you’ll see more journalists and camera operators and others that make the news happen losing their jobs. Because you simply cannot have a situation where you have Facebook and Google – between them raking $3.2 billion in ad revenue – and piggy-backing and cannibalising the content of Australian journalists and Australian newsrooms.”
Senator Xenophon said media organisations should be able to take on content aggregators, search engines and social media sites that cannibalise content.
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, above, released a statement on Wednesday afternoon slamming the inquiry. He said senators would have the power to haul before the committee “any journalist who they believe is publishing ‘fake news’, propaganda, disinformation or ‘clickbait’ “.
“While the Senate rightly examines how taxpayer-funded broadcasters spend their money, individual journalists have never been dragged before Senate Estimates and the Senate shouldn’t be in the business of doing so,” he said.
“This insidious proposal will undermine the freedom of the media and must be called out for the totalitarianism that it is.”
Senator Dastyari said the strike at Fairfax Media highlighted the challenges facing Australian journalism and said it was the role of government and policy makers “to create a vibrant, free, independent press that allows Australian consumers to get the information they need”.