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Journalism as a public good - January 2018

Proposition 1: "The modern phenomena of information overload and social-media-fuelled 'fake news' bring into focus the value of quality journalism. Quality journalism has a public-good dimension that warrants public support."

Proposition 2: "The Australian government presently provides funding for the ABC and SBS, Australia's independent public broadcasters. The Australian government should increase its financial support of quality journalism."

Collaborator credits: we would like to thank Dr Leonora Risse, Danielle Wood and Associate Professor Gigi Foster for their assistance in framing this poll question. We would also like to thank Associate Professor Gigi Foster for her expert overview of the results.

Overviews of poll results by Associate Professor Gigi Foster

Gigi Foster

Associate Professor Gigi Foster

By Gigi Foster, Associate Professor, University of New South Wales Australia Business School

This month’s poll asked the economists of the National Economic Panel to consider separately two propositions about the role of public resources in subsidizing quality journalism.

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Proposition 1

NEPQ25 responses chart

ESA Chart

Proposition 2

ESA ChartESA Chart


Responses (36)


 

Peter Abelson

1 - Agree

2 - Agree

1 - See below.

2 - These two propositions  are truly a poisoned chalice. Accurate information does have important public good qualities. And relying on market forces, billionaires such as the Kochs, Rupert Murdoch, the Mercer family or Berlusconi, to provide unbiased journalistic information is absurdly unrealistic.  Unfortunately, it is almost equally unrealistic to expect elected representatives such as Trump, Erdogan or Berlusconi to promote and finance independent quality journalism.  But as Churchill reputedly said, democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. In a similar spirit, I support taxpayer support for independent quality journalism.


 

Rachel Armstrong

1 - Agree

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)


 

Garry Barrett

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Agree


 

Harry Bloch

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Agree


 

Alison Booth

1 - Agree

2 - Agree

1 - While news undeniably has a public good aspect, any government support needs to be provided in such a fashion that the news media are guaranteed independence. There should be no room for governments to intervene in any way if they happen not to like the news that independent news media are providing.

2 - Same caveat as before.


 

Matthew Butlin

1 - Agree

2 - Disagree


 

Lisa Cameron

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Strongly agree


 

Fabrizio Carmignani

1 - Agree

2 - Agree

1 - I agree with the general principle embedded in the proposition. The value of quality journalism as a public good now that there is such widespread access to incorrect and fake information through social media is even higher than in the past. However, I also have to acknowledge that implementing the principle of the proposition is difficult: who establishes what quality/good journalism is? How do we guarantee the plurality of views?

2 - For the same reasons, and with the same qualifications provided in my comment to proposition 1.


 

Bruce Chapman

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)


 

Ken Clements

1 - Agree

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)


 

Deborah Cobb-Clark2

1 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

2 - Disagree


 

Max Corden

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Agree

1 - I have a Love-Hate relationship with SBS. I love it for its many quality documentaries. They are very educational. Please keep it up, and more. But I hate SBS for its excessive, frequent, interruptions of serious documentaries. These interruptions  are quite unnecessary, especially as advertising of its own forthcoming programs, and they spoil the whole process.

2 -


 

Lin Crase

1 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

1 - Some information is clearly a public good, but the extent to which it is generated by journalism and the definition of 'quality journalism' is problematic.

2 - Any increased support for the ABC/SBS should be considered in the context of the gains from that investment, relative to other areas of public expenditure. Prima facie plenty of scope exists for diverting monies from other poorly designed projects at national and state levels that currently yield very little public good.


 

Janine Dixon

1 - Agree

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

1 - "Public support" of quality journalism is warranted - but not necessarily in the form of funding to public broadcasters. Better ways for government to ensure quality journalism are (1) good regulation of the sector, with appropriate standards for journalism and reporting, local content, and advertising (2) strong regulation of media ownership and control, to ensure a diversity of views and content.

2 -


 

Brian Dollery

1 - Strongly disagree

2 - Strongly disagree


 

Uwe Dulleck

1 - Agree

2 - Agree

1 - Maybe more important than the public good character of good journalism is that it gave us a common reality to have policy discussions. I am not sure that this problem is solved by publicly supported media that cannot compete with the ‘customized‘ social media newsfeed. Unfortunately the consumer prefers his/her own reality.

2 - Let’s put it slightly different, in a time we see cuts, I definitely think it would be good to have support for public stations. But, we may need to think about who is served by these stations and couldn’t they afford/ pay for the service w/o burdening the public at large?


 

Mardi Dungey

1 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

1 - This is two pronged so difficult to answer. First one has to agree that information overload means that it has focussed attention on the quality of journalism. Is this true? Is it the quantity that has focussed attention or the proportion of the quantity that may be of questionable quality? Would it be better to have less with the same proportion of dubious quality - probably not. So I am then unsure what the role of the government is supposed to be here - in regulating the quantity or controlling the quality?

2 - The current national broadcasters quality to some extent relies on the steady income that they can provide to their contributors which should give attractive opportunities to participate in the 'best' journalism. If they do not attract the 'best'  journalists then perhaps the market is outcompeting them and they are providing some benchmark. If the quality of the national broadcasters is fine then it is not clear how more funds would address this issue. Would it crowd out resources from the rest of the journalism market? Non-government funded journalism is also important to benchmark the government funded information flow. This is a question about optimal provision of a public good which needs a properly formulated study.


 

Saul Eslake

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)


 

Gigi Foster

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Disagree

1 - While the independence of public broadcasters is never fully immune from political threat, in a democracy a public broadcaster is in theory not primarily motivated by either political ideology or profit-seeking. The providers of all other sources of "news" do have one or both of these motivations, both in theory and in practice, which can imperil their ability to claim unbiased reporting.  One force working against the total debasement of private reporting is the professional ideal of 'quality reporting' that characterises the journalistic profession itself and helps to keep journalists in line through self-monitoring, but even this ideal (a public good itself) is indoctrinated (or not) through the education system, which is largely state-funded.  Another countervailing force is the ability of the population at large to smell a rat and thereby keep fake-news from getting too far away from reality, and that (in)ability too is a product of education.

2 - The ABC and SBS reach the vast majority of Australian households - the primary decision criterion on this question - and offer a variety of types of programming to suit a reasonable number of tastes for learning and entertainment.


 

Paul Frijters

1 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

2 - Strongly agree

1 - Fake news is not a new thing at all, so its not a modern phenomenon at all. There is certainly a public good aspect to good quality news, but whether the government is the right organisation to deliver is a very different matter. A free high-quality independent news (perhaps philanthropically funded) seems preferable to government to me. A government news organisation is always susceptible to government interference. The main use of a government vehicle is more to prevent a private monopolist (or a foreign-funded one) from emerging.

2 - The Australian government should certainly increase funding to high-quality journalism. Unfortunately, the powers that be have every incentive to do the opposite by further reducing funding for independent high-quality journalism. One should not expect deliverance from that quarter.

The population should take its own responsibilities seriously in this matter. If they behave as sheep and expect governments (or us, economists) to bail them out, they will continue to be treated as sheep and shorn regularly. Or worse. Panem et circenses.


 

Renee Fry-McKibbin

1 - Agree

2 - Disagree


 

Lata Gangadharan

1 - Agree

2 - Agree


 

Prue Kerr

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Agree


 

Geoffrey Kingston

1 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

2 - Disagree

1 - The public-good quality of journalism is only partial, given that a pure public good is both non-rivalrous and non-excludable. For example, Sky News is a subscription service that does a good job on a low budget.

2 - I agree with the school of thought that says the ABC has grown too big, even though it has some excellent broadcasters & I watch it more than any other channel. It does not offer a range of viewpoints and, about $1 billion a year, is very expensive.


 

Michael KNOX

1 - Agree

2 -

1 - Fake news is really opinion repacked as reporting. This  arises in internet published news because of the way the google search  algorithm selects controversial items to a more prominent level. The same  publication in print form will appear much more moderate.

Sure, we need public support to good journalism but this  should be in the form of better training for journalists rather than spending  on public broadcasting.

2 - There is no evidence that public broadcasters are less  biased than private broadcasters. Hence, more public spending does not address  the issue.


 

Tony Makin

1 - Strongly disagree

2 - Strongly disagree

1 - Publicly supported journalism (eg at the ABC, SBS and to a much lesser extent the BBC) tends to be pro-big government, and pro-tax and pre-occupied with equity over efficiency issues.  Pro-market, pro-growth and non-Keynesian viewpoints are rarely, if ever, aired by public broadcasters.  Nonetheless, there may well be a case for enforcing truth in news across the spectrum, as with regulations governing truth in advertising.

2 - Public broadcasters in Australia are grossly overfunded when there is a plethora of alternative Australian and international news outlets on the internet and social media.  That so many different publicly funded channels keep recycling the same news with the same bias and agenda is testimony to poor budget management and lack of political courage at Federal level.


 

James Morley

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Strongly agree


 

Margaret Nowak

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Strongly agree

1 - The whole concept of 'fake news' is dismaying. Scepticism about some information purveyed by some politicians and news media has always been healthy and we have in the past had a media with sufficient diversity to challenge inaccurate or incorrect reports. The deliberate dissemination of reports with no basis in fact on a large scale seems to be a recent phenomenon( outside a war situation). It has the potential to be very damaging to our democracy. The need for quality information for our democracy to be able to operate and make determinations on social and economic issues, international  as well as domestic (noting the 'weapons of mass destruction Iraq affair), is the basis on which to attribute public-good status to quality journalism.

2 - Government support for quality journalism has been implicitly under attack, both in the reduction of funding for the ABC and SBS and in the attacks by some from government on issues such as claims of bias when reports are critical. It is important for our democracy that financial support for quality journalism is increased, both for these existing media and potentially for other independent sources. As economists we understand that quality information is important and valuable for decision making, that it can be costly to assemble and that where it is held asymmetrically, quality decision making is impeded. this is equally true of decisions on social, community and political issues as in economic decisions.


 

Lionel Page

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Agree

1 - On social media, rumours based on unchecked assertions spread fast. It is important for the public to be able to have access to serious and credible news sources with a high standard of fact checking. This is a public good and it therefore justifies public support.

2 - Some of the best investigative journalism is carried by the ABC and SBS in Australia. It is a key contribution to the Australian democratic debate. Private media news are often shallower due to incentives not necessarily favourable to quality journalism. Furthermore, Australia’s media ownership concentration is among the highest in the world. Quality, independent public news coverage is important in that regard.

Public news coverage should be independent of private and government influence, and politically neutral.


 

John Piggott

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Strongly agree


 

Jeffrey Sheen

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Agree


 

Hugh Sibly

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Agree

1 -

2 - It is extremely important that clear and accurate information regarding policy is provided to the public in a democracy. An unfortunate side effect of the rise of the internet and social media is that 'news' has become more about entertainment and less about information. Some government support could offset this drift. Of course the devil is in the detail. Exactly how does one ensure that government supported journalism is independent, accurate and enjoys public support? That is a difficult balancing act.  


 

Helen Silver

1 - Strongly agree

2 - Agree


 

Julie Toth

1 - Agree

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

1 - Information deficits and/or assymetry are well-recognised sources of market failure. Affects economy, society, politics etc. Open-access public information from government, media and other sources helps to address these gaps.

2 - Public-funded broadcasting is highly valued by many (most?) people in Australia but appropriate funding levels are open to debate. There are many other ways government can support and promote public information (e.g. legal protections and regulations).


 

Joaquin Vespignani

1 - Agree

2 - Uncertain (neither agree nor disagree)

1 -

2 - I am not sure if investing in public media is the right framework to reduce fake news, as independent public broadcaster media has been pro-government in many countries. An appropriate regulation framework which penalise journalists or people who generate fake news may be preferred.


 

Beth Webster

1 - Agree

2 - Strongly agree

1 - Clearly every one is in favour of quality journalism, but the problem has been that even before the rise of social media, much of the conventional media was not quality and erred on the side of sensationalism and bias. There was limited accountability for this and the self-regulation of the media industry was weak and slow.

2 - The oversight of publicly funded media needs to be bipartisan and above the control of the government of the day.