Political Welfare: Nordic style

Political Welfare: Nordic style

When compared to 26 other like-countries (i.e., Western, developed countries), Australia has the highest concentration of media ownership.  News Corp alone is responsible for 56% of Australia's daily newspapers, with the top four newspaper companies accounting for 99%.  Radio, TV and online media are a bit more diverse, thanks largely to ABC & SBS.  Yet only three out of 18 like-countries spend a smaller proportion of their government budgets on public broadcasting.  For example, Australia's spending on public broadcasting is 1/3 per capita of what Norway spends, and in Australia this support for public broadcasting is on the decline, with each Australian contributing 8 cents/day in 1987 reducing to 4 cents/day in 2018 (adjusted to reflect 1987 dollars) ... halved in real terms.

Nordic countries are rated among the top performers by the 2022 World Press Freedom Index.  Australia comes in at 39th.

How have the Nordic countries (esp. Norway, Denmark & Sweden) achieved diverse and well-funded public broadcasting, while Australia is a comparative laggard?  For answers to this, refer to the Australia Institute report, Supporting Media Diversity: Nordic Lessons (January, 2023).  A summary is provided below.


One of the primary means through which this has been achieved are 'press subsidies', used to support smaller & minority news publishers.  This is in recognition that critical, nonpartisan and accurate journalism/news is a public good.

Specific government strategies involving financial assistance include (i) subsidies for the second largest newspaper in each town, (ii) support for the distribution of smaller newspapers and development of online formats, and (iii) support directed at those who publish original news content which is at least 55% of their overall content.

While noting that 99% of Australia's newspapers are owned by only four companies, there are about 200 small, independently owned commercial publications across Australia.  Yet there is still a diminishing availability of local news (declines of 68% in suburbs and 45% in regions).  In recognition that local news is important for communities across Australia, and given that we do have small media operators out there, those operators need public support.  Recently, the Public Interest Journalism Initiative reported that 31 local government areas no longer had local news coverage; these areas had become 'news deserts'.

One idea is that the ABC could engage in small regional partnerships, somewhat like the BBC's Local News Partnership program.

Accurate, nonpartisan news broadcasting is a public good, and so arguably should be publicly supported and funded as required; just as we do for social welfare, national defence and street lighting, to name a few.  An important point made in this report is that we should primarily consider ourselves as "citizens in a society, rather than mere consumers in a market place".