ACC 1048, ASSIGNMENT 1, 2001

The public sphere refers to the domain of debate that exists outside the government, but is central on their activities and engages all that are concerned with matter of public interest.[1] This essay will discuss the Australia media’s relationship with the operation of public sphere. I will address the issue of what it means to consider the media as a public sphere, discuss the media as a public sphere in relation to constraints of freedom of speech, media ownership and the commercial imperatives impact upon the public sphere.

The public sphere in opposition to the private sphere is; according to Habermas “a discursive arena that is home to citizen debate, deliberation, agreement and action”[2] occurs. This is where the media can act as a medium through which the public can discuss the government who in turn can address those concerns if they chose so. However some academics such as Lyotard criticizes the conditions of the public sphere stating that although it is meant to contain views from all side of a dispute, it fails and tends to only advocate a gigantic viewpoint of one view.[3]

Sadly this is the case with much media today. The public sphere has been dominated by mass media that is appealed by the capitalist urges to maximise their profits, which commonly results in serious news being sacrificed to please advertisers, shareholders and readers. With a prime example of the Nine Network’s owner Kerry Packer calling the station to stop the screening of Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos, of which he disapproved of. They immediately terminate the broadcast.[4] Although this is a rare example it still can occur.

However the Australia Broadcasting Corporation has been different. Due to the ABC being funded by the Federal government it has prided itself on it’s mission to ‘transmit independent, comprehensive and innovative’ programs. Until recently I believe like most Australians that the ABC was an independent body, free of politically pressure and ownership problems that the likes of the commercial channels have. However I was wrong. For the past twenty years nearly all appointments to the ABC board have been politically. At the present time the managing director and three other members of the nine on the board have been in the Young Liberals party, two more are close friends of John Howard, another two are strong conservatives and only one is staff elected and therefore neutral to the political arena. This kind of politics on the board is bound to favour the liberal party and therefore have an impact on the public sphere. As was demonstrated when the managing director, Jonathan Shier pulled the Four Corners program off the air for a week, on the 16th July, as it linked two senior liberals to ex-prime minister’s Paul Keating’s piggery interests. Although the ABC’s legal department cleared the program, Shier decided against this and sought advice from outside counsel[5]. The program was eventually shown two weeks later, although at this time the incident had gained substantial media coverage in serious newspapers around Australia such as The Australian. Whether this factored in Shier’s final decision is not known. However the fact that the content was scraped due to it’s incriminating factors against liberal members has an impact against the public sphere. A public sphere is said to be democrat place of discussion and obvious this was not an example of democracy in media.

A factor that limits the media’s role, as a public sphere is the constrained of, what I believe to be one most the fundamentally human rights that we all though we had, the freedom of speech. To say exactly what we want to say without prejudice from others to voice our opinions. We have a variety of legal constraints both civil and criminal on our speech. Civil laws such as defamation and libel laws that allow someone to sue another who may have arguable lower their standing in the eyes of the public. Criminal laws such as anti-vilification and blasphemy laws ban speaking or publishing material that may incite racial hatred, and what maybe that most stupid law in a supposed democrat country (this is offcourse my personal opinion), Sedition laws that forbid the publishing or orally form