YOU KNEW this was coming: Some newspapers are fading and failing, therefore the taxpayer must dig in to support “quality journalism”. Don’t laugh, that notion is out there and gaining momentum, with the most overt example so far appearing this morning in The Phage, which in the interest of full disclosure might also have mentioned its own dire circumstances. If public money is to be distributed, the Age will be first in line.
Cynics may see this as reward for service. Try naming a more dutiful propagandist for Labor than Michelle Grattan or, for that matter, the entire choir of her Fairfax colleagues, from Peter Hartcher to Laura Tingle. They are nothing if not devoted, no slight upward twitch in the polls ever being allowed to pass without the observation that the longed for Gillard renaissance is finally underway. Or see if you can name more devoted advocates of a carbon tax than the childlike Adam Morton. With such quality journalists winnowing their paper’s readership to a hard, green core of sprout munchers, precisely the sort of people advertisers do not want in their stores, surely The Phage’s slow suicide has earned Canberra’s intervention?
That is one theory and a good one. But there is another, less obvious element in the push for public funding, and it hangs on a far more practical consideration. When The Phage folds there will be insufficient desk space at the ABC to accommodate all those Fairfax refugees. Morton’s credulity on climate matters will probably be enough to score him a spot, and Melissa Fyfe’s jog down the entire East Coast to promote nicer weather will also carry much weight. But the rest? They would be left to mill about on the footpath outside the ABC’s HQ at Southbank, desperate as Depression wharfies in their hope that the national broadcaster will find a day’s work for reporters prepared on the strength of no evidence at all to accuse MPs of raping women on their office desks.
As Gillard sinks ever lower, expect to hear more, much more, about the public’s moral obligation to keep the otherwise unemployable employed. Time is tight. Fairfax needs to get its snout in the trough before Tony Abbott takes up residence in the Lodge, so expect any inquiry into the media to begin as exercise in bastardry against News Limited and end with a blank cheque for Fairfax. You can bet on it.