And what about the AFR?

Briefly, in relation to my last post about Gina's Fairfax takeover, it occurs to me that all the talk is about The Age and the SMH, and very little is about the Financial Review. This is presumably because the Fin is a much less widely-read and circulated paper and so the immediate implications for public discourse are not as striking.

Bear in mind, though, that The Age sells about 50 000 copies a day more than The Australian; the SMH about 70 000 more. Circulation is not the be-all-and-end-all of media influence, particularly when it comes to shaping the political debate (as distinct from the more general, public one). Robert Manne:

[The Australian is] the only newspaper that is read by virtually all members of the group of insiders I call the political class, a group that includes politicians, leading public servants, business people and the most politically engaged citizens. Even those members of the political class who loathe the paper understand that they cannot afford to ignore it.
Now I don't think the AFR has quite that degree of clout, and it's worth remembering that the excerpt I just quoted is from a uniquely vitriolic Quarterly Essay and is made with the intent of supporting its contention. But I would argue that, irrespective of its lesser circulation, we should be much more worried about the Financial Review than the two erstwhile broadsheets.

It's hard to deny that the Fin has a privileged place in a lot of business settings and a strong claim on the opinions of many business-type people. It even runs a paywall and seems to convince people to pay for it. Then consider the fact that the existing editorial line at the paper, essentially one of deregulation and economic liberalism, is much closer to what a Rinehart-led outlet would presumably push than either of the big city papers are.

One of the strange things about the whole affair is that if The Age or the Herald did become 'mining gazettes', the Rinehart influence quest would immediately be at an end because a significant portion of readers would abandon ship. At the AFR, a shift further in the direction of what is effectively already its editorial leaning wouldn't be anywhere near so self-defeating.

It would, however, be significant. A subtle and gradual editorial shift at the Financial Review would mean that people who consider themselves economically literate - people who oppose tariffs and onerous regulations - could be slowly pulled further to the laissez-faire right. Things like radically lower taxes, and accompanying lower social spending, might become much more generally-held views in the business community than they already are, and sit alongside opposition to tarrifs as simply part of economic good sense. Given that that community is a major stakeholder and contributor to the formulation of policy, I think this is a more serious concern than the prospect that social liberals in Melbourne and Sydney will be suddenly transformed into evangelists for the mining sector.

(Having said all of that, I will add a disclaimer which also applies to my previous post. It should be pretty clear that I'm not in favour of having a strongly right-leaning press with no countervailing outlets. But I'm sure as hell not in favour of the government doing anything to stop it. That would be scary. The fight is worth fighting, but not by putting easily-abused powers of restriction over media ownership in the hands of easily-tempted governments. So send a message to Fairfax, make sure they know that any move in that direction will kill their company stone dead. Andrew Bolt today suggests that GetUp!'s members should pool their money and take control of Fairfax themselves. I'm up for that!)