The Illusion of Choice



A recurring theme of the responses to previous posts is the assertion that the internet and social media provides us with a variety of news sources from which to choose and that this allows us to form a better, more objective view of what is happening in the world today. 

But what if this freedom to choose is merely an illusion? As i have written in the previous post, 90% of the media that we access on a day-to-day basis belongs to a handful of organisations. 

Lets take Australian news media sources as an example. 

Australian media, and in particular the print media, stands out internationally among advanced democracies for its extreme concentration.

Three owners – News Limited, Fairfax Media and APN News and Media – hold approximately 98% of the sector, and two of these owners, News and Fairfax, together hold about 88% of the print media assets in the country. Some of you will argue that this is just print media, and that going online provides us with a much larger diversity of sources. Consider these facts:

  1. Clear evidence indicates that print media (including online versions of the most popular news brands) remains the dominant source of news for the rest of the news media sector – both traditional (radio, television, magazines, subscription) and new media (online only news sites, and very popular aggregators like Google and Yahoo or portals like Ninemsn).  
  2. All but one of the 12 news sites in Australia’s top 100 most visited sites are owned by major existing media outlets 

These statistics raises some interesting questions about the assertion that the diversity of news sources is so much greater online. Or is it simply that Australians are not exercising their freedoms to explore a wider variety of news sources?  And if that is the case, what does this say about our own news consumption habits?

So, where do YOU get your news from? Please leave your insights, views and opinions in the comments section below, your participation is much appreciated!

*All statistics and assertions made in this post are referenced from the Centre of Policy Development Australia, for more info please click on the link




16 thoughts on “The Illusion of Choice

  1. Assuming those figures hold true, I’d concur with your point of view, but there might be more to that than meets the eye. It may not be the non-existence of true and fair media (independent and unbiased reporting) that causes the skew of it, but the non-relevance of it.

    Could it be that most individuals do not know the extreme concentration of media ownership and think that the online sources they are obtaining information from is an “alternate news source”? (possibly explaining why 11 of 12 most visited Australian news websites are owned by existing major news outlets)

    This possibility leads me to believe that their consumption habits are on based on familiarity. The “most established” or “most trusted” media news sources are often the ones that have been around for a long time, and those usually speak to the vast majority of the population. Those who are semi-aware of the news that they are consuming tend to look for different sources, but most likely stumbling upon those extension of news outlets lead by the very same media owners (due to them fundamentally having higher capital and bigger reach).

    The non-relevance (due to the existing level of trust towards that source) of the smaller independent news outlets are likely to have whizzed by and are not able to garner enough traction. We can probably maintain our view that yes, there is largely an illusion of choice, but it is partially inflicted upon ourselves, for not knowing the extent of media concentration and not looking hard enough for truly independent news sources (funny that we spend so much time on the internet and yet never looked up on these readily available information). Like any monopoly in any given industry, it will only be quashed with an uprising of disgruntled activists and the implementation of specific ownership laws.

    I get my news sources from a variety of media, but truth be told, I too do not know if all my sources are held by the media giants. Then again, If I were to consistently avoid all “mainstream” news outlets, knowing the concentration of media ownership, and distrust independent sources because they are not as established, who then do I look to for my daily news?

  2. This post has made me think I have no idea where I get my news from! I don’t watch it on TV or have an SMH app or anything but I think that’s the power of media today is that what’s happening in the news is kind of all around you and you’re unconsciously reading about it all the time

    • Brainwashing/manipulation on a subconscious level? Orwellian and ominous, but not completely out of the realm of possibility.
      For a more comical perspective on these ideas, give the movie “Wag the dog” a go. I would tell you more about it but i think Google would do a better job! Thank you for your insight!

  3. Pingback: The Illusion of Choice | juliarethinkingmedia

  4. I have to admit something. I often desperately need short cuts. Busy life, besieged by news, ‘bilingual’ approach needed – being a parent/employee, being an activist/consumer
    So I look for a single site/publication with lots of links to others – that way I feel I can at least be a little ‘catholic’ in my reading
    I just need to be convinced, in other words, that I’m getting lots of links for my time!

  5. I work at a consumer PR agency and my sole responsibility every morning is to summarise the following titles for the entire company:
    – PRINT: The Australian, Daily Tele, SMH
    – ONLINE: The Australian, Daily Tele, SMH, ninemsn, Yahoo7, The Vine,, PSFK
    -BROADCAST: Mornings, The Morning Show, Today, Sunrise, Today Tonight, A Current Affair

    These have been selected by us as the top sources of information for consumer Australia.

    • I suppose that being in the PR business, what matters most, is what the people at large will be reading and consuming. In other words, PR efforts would be focused almost entirely on mainstream media news sources. With that in mind, there is certainly nothing wrong with the choices that your company has made.

  6. I generally hit the homepage of SMH first thing just to see if anything major has happened. I’ll scan the headlines and maybe read a few articles. I also look to Reuters, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and my feedly which aggregates content from many other sources such as Business Insider, Forbes, Mashable, etc. I also follow some of these sites on Facebook so I get some of their news updates/links that way. I like TV news and try to watch a bit of Nine,Ten and all of SBS.

  7. I primarily get my breaking news from broadcast and online sources. I still like radio as its often on in the background in the mornings or when I’m driving. I watch the news – tho increasingly going to ABC 24 so I can check in rather than waiting around for set programming times. I’ve got various news feeds set up on my home page and use them as well.

    • I guess it really depends on what your objectives are when consuming news. If your objective is to keep up-to-date with current events, then mainstream media news sources are relatively good at helping you achieve that.
      But if your objective is to have a critical perspective on the events and issues that are relevant to you, I question whether mainstream media news sources are the right place to start.

  8. I feel it helps that this internet age give us more options in terms of where we can source our news from-be it local news or international news and especially when there are many more online independent websites. Often enough, news from abroad offers an unbiased and neutral accounts of news that may be tainted in local news for political reasons and hence being able to access international news sources provides us with more insights with what is actually happening.

    I usually get my daily news updates from new aggregator apps as I like to be able to view different articles across different topics (mostly technology, business-related). I think it gives a better overview and different perspectives from various sources. I use Feedly, Google currents, Pocket and Digg which I find very useful to help busy people narrow down topics of interest instead of flipping through the newspaper and sorting through all the clutter to get the news I want.

    • I disagree wholly with your notion that news from abroad offers relatively unbiased and neutral accounts. If anything, news sources from abroad have bigger fish to fry and thus, logically speaking, have a lot more reason to manipulate and skew the news.

  9. News can only serve as a compilation and presentation of data. The “truth” that can be derived from it is really at a personal level. What I mean is in general, the reason that people want alternative news sources are for accounts that they personally deem to be “accurate” or it’s something that they agree with. Facts are undoubtedly facts but how it is presented is more of what people are concerned about. Almost no news is purely just facts listed out. The reason being that they have to be passed through numerous filters.

    A few that can be named are:

    1) The journalist who writes the article. This person is entitled to his/her own personal opinions and in an independent news source or otherwise, it is not uncommon that some of the opinions somehow find their way into the article via the way certain things are phrased.

    2) The deadlines. Deadlines are undoubtedly a filter purely based on the fact that it puts journalists on a timer. (Pretty sure people can work out why this is a filter)

    3) The editor of the company is the third filter. Articles have to be screened and if flagged as slanderous or that it does not align with any of the views (political or social) of the higher ups, it is either scrapped or edited to something that the editor deems fit.

    This happens for several reasons (and is also where I digress into inputting my personal thoughts) whereby the owners of the independent news sources have to worry about funds for the organization and political pressure from various sources. I say political pressure because I am referring to Malaysia where it is naive to think that independent news agencies here report without any trace of spin, manipulation of data and/or political alignment (no matter how minute it may be). The reason is – we are a country whose citizens understand that they are oppressed by the ruling party and that any independent news company that reports something different from the politically owned papers is hailed as independent. Now of course I am not oblivious to the corruption that corrodes our country but the one thing that I feel needs to be pointed out is that different doesn’t ALWAYS mean independent.

    An example of political pressure would be where Malaysia’s Home Minister warned Malaysiakini to uphold journalism ethics due to alleged twists of words et al. Now, for the sake of argument, let us assume that these allegations are true. If Malaysiakini complies with the Home Minister, are they bending due to political pressure? And if they do not comply, are they exerting their own political agenda?

    What I’m trying to say is that the unbiased news that we are all searching for is not as unbiased as we think and it then becomes the responsibility of the reader to extract facts that are presented and to prescribe meaning and understanding to the data. I have derived to a sensible understanding that the illusion of choice is inherently part of the entire news reporting structure and that to change it we may have to work over the whole journalistic process.

  10. I really think it’s not only Australia. Many parts of the world, even in my country, Indonesia media ownership is dominated by a few large companies. I guess it’s not that the people are not choosing freedom, it’s because they do not have the power to (in creating new print media/TV), but that is why online sources has so many varieties, because it costs so much less to set up and so less risk in monetary terms. I don’t normally read print news, but i still watch TV sometimes, but I also browse things that I really want to know more about.

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