The senate committee is investigating public interest journalism, the impact and market power of social media news aggregators, competition issues and “fake news”.
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance union chief executive Paul Murphy told hearing the industry was at a crossroads with media organisations “crinkling at the seams”.
“Since 2011, more than 2500 journalist positions have been lost, probably more,” he told the committee in Sydney on Wednesday.
The inquiry, chaired by Labor senator Sam Dastyari, was called after Fairfax Media earlier this month flagged 125 full-time job cuts, leading to a week-long strike across its major metropolitan mastheads.
The union boss also told the hearing he could not recall the last time he met with Fairfax chief executive officer Greg Hywood to discuss structural changes within the company.
“I can’t recall in meeting with Mr Hywood in recent years,” Murphy said.
Hywood told the inquiry “difficult” decisions created a “pretty successful story in a pretty arduous environment for a publishing company”.
“Unless you make the decisions we did, the business would have not been here three years ago,” Hywood said.
“Of our changes of the last five years, only 10 to 15 per cent have impacted our frontline reporting capability.”
Greens senator Scott Ludlam asked Hywood if his reported $7 million-plus remuneration in 2016 was an “appropriate way of running a media business”.
Hywood responded by stating the figure was “media speculation” but he wouldn’t reveal his actual salary.
“Everyone at Fairfax is paid appropriately to where the market is in that role,” he said.
Hywood attacked the ABC for purchasing search engine marketing with Google to boost the national broadcaster’s stories online.
“That means ABC stories appear higher on key search terms and restricts our ability to generate revenue from our audience,” he said.
“Traffic is dollars for us and if the ABC takes traffic away from us using taxpayers’ money to drive that traffic, it’s using taxpayers money to disadvantage commercial media organisations.”
The committee on Wednesday also discussed the possibility of taxing news aggregators such as Google and Facebook, and providing incentives to encourage greater investment in journalism.
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