The Dominion v Fox case was about protecting profits, not democracy

But secondly, there really is no mechanism available to protect democracy from such things. Not in America and not here. Australian media companies often complain that our defamation laws are undemocratically suffocating because they give too much power to plaintiffs and drive media companies to bury stories of public interest. On that score, they might even have a point. But they rarely talk about how few other serious accountability mechanisms exist.

Mostly, we’re left with industry self-regulation in the form of courts, occasionally requiring media companies to issue corrections or apologies, whose decisions are sometimes simply laughed at by those found guilty. Every now and then, if there’s a big enough scandal, there might be some sort of public you may remember UK Levison Survey Over a decade ago – another popcorn moment gloat – Which asks various news international bigwigs, especially about phone hacking. But these are rare and not particularly fertile.


As we have seen in the UK and Australia, when the Gillard government tried to deal with all this with media reform laws, it was almost impossible for politicians to take any meaningful action. Any such attempt would be met with a barrage of denunciations for violating press freedom principles, and that’s it.

It’s easy to believe that a $1 billion lawsuit is enough protection, with the threat of more. Perhaps this will prevent anyone from participating in the kind of broadcasts that preceded the January 6th riots. I’m certainly willing to admit that there’s nothing wrong with an inelegant solution, if it’s still a solution. My problem is that I’m not entirely sure, in the long run, it will. The fine hurts, but it was less than two-thirds of Fox’s net profit in the last fiscal year, and about a quarter of its reported cash reserves. By settling, Fox avoided a potentially far greater cost: spectacle; potential damage to its own reputation from forensic legal examinations.

Here we run into the problem of leaving such issues to private commercial interests. Such broadcasts serve their own commercial interests very conspicuously. The kind of journalism that leads on the fire of emotion and gets people into partisan causes is very lucrative. Fox News still accounts for the majority of Fox Corporation’s profits. If we have a business thesis, Fox News still has a strong one. This is the recipe for business success, especially for the digital age.


Fox isn’t the only outlet figuring this out, and seeing the appeal of delivering highly partisan, highly emotional programming to viewers. It’s probably the most effective, and of the examples unearthed in the Dominion case, it’s probably the most extreme. But the actions of the media need not be so extreme as to cause considerable damage to our shared democratic interests. And still no one is defending this.

Waleed Aly is a regular columnist.

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