Sunday, 7 April 2013

Weekly Times milk video hits too weakly

Dairy farmers have had some wins in the public sphere through agitation and publication of news and information, such as on blogs and in socmed, notably seeing Woolworths offer to change the way it buys milk from farmers. While this move is yet to show a real improvement of terms for farmers, the trial's launch shows that supermarkets are highly sensitive to criticism of their business practices. Publicity clearly does work. With this aim in mind, an enterprising person - or persons, it's not clear - have made quite a long video about the situation with Coles and milk producers and it's available to view on the Weekly Times website. This national rural newspaper has popped the video in their regular video section.

The video runs to over 13 minutes. This is problematic on the website because the home page, where the video is posted, has a regular refresh cycle, so you won't be able to view the whole video before the refresh kicks in and shuts down the video, pulling it back to the beginning. This is a problem I've encountered with News Ltd websites before, notably with the Australian, and it shows how the company's professed aim of expanding multimedia content clashes with other priorities in the business. The company just does not "get" digital content. It's a print enterprise and that's where its business practices focus. News Ltd owns the Weekly Times of course.

There's another thing that farmers should not be surprised that the company does not get: the real difficulties that home brand milk sold at very low prices is causing Australian farmers.

News Ltd is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, a thrillingly successful businessman whose business assets span from book publishing to newspapers and from movie production to magazines. He's also a major supporter of the Institute of Public Affairs, a conservative, economic-libertarian Australian think-tank that is highly active in the public sphere in this country. His father helped found it. He's a donor to the IPA. And Murdoch was in Melbourne this week to give a speech at a gathering, which included Tony Abbott, held to celebrate the IPA's 70th birthday. During his talk, Murdoch said "we must argue the morality of free markets and the immorality of markets that are not free". In this context, it's hardly surprising that News Ltd newspapers are ignoring farmers and, by doing so, clearing the way for the duopoly to continue squeezing them out of profits.

The IPA has form in this area, too, with recent comments to the effect that government-funded agricultural research was a "waste of money", preferring to see innovations emerge from the labs of private companies like Monsanto and Syngenta. The National Farmers Federation has criticised the think-tank publicly.

As for the video, I say it's nice, if a little fast and hard to understand. The cognates of the average metro resident - and you'd think that the video makers would have had this demographic in mind when making it - do not extend as far as is assumed by whoever put it together. Instead of 13 minutes, it could easily have run to twice that. And I think the graphics, while entertaining in themselves, are a distraction. It's hard to follow the rapid narrative and work out where the drawing is going, all at the same time.

But my main reservation about the video is that it's in the wrong place. Farmers read the Weekly Times, and they're not the target audience for the people who made it. People in cities, who buy milk from Coles and Woolworths, do not read the paper, and are more likely to get their information from YouTube or in the Herald Sun or the Daily Terror. Putting the video where it is is completely ineffective. And don't expect News Ltd vehicles with a metro reach to pick up on the story. So far the only places you can get information about milk prices are run by the ABC and Fairfax. News Ltd editors know what Murdoch wants to see in his papers: free markets, not fair markets.

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