History’s worst mass murderers have been joined by Australia’s Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, if you believe News Limited‘s big circulation Australian newspaper, the Telegraph. The Telegraph was reacting to Conroy’s announcement yesterday that the government would legislate to create a Public Interest Media Advocate.
In a front page lead story, the Telegraph claimed this “would stifle news reporting, under proposed draconian media changes”. The page featured images of Stalin, Mao, Castro, Kim, Mugabe and Ahmadinejad, next to that of Conroy
However, Conroy had significantly watered down proposals made by the Finkelstein inquiry which called for the establishment of a News Media Council, comprised of community, industry and professional representatives and funded by the Australian government.
An important change to the status quo is that, in appropriate cases, the News Media Council should have power to require a news media outlet to publish an apology, correction or retraction, or afford a person a right to reply. This is in line with the ideals contained in existing ethical codes but in practice often difficult to obtain. Finkelstein
Conroy instead proposed that an “Advocate” be appointed in consultation with the opposition (which is opposed to media regulation). The Advocate would “authorise the independent self-regulatory body or bodies for dealing with news media standards and complaints”.
Perhaps more importantly to News Limited’s interests, the Advocate would “decide whether a media merger of national significance can proceed”. [News Limited, an American owned subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s international News consortium, dominates Australian mainstream newspapers production, with about two thirds of the nation’s circulation.]
“The Public Interest Test will ensure that diversity of voices is always considered when media organisations of national significance seek to merge,” Conroy said.
In a press release so low key that it was not even initially included on the Ministerial Website, Conroy announced reforms that would “secure for the Australian public into the future a media sector that is fair, diverse, and produces more Australian content”.
These reforms included:
· A press standards model which ensured strong self-regulation of the print and online news media.
· The introduction of a Public Interest Test to ensure diversity considerations are taken into account for nationally significant media mergers and acquisitions.
· Modernising the ABC and SBS charters to reflect their online and digital activities.
· Supporting community television services following digital switchover by providing them a permanent allocation of a portion of Channel A.
· Making permanent the 50% reduction in the licence fees paid by commercial television broadcasters, conditional on the broadcast of an additional 1490 hours of Australian content by 2015.
The government flagged a parliamentary committee to inquire into three potential further reforms:
1. The abolition of the 75% reach rule, particularly in relation to regional and local news. If the committee is able to come up with a quick resolution on the 75% rule, the Government would include this amendment in the general package;
2. On-air reporting of ACMA findings regarding Broadcasting regulation breaches; and
3. Whether the ACMA should consider program supply agreements for news and current affairs, as part of determining whether a person is in control of a commercial television broadcasting service.
News Limited Ltd Chief Executive Kim Williams described the legislation as as “retrograde”.
The Government also risks standing as the one that turned the clock back to last century with its highly interventionist, vague and unnecessary public-interest test on media ownership, which is nothing more than a political-interest test which governments will use to punish outlets they don’t like. It will only serve to add layers of uncertainty, huge cost and inefficiency, adding yet another cost on business and Australian tax payers.
- Conroy’s media reforms (mumbrella.com.au)