Our first look at the future of Australia’s media
The federal government’s media inquiry released its long-awaited report today – 469 pages of policy discussion for interested parties to absorb on a Friday afternoon.
Guess they don’t know the end-of-the-week pub habits of journalists too well. Stay tuned to The Punch as we delve through the other 459 pages in the coming days. Here’s what it looks like at this point.
Over the past couple of weeks there has been speculation that the inquiry would propose the establishment of a media ombudsman or a licensing system for journalists. Turns out the inquiry has only ended up making one significant recommendation.
Right now the Australian Press Council takes care of print media standards and ACMA takes care of broadcast standards. The inquiry says that there should be one super-regulator that would enforce news standards across the whole media, a “News Media Council”. The body would cover online news media as well.
Even bloggers who get more than 1250 page views a month would come under the council’s auspices. And it makes sense, because all media should have to face similar standards across all the different platforms, even cranky anonymous bloggers.
The Council would be funded by the government but independent of it. And the Council would be able to deal with press complaints quickly and efficiently.
The media copped a lot of LOL-tastic criticism through this process, memorable moments including Bob Brown labelling News Limited, the publisher of The Punch, “the hate media”.
And the inquiry’s impetus in the first place was a hunger to find similar practices to what happened in the UK in Australia – something that there is no evidence of having happened here.
But while the report says there has been a decline in standards under the current Press Council regime, it does say:
There is another side to the media that ought to be acknowledged. Despite the volume of complaints and criticisms, what also became apparent to me during the course of the Inquiry is the news media’s many achievements, and just how strongly many people, both inside and outside the media, care about the health of news and journalism.
Australia’s newspapers employ many dedicated professionals, performing their roles skilfully and diligently. The process of accountability proposed here recognises the realities and difficulties of journalism, emphasising immediate exchange and correction rather than financial or legal punitiveness.
It doesn’t sound like a witch-hunt against journalists. It does sound like some things are going to change though.
UPDATE: And here’s a word from News Limited boss, Kim Williams:
It is an ambitious document, and when we have had the time to consider it in full we will comment in more detail. But the spectre of a government funded overseer of a free press in an open and forward-looking democracy like ours cannot be justified.
News Limited supports strong independent self-regulation of the print and online media and has led work to achieve this with The Australian Press Council. If print and online media are to continue to be able to robustly question, challenge and keep governments in check, they must remain self-regulated entirely independent of government.
There is no role for government to be involved in regulation that adjudicates on whether or not reporting is fair and balanced. There is too much at stake for politicians to be able to stay impartial and independent when it comes to deciding how the media reports on them.
A strong Australian Press Council should oversee the standards and complaints process for Australian print and online media. The Council is meeting with publishers next week to continue discussing steps to further strengthen the Council. I am hopeful that will result in a constructive outcome which defends independence underpinned by public accountability with appropriate measures for transparent independent complaint, review and public commentary.
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