Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Australian Media Regulation - Public Interest Test

On March 12, 2013 the Federal Government of Australia launched a new policy proposal for regulating the media. It is the official response to the two media inquiries covered previously on this blog: The Convergence Review and the Frankenstein Inquiry. (This mirrors some of the activities and debates now playing out in the UK, following the Levenson Inquiry).

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy put the proposals forward in a press conference, that to my mind at least, did not convey the level of intensity that is required for governments to launch major policy initiatives, especially ones centred around public interest theory.

Indeed, the biggest news in the policy proposal is the idea for a public interest media advocate. Here are some of the points highlighted in the Ministers Press Release:

These reforms include:
  • A press standards model which ensures 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 1460 hours of Australian content by 2015(Minister Conroy Press Release)

The micro-politics are of some interest because the current Australian parliament has seven members who are independent of the ruling Australian Labor Party (ALP) or the conservative Liberal-National Party coalition. If they support the ALP the legislation will succeed. (The Age coverage)The success of the policy initiative will result in more extreme "journalism" - what must surely be characterised as News Corporation executives embarrassing the profession with ideological tirades against an elected government.

As for News Corporation, what can one say? Sydney's Telegraph, a tabloid, and another News Corp publication, ran its report under the headline, "Julia Gillard's henchman attacks freedom of the press." Then the photo of Conroy dressed in what is generally regarded as the military clothing of Joseph Stalin.

The evidence is clear from this coverage why a Public Interest Test is needed in Australia. Surely the coverage by the News Corporation press proves how the public interest is rejected in favour of the status quo.

This is not to say the Fairfax press has been any better. The Age (Melbourne) and The Sydney Morning Herald are also opposed.