Press inquiry calls for mega watchdog to run ‘enforced selfregulation’ across all media including bloggers

Newspapers should no longer be allowed to run the Australian Press Council because it allowed standards to decline and failed to keep the public’s trust, the government’s inquiry into the press has concluded. It has instead called for a government funded body it suggests calling the News Media Council which will attempt to regulate all media include online. Even bloggers, apart from sites that have less than 1250 page views per month would be covered.

The Independent Media Inquiry, run by Ray Finkelstein, concluded: “Ordinarily, the preferred option would be self-regulation. But in the case of newspapers, selfregulation by code of ethics and through the APC has not been effective.

The report was published today. It said:

“To do nothing in these circumstances is merely to turn a blind eye to what many see as a significant decline in media standards. Australian society has a vital interest in ensuring that media standards are maintained and that there is public trust in the media.

“Put more directly, the problems identified in this report have not occurred because the media have been unregulated—to the contrary, both the press and broadcast media have been and are regulated in Australia. That the problems persist provides clear evidence that the current regulatory arrangements need strengthening to improve their effectiveness.”

Finkelstein said funding for a new body should come from the government rather than the current voluntary contributions of newspaper publishers.

He added: “Giving due weight to the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, a move to full governmental regulation would be a step too far. A sufficient improvement would be an independent system of regulation that allows the regulated parties to participate in the setting and enforcement of standards (as is presently the case), but with participation being required, rather than voluntary. This may be termed enforced selfregulation.”

The inquiry added: “To rectify existing and emerging weaknesses in the current regulatory structures it is recommended that there be established an independent statutory body which may be called the ‘News Media Council’, to oversee the enforcement of standards of the news media. It is envisaged that the body would take over the functions of both the APC and the news and current affairs standards functions of ACMA.

On which media would be covered, the Inquiry said: “There are many newsletter publishers and bloggers, although no longer part of the ‘lonely pamphleteer’ tradition, who offer up-to-date reflections on current affairs. Quite a number have a very small audience. There are practical reasons for excluding from the definition of ‘news media’ publishers who do not have a sufficiently large audience. If a publisher distributes more than 3000 copies of print per issue or a news internet site has a minimum of 15 000 hits per annum it should be subject to the jurisdiction of the News Media Council, but not otherwise. These numbers are arbitrary, but a line must be drawn somewhere.”

Finkelstein appears to be using the word “hits” to describe page views. 15000 per annum would equate to just 40 page views a day.

The inquiry recommends that the News media Council should not have the power to fine outlets but it should be able:

  • To require publication of a correction.
  • To require withdrawal of a particular article from continued publication (via the internet or otherwise).
  • To require a media outlet to publish a reply by a complainant or other relevant person.
  • To require publication of the News Media Council’s decision or determination;
  • To direct when and where publications should appear.

If outlets do not obey the rulings, the inquiry wants the News Media Council to be able to go to court to enforce its ruling. It said: “Any failure to comply with the court order should be a contempt of court and punishable in the usual way. This will be both a deterrent to breaching standards and, in the event of a complaint being made, will act as an incentive for media outlets to resolve the complaint through discussion.”

Note: This is a first report on a 468 page document. More detail will follow later.



  1. Martin Walsh
    2 Mar 12
    2:27 pm

  2. H.I.T.S. – How Idiots Track Success

    I still cannot believe in 2012 that anybody, let alone multi million dollar government inquiries use terminology like this from the 1990’s which mean nothing!

    I also never thought I’d see anything as extraordinary as the hysteria being propagated by this government and The Greens and many other interest groups around Australian media, regulation and ownership.

    Did anyone read the ridiculous ‘essay’ (rant) by Wayne Swan today in The Monthly?

    I had to slap myself after reading it on top of all the political hysteria around media as I thought somehow Putin and his cronnies had taken over our country or somehow Karl Marx had possesed our treasurer…..

  3. Devil's advocaat
    2 Mar 12
    2:31 pm

  4. What happens if I write comments on Facebook that get more than 40 page views per day?

  5. Bigguy
    2 Mar 12
    2:33 pm

  6. OMG

    I’ve had over 10,000 page hits this week and now someone wants me to fill out papers to keep a public servant in a job.

    Next thing will be an inquiry into ad agency costings and why you need 6 people to push through a small job.

  7. Carole Goldsmith
    2 Mar 12
    2:56 pm

  8. More quango gov’t org to churn up our tax paying money – why don’t they get a life.
    Here is my blog and if I get lots of views it will give some public servant a job….

  9. Mac
    2 Mar 12
    3:02 pm

  10. Seriously? They are honestly suggesting a system where:

    1. Any blogs on current events (ie: ‘news’) which has more than 41 page views a day would be covered.

    2. They are seriously going to set up a complaints panel (with 1,3 or 5 members) to review almost every single complaint about any such blog in the entire country!

    (They may claim that it only applies to people who complain on blogs who feel that the original blog didn’t answer satisfactorily. How many cases is that?)

    3. More to the point – how the heck will the Press Council know which blogs are under their jurisdiction? There’s no way to tell. At least Alexa scores (which are equally unreliable) can be checked without asking the blog owner to co-operate.

    (PS: My blog would even qualify under their bizarre rules. If I have articles about things that are ‘current’ – would that make it a news site?)

    As unbelievable as it seems in certain parts of our market, there are plenty of (mostly niche, indie) site owners, bloggers etc – often with highly engaged and advertiser desirable audiences – still using the term ‘hits’. Some have little knowledge of the statistics they need to access and quote to indicate their site traffic. I also see some (mostly smaller, direct) advertisers with little understanding of the statistics they need to gauge site reach.

    Various mainstream media commentators also continue to perpetuate this term when highlighting website traffic.

    The 40 page views recommendation certainly seems bizarre and shows a real lack of understanding of our increasingly complex market. Not what I would expect to see in a report where the author hopefully was able to consult with the best in the business – and also within a report which may have huge influence.

    Wonder if Stephen Conroy know his hits from his views?

    Love your acronym Martin!

  11. Blogger XYZ
    2 Mar 12
    3:21 pm

  12. Oh dear. Someone still doesn’t get it do they :-(

    So if I have a “meeting” every day with 40 or more people are they going to also try to regulate what comes out of my mouth?

    And what about the 40,000 followers that I may have on Twitter? Will they also try to regulate my 140 character tweets?

    And what about if my blog is hosted off-shore (aren’t they all)?? Does that constitute being an Australian blogger?

    What a joke.

  13. Kirk
    2 Mar 12
    3:26 pm

  14. “and now someone wants me to fill out papers to keep a public servant in a job”

    If someone complains about content on your site, and the regulator investigates and finds your content should be withdrawn or corrected, then you withdraw or correct – or fight it.

    BOO HOO buddy.

  15. Bigguy
    2 Mar 12
    3:46 pm

  16. Kirk

    There’s always someone who complains. Anyway you don’t have to read this. And my blog is 90% imagery. Pass me a tissue!

  17. Jeremy
    2 Mar 12
    5:12 pm

  18. Australia would be better off without Stephen Conroy.

  19. Glen Fuller
    2 Mar 12
    5:42 pm

  20. I almost posted this to your ‘Banana Watch’ blog post, but you also quote the same section above, and a number of comments reference the issue, so it probably better suited here.

    In your blog post you raise the example of Banana Watch and whether this would be part of the regulatory scheme.

    Would ‘Banana Watch’ be classified as a news site? This is a pertinent question as it raises the issue of a multitude of long tail bloggers (of which I have been one for 8 or so years) becoming part of the regulatory scheme. The ‘second change’ you’ve quoted above discusses various (outdated) ways of thinking about inclusion as a measure of traffic. You’ve looked at this traffic issue alone as a point of contention.

    If you actually look at the context of this quoted extract in the document you’ll note that the ‘second change’ is a change to the NZLC definition of ‘news’ (page 295):

    For the purposes of the law the “news media” includes any publisher, in any medium, who meets the following criteria:
    · a significant proportion of their publishing activities must involve the generation and/or aggregation of news, information and opinion of current value;
    · they disseminate this information to a public audience;
    · publication must be regular;
    · the publisher must be accountable to a code of ethics and a complaints process.

    Banana Watch, entertaining? Maybe. But does it belong to “news, information [or]opinion of current value”? In anyway that isn’t purely for amusement, then no.

    Point 11.61 (page 294) of the document defines news media: “The news media are those that gather, analyse and disseminate news, often with their own opinions added.”

    The first question that needs to be put to online publishers: is your content of news, information or opinion of current value? If the answer is ‘yes’ then move to next question. Next question: how much traffic do you get, etc.?

    What about the “non-news entities” like Banana Watch? Point 11.68 (page 295 and immediately below the extract you selectively quote above) “it would be appropriate to permit non-news entities which see value in the role of the News Media Council to opt into the system. That, however, would likely be a small part of the overall regulatory system.” Yeah? Opt in or not for sites that are ‘non-news entities’.

    Come on, Tim. I know it is a massive document, but it is on the same page you’ve quoted from.

  21. Anne Miles
    3 Mar 12
    11:17 am

  22. I love the idea of more control of how people behave online, but not sure of the practicalities of making it work. I imagine online community managers will be able to make a killing promoting their services.

  23. Ann
    3 Mar 12
    3:04 pm

  24. Surely this will not get of the ground? Oh, maybe it will, given Oakeshott and Windsor are critical of blogs….oh dear.

  25. mumbrella
    4 Mar 12
    4:59 pm

  26. Hi Glenn,

    My point around Banana Watch is that I’m not sure how you can realistically define news media.

    While it’s clearly satirical, Banana Watch is about the anti-social behaviour of dropping banana peels – “An international NGO, Banana Watch endeavours to wipe out banana-related street crime across the world. ”

    It presents this in a newsy fashion, detailing new sightings. At what point does a topic become serious enough to be treated as news? General littering? Fly tipping? Graffiti? Petty theft? Muggings?

    Applying Finkelstein’s preferred course of action If Banana Watch wrongly accuses me of antisocial behaviour, why shouldn’t I be entitled to restitution?


    Tim – Mumbrella

  27. Mac
    5 Mar 12
    7:02 pm

  28. @Glen (#11): “If the answer is ‘yes’ then move to next question. Next question: how much traffic do you get, etc.?”

    That’s the major problem. You are presenting it as a checklist for the website owner. However, they are talking about this being a compulsory system – which means that it is a checklist for the regulator to use.

    So – how are they going to tell how many hits a website has? Sure – they could use a psychic hamster of something .. but alternatively the only way would seem to be to send a nice letter: “Dear (Insert name here). Can you please tell us how many hits you get so we can decide if you should be regulated by us?”

    So what if the blog owner doesn’t reply? Or the email is caught in a spam filter. Or – worst still.. there is absolutely zero obligation for a blog publisher to put a contact email address on their blog in the first place.

    So what will they do then?

    They’ve designed the rules for a compulsory regulator – so that the regulator needs a psychic hamster to figure out who they are in charge of regulating!

    You must admit … that’s a shamefully poorly thought out plan.