Australian media regulatory framework not fit-for-purpose, finds senate inquiry

The senate committee charged with conducting this year’s media diversity in Australia inquiry has produced its report, with the recommendation that the current regulatory framework is “not fit-for-purpose”.

The report states that the committee heard “significant evidence that Australia’s system of media regulation is not effective, citing the weakness of its mechanisms, its inconsistent governance arrangements and standards across platforms, and the lack of oversight for digital media”.

The majority report also recommends that the proposed judicial inquiry with Royal Commission powers to determine whether the existing system of media regulation is fit-for-purpose, and to investigate the concentration of the country’s media ownership, be rejected.

Rudd giving evidence to the committee earlier this year

The majority report recommended a number of further measures to be implemented “in the meantime to ensure a diverse news media landscape and to protect public interest journalism and our democracy”.

The report stated that spending “tens of millions of taxpayer dollars” on such a inquiry would be an “abject waste of public monies”, and that reform can be achieved without “such an expensive vehicle that will turn into a political witch hunt aimed at stifling a free press”.

“There is a distinct balance between regulatory reform and press censorship and a judicial inquiry will not aid that balance,” the report read.

The inquiry first sat in February this year, after a petition by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, calling for a royal commission into Murdoch family-owned, News Corp, garnered over half a million signatures.

It also recommended that The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) should be given a stronger role of regulating the ABC and SBS, as well as the ability to apply penalties to media organisations found breaching the code.

The ACMA came under criticism this year, after Google subsidiary, YouTube temporarily banned the Sky News Australia page for breaching its misinformation policy.

The hearing was recalled after Sky News Australia’s YouTube account received a seven day ban.

In a previous senate hearing, Rudd referred to the regulatory body as “useless”, questioning the ACMA’s role, as he said a private company is doing its work, calling for it to be abolished.

Committee chair, Sarah Hanson-Young

The case in point was used as a example, the report said, that exposed the pitfalls in self-regulation “and illustrates well the chasm between digital platforms that are not accountable to any external standards or regulatory frameworks, and traditional media businesses that are increasingly converged across platforms while remaining subject to a confusing patchwork of regulatory oversight”.

Committee chair Sarah Hanson-YoungHanson-Young said: “More than a year ago, half a million Australians urged the parliament to establish a royal commission into the dominance of the Murdoch-media empire. In response, the Senate supported the Greens move to establish an inquiry and today we have a report that has concluded the call by more than half a million Aussies was warranted.

“The majority of the committee which undertook this 13-month-long inquiry, has recommended the establishment of a judicial inquiry with the powers and weight of royal commission into the state of media diversity and dominance in Australia. This is a move the parliament itself can make.”

On her Twitter account yesterday, she wrote: “It’s clear the regulatory system for media in this country is broken. Monopolies have been allowed to flourish in both traditional media and through online platforms. We need a framework that is fit for purpose with a single regulator that upholds standards in the public interest.”

Following the year -long inquiry, the report surmised that evidence to the committee “testified to the inability of existing regulators to ensure that standards of fairness and accuracy are maintained, and to prevent the spread of misinformation”.

According to a report in The Guardian yesterday, ‘‘Dangerous monopoly’: Labor and Greens support judicial inquiry into media diversity and News Corp’  a judicial inquiry could be set in motion without the government’s support, but for “a bill to pass the House of Representatives, a member of the government would need to cross the floor”.

Rudd, the former prime minister told the committee in February that he only stopped being fearful of News Corp, and Murdoch after he left Australia’s highest office.

Global head of News Corp, Robert Thomson appeared at the hearing in October, becoming the fourth News Corp executive to do so.

During his appearance, Thomson advocated for digital platforms coming under local jurisdiction.

“We clearly make mistakes, and we should be accountable for mistakes […] There are ways to hold publishers to account. Unfortunately, that’s not yet the case for the big digital platforms.”

“I think if anybody operates in Australia, and plays a role as a content provider, and wants to make money, they should be subject to Australian jurisdiction.”


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