The media should come under more regulatory scrutiny when its editorial coverage is tainted by commercial interests, an influential journalism professor has urged.
The call for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to become more involved came from Bond University’s Mark Pearson, author of several editions of The Journalist’s Guide To Media Law.
Speaking to ABC Radio National’s The Media Report, Prof Pearson said that new laws are not necessarily needed to regulate the Australian press – but current exemptions to consumer law should be looked at again.
He said: “There are already so many laws controlling the behaviour of news organisations and journalists, we don’t really need any more. We need to make those that exist more effective. But if there had to be something more, the consumer law that exists at the moment, and already applies to the media in many ways, could be extended to cover heinous ethical breaches.”
Prof Pearson’s comments come shortly before the findings of the Finkelstein Inquiry into print and online journalism are released.
Pearson said that the likes of radio’s cash for comment scandal in which 2UE’s John Laws and Alan Jones were found to have given favourable comment to brands that were paying them to do so.
Pearson said the Competition and Consumer Act could be used to control some of the unethical conduct of media outlets if current examptions were relaxed. He said: “It was introduced in 1974 and it has a provision, basically banning misleading and deceptive conduct, which is normally applying to advertising. But for the first few years, some court decisions held that it might also apply to misleading claims made in news stories; the editorial columns of newspapers and their equivalent in broadcast. So because they didn’t want this impingement on free expression and because of lobbying by the major media groups, they had an exemption to that introduced for prescribed news providers which basically, unless it was in advertising or promoting their own products and so on, they would be exempted from these misleading and deceptive conduct provisions.”
He added: “I don’t think some tinkering with that would do any great harm which would cover the most drastic ethical breaches, clearly contrary to the public interest, where there’s been real misleading and deceptive conduct involved, of the order of your cash for comment kind of situation.
” The more the media is moving towards breaking down that firewall between editorial and advertising the more they need to be treated like just another business except where they’re doing genuine public interest journalism.”
Perason’s new book Blogging And Tweeting Without Getting Sued is released next month. He will be speaking at tomorrow afternoon’s Mumbrella masterclass in Managing Risk In Social Media.