Journalists, Turnbull and News Limited come out against proposal for new media watchdog

Opposition has begun to grow to proposals to end self regulation by the Australian media.

On Friday the Independent Media Inquiry, led by Ray Finkelstein and commissioned by media minister Stephen Conroy, recommended a super regulator known as the News Media Council.

The new watchdog would be government funded and would replace the Australian Press Council and take over some of the functions currently carried out by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. It would also seek to regulate online-only news outlets for the first time, including any that get more than 40 “hits” per day.

Among those already expressing opposition is journalists union The Media Alliance. It said:   

“The Finkelstein Report from the independent media inquiry is a huge disappointment which not only fails to understand the way Australia’s news media operates but also fails to fully appreciate the severity of the crisis facing journalism.

“Mr Finkelstein has recommended the establishment of a new body to replace the Australian Press Council. The News Media Council would be a statutory body, government funded, membership of which would be compulsory for every broadcaster, newspaper and online publisher or even the smallest newsletter.”

The Media Alliance’s federal secretary Christopher Warren, said: “Where the Media Alliance parts company with Mr Finkelstein is this notion that a government can somehow impose self-regulation on the news industry by statute. As far as we are concerned, a government-funded body with the power to determine what newspapers should and shouldn’t publish smacks of an attempt to impose government control on a free press.”

Criticism also came from shadow media minister Malcolm Turnbull who blogged: “This Report was born in a spiteful effort by the Gillard Government to have a crack at News Limited… it must be said our instincts are to look for ways to promote and protect freedom of the press and protection of both the private and public interests in accuracy without increasing, and ideally by reducing, the influence of Government over the news media.”

News Limited boss Kim Williams issued a statement saying: “The spectre of a government funded overseer of a free press in an open and forward-looking democracy like ours cannot be justified.

“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.”

The Inquiry was also asked to look at the business model of the press.

It reported: “The Inquiry has concluded that, despite the intense pressures facing it, the Australian press is in no immediate danger of collapsing. The main media companies appear to be reasonably capable of dealing with the pressures facing them at least over the medium term.”


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