Press Council boss promises faster resolution of complaints as part of promoting quality journalism

The Australian Press Council is looking to speed up its complaints process while it grapples with a globalised media and challenges to press freedoms, the organisation’s chair Neville Stevens told the Melbourne Press Club this afternoon.

In his first public speech since his appointment last December, Stevens acknowledged a number issues facing the Press Council including public confidence in the organisation and members’ conflicts of interest.

Stevens: Wants to reduce the time it takes to resolve complaints

Addressing the controversy around the appointment of Get Up deputy chair Carla McGrath to the council – which triggered The Australian to threaten a boycott and ultimately saw his predecessor David Weisbrot step down – Stevens said the APC had asked its current members to identify any potential problems against its reviewed policy ahead of its May meeting.

Stevens also flagged an effort to reduce the time the council takes to resolve formal adjudications, currently averaging eight months saying: “In today’s digital world, speed has become the accepted norm. I intend to work closely with Council to review our processes to reduce these times, but in ways that preserve the intent and effectiveness of the complaints process.”

The digital world also presents other challenges for the Press Council, Stevens believes, including the increased syndication of overseas content.

“Should readers in Australia expect that all items on an Australian news website, even if they are generated abroad, should meet Australian Press Council standards? Or should readers here, and the Press Council, accept that the local publishers of that website cannot be expected to control exactly what goes into a piece generated overseas, and not be expected to take responsibility for that piece and respond to complaints about it?,” he said.

“To date, though, it has been the practice of the Council to hold the publisher member responsible for content they publish. While we recognise the changing business models of publishers, any changes to our procedures would need careful consideration to maintain the effectiveness of our standards and public confidence in these standards”

Much of Stevens’ speech focused on the increased restrictions facing publishers and journalists, citing governments’ overly broad anti-terrorism and secrecy laws, inadequate whistleblower protection and metadata legislation.

Stephens also expressed concern about the over enthusiastic granting of suppression orders by the courts and the increasing use of defamation law against publishers.

“In Australia we often take for granted that we live in a democracy that allows a free press and legitimate criticism,” he said.

“However, it is not quite that simple. Australia ranked 19th in the world last year, according to the Reporters Without Borders Report for 2017, not an outstanding result. However, we did move up from 25th place the year previously. One can take some solace in that, but Australia is still behind many other countries.”

Stephens concluded by reiterating the Press Council’s role in promoting a free press and quality journalism, saying: “My objective is to ensure that the Australian Press Council is a respected and independent self-regulatory body, which has the confidence of publishers and the community and publishers, which contributes to a strong and free press and which values and promotes quality journalism.”


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