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Press Council pushes for more power, fines for breaches

In a submission to the government’s media inquiry, the Australian Press Council has suggested imposing fines on newspapers and magazines that flout media standards.

In a 22-page three-part document, the Press Council suggests giving the body more power by broadening its remit to include bloggers and online publications, and censuring newspapers “where appropriate” to boost public confidence in the media.

The Council is also going to try to reverse the 20% funding cut made by publishers in 2009. It also wants to improve the way it handles complaints, and increase the proportion of complaints that are upheld.

The Press Council’s chairman Julian Disney sent a letter to the media inquiry, in which he voiced concern about what increased power for the Council might mean:

There is currently no provision for a punitive sanctions such as a fine for breach of the Standards. However, the frequency with which editors vigorously contest complaints and protest about adverse adjudications suggests that the Council is not as toothless as is sometimes asserted.

The Council is concerned that if it had the power to impose heavy sanctions its processes might have to become so formal, adversarial, slow and expensive that most people will not able or willing to complain to it.

He went on to suggest how it would go about strengthening its ability to “censure, reprimand or ask for explicit calls for apologies” from publishers, with a view to imposing fines if necessary.

A story in Daily Telegraph pointed out that publishers could be fined up to $30,000 for “exceptionally grave” or persistent breaches of media standards.

The government launched an ad campaign to call for submissions in September.

In September, Julian Disney talked to Mumbrella about the regulation of online publishers and bloggers.

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