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Press inquiry calls for mega watchdog to run ‘enforced selfregulation’ across all media including bloggers

Newspapers should no longer be allowed to run the Australian Press Council because it allowed standards to decline and failed to keep the public’s trust, the government’s inquiry into the press has concluded. It has instead called for a government funded body it suggests calling the News Media Council which will attempt to regulate all media include online. Even bloggers, apart from sites that have less than 1250 page views per month would be covered.

The Independent Media Inquiry, run by Ray Finkelstein, concluded: “Ordinarily, the preferred option would be self-regulation. But in the case of newspapers, selfregulation by code of ethics and through the APC has not been effective.

The report was published today. It said:

“To do nothing in these circumstances is merely to turn a blind eye to what many see as a significant decline in media standards. Australian society has a vital interest in ensuring that media standards are maintained and that there is public trust in the media.

“Put more directly, the problems identified in this report have not occurred because the media have been unregulated—to the contrary, both the press and broadcast media have been and are regulated in Australia. That the problems persist provides clear evidence that the current regulatory arrangements need strengthening to improve their effectiveness.”

Finkelstein said funding for a new body should come from the government rather than the current voluntary contributions of newspaper publishers.

He added: “Giving due weight to the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, a move to full governmental regulation would be a step too far. A sufficient improvement would be an independent system of regulation that allows the regulated parties to participate in the setting and enforcement of standards (as is presently the case), but with participation being required, rather than voluntary. This may be termed enforced selfregulation.”

The inquiry added: “To rectify existing and emerging weaknesses in the current regulatory structures it is recommended that there be established an independent statutory body which may be called the ‘News Media Council’, to oversee the enforcement of standards of the news media. It is envisaged that the body would take over the functions of both the APC and the news and current affairs standards functions of ACMA.

On which media would be covered, the Inquiry said: “There are many newsletter publishers and bloggers, although no longer part of the ‘lonely pamphleteer’ tradition, who offer up-to-date reflections on current affairs. Quite a number have a very small audience. There are practical reasons for excluding from the definition of ‘news media’ publishers who do not have a sufficiently large audience. If a publisher distributes more than 3000 copies of print per issue or a news internet site has a minimum of 15 000 hits per annum it should be subject to the jurisdiction of the News Media Council, but not otherwise. These numbers are arbitrary, but a line must be drawn somewhere.”

Finkelstein appears to be using the word “hits” to describe page views. 15000 per annum would equate to just 40 page views a day.

The inquiry recommends that the News media Council should not have the power to fine outlets but it should be able:

  • To require publication of a correction.
  • To require withdrawal of a particular article from continued publication (via the internet or otherwise).
  • To require a media outlet to publish a reply by a complainant or other relevant person.
  • To require publication of the News Media Council’s decision or determination;
  • To direct when and where publications should appear.

If outlets do not obey the rulings, the inquiry wants the News Media Council to be able to go to court to enforce its ruling. It said: “Any failure to comply with the court order should be a contempt of court and punishable in the usual way. This will be both a deterrent to breaching standards and, in the event of a complaint being made, will act as an incentive for media outlets to resolve the complaint through discussion.”

Note: This is a first report on a 468 page document. More detail will follow later.

 

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