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The West Australian signals it is willing to consider rejoining the Australian Press Council

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Wharton

The West Australian has signalled its willingness to discuss rejoining the industry self regulator for print and online, the Australian Press Council, after a three year absence, Mumbrella can reveal.

Chris Wharton, who heads Seven West Media in Western Australia, which includes the publisher’s newspaper assets, has responded to statements by the new chair of the APC by saying they are open to discussions over rejoining the body, assuming guarantees can be made about preventing government involvement.

Asked about comments made last Friday to Mumbrella by new APC chair David Weisbrot, which called on The West Australian to return, Wharton responded: “We’d be happy to talk to Mr Weisbrot.”Wharton said the publisher was pleased to see Weisbrot’s comments about press freedom but said for the publisher to consider returning it would need guarantees that the body would never become government funded.

“We are encouraged by Mr Weisbrot’s comments about the Press Council being a guardian of press freedom, which we believe was a position that was abrogated under Julian Disney,” Wharton told Mumbrella.

“For us to even consider a return, we would need absolute assurances that there would be no government involvement in the Press Council through funding or any other way.”

Seven West Media pulled out of the Press Council in 2012 citing the proposal for possible government funding, via the Finkelstein inquiry, and new rules requiring four years notice for withdrawal as key factors. 

On Friday APC Weisbrot told Mumbrella that he was keen for Seven West Media to return.

“I’m very disappointed by (their absence),” he said. “I’d like to have some discussion with people at The West. I don’t know what their particular concerns are but I would hope we might be able to address them.”

Since 2012 Seven West Media has operated its own Independent Press Council, which Wharton argued was faster and more efficient than the APC.

“Our Independent Press Council is working well,” he said.  “It has the advantage of being local. It is fast, much less expensive and it is efficient.

“It has the added advantage that neither the editors of The West Australian, or the complainants have to fly east to attend hearings.”

The Independent Press Council adjudicated 12 complaints in its first year – 2013 – which saw eight complaints not upheld, six determinations published and two were not.

Seven West Media’s oversight body has not yet released details of its 2014 adjudications.

Nic Christensen 

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