March 13, 2013
It is hard to be enthused about the Gillard Government's media reforms in the context of the news media – consistently seeing itself as above scrutiny, requiring no monitoring or accountability except from within its own ranks.
The package consists of a new public interest test for big media mergers; a new self-regulatory press standards model (to include print and online media); a Public Interest Media Advocate who will oversee both; an updating of the ABC and SBS charters to reflect the new media environment; and a permanent halving of the commercial TV licence rebate.
They are a small step towards making the print media more accountable. It's a small step because they work within the established media “silos” of print, broadcasting and online media. The issues raised by convergence are put on the back burner.
The reforms also reject the need for an official (though independent) government-funded regulatory body to deal with complaints as recommended by the Finkelstein inquiry. Self-regulation remains. The reforms address the issue of the history of bad self-regulation with a Public Interest Media Advocate Advocate ensuring that bodies dealing with media standards, most notably the Australian Press Council, met certain benchmarks for credible and effective self-regulation of print and online media. Self-regulation is still self-regulation.
The need for greater regulation becomes clear when we see this nonsense. Or the way its climate denial has helped it develop into a political and cultural movement that identifies left-wing” opinion with climate science. They link this with the wider green movement initiatives of communes, anti-capitalist sentiments, simple living and eschewing modern conveniences.
We can also recall the way that The Australian and other News Ltd newspapers have published incorrect articles about the National Broadband Network; articles that are based on misinformation and which are designed to deceive readers.
The overwhelming majority of The Australian's articles are bitterly opposed to the network on every measure, and they examples of an incompetent journalism that rejects the very idea of a journalism that is well researched. They write crap and call it journalism.
It is a small step because the reforms are designed to limit the freedom of media outlets to do and say what they like, and it is the first time print and online content will be regulated. But it will not restore trust in the mainstream media given the contempt and disdain the media have for its readers and the ethos of journalism.
The public interest test to be deployed by the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) will draw flack. The Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (News Media Diversity) Bill 2013 defines the test thus:
"the applicant satisfies the PIMA that the relevant control event will not result in a substantial lessening of diversity of control of registered news media voices; or
the PIMA is satisfied:
"that the relevant control event is likely to result in a benefit to the public; and
that the benefit outweighs, or would outweigh, the detriment to the public constituted by any lessening of diversity of control of registered news media voices that would result from the relevant control event."
It's a fairly inoffensive test,there is one in the US and the UK, and there is plenty of room for interpretation in the context of the emerging digital media economy.
It will draw flack because the news media see themselves as a business who should be free to make commercial decisions in the best interests of their organisation’s commercial viability. If that profit making conflicts with the public interest, then, the public interest should be dumped. The reason is that the public interest represents political considerations and government control.