I just had to explain to someone the fuss about the federal government’s proposed reforms to media regulation in Australia.It is somewhat complex when one considers we’ve had the Finkelstein Inquiry which fed into the Convergence Review both of which have resulted in a number of outcomes recommended to government. The Convergence Review looked at the rapidly converging marketplaces (hence it’s name) for analog and digital information transmission mediums. Radio, Television, Newspapers, Entertainment and so on. The Finkelstein Inquiry followed the mind-numbingly perverse revelations concerning the activities of News International in the UK. Hacking dead schoolgirls mobile phones, not to mention many, many others. Buying of police favours, corruption of police & politicians by the Murdoch media, etcetera. In this country, Finkelstein looked into the Media Code of Ethics and it’s conduct under self-regulation through the Press Council of Australia. The report recommendations can be found here.
Suffice to say there are many recommendations for changes, none of which the media heavyweights in general like, especially so the Murdoch outlets in this country. From all I’ve read and all I see & hear, the reforms proposed by Senator Conroy are ‘reform lite’ in comparison to what Finkelstein recommended, with many media commentators, even some within the Murdoch media agreeing. Of course, that won’t stop the outcries of a supposedly free press shrieking and wailing and gnashing their teeth. In short, what Conroy wants to do is place a public interest advocate body over the Press Council of Australia, to make sure that the public interest is served and the PCofA does what it says it does. Let’s remember that the PCofA is established by the major media players in Australia, funded by them, and answers to them. In my view, Caesar ought not be judging Caesar, at least if the judgements are to hold any genuine weight & credibility.
This sort of thing has become reportage du jour for the Murdoch media, especially the tabloids. It is patently clear to even the most inattentive observer that the Murdoch press are on a crusade of regime change in Australia, and have been since November 2007, despite backing Labor to win at that time. Since the deposition of Kevin Rudd in 2010, the vehemence of their opposition and bile driven rhetoric regarding all aspects of the now Gillard government has increased 50 fold. That the Murdoch media is seeking regime change on behalf of conservative political forces is now not in question. The ethics of their involvement in such activities is.
This is where the proposed reforms come into stark conflict with what media claims are it’s rights to freedom of expression without government interference. The much vaunted ‘Free Press’. Now, following last Wednesday, I lodged a complaint with the Press Council of Australia regarding what I believe to be the unethical behaviour of the Murdoch media, the outright libellous attack on an elected representative and the lies being perpetrated in regard to the reforms proposed. The response I received was as I’d anticipated:
“The Council will not be processing complaints concerning articles dealing with government proposals on
media reform. This is because the subject matter directly concerns the Council and we might be seen to
have a conflict of interest. This is similar to the approach we took to coverage of the Finkelstein review.”
Of course, the PCofA wouldn’t deal with reports on the Finkelstein Review because that review hadn’t been released by government. Now, it has and I wasn’t complaining about the reportage related to the reforms. I was complaining about the paper’s reaction to the government proposals, not the reforms themselves. I was complaining about the unethical behaviour on clear public display. This, to me, is evidence of the Caesar-judging-Caesar aspect of the PCofA which government reforms are aiming to change to the betterment of the public interest. What point is there in having a free press if that freedom is not expressly operating in the public interest, only in the media’s interest. Why would any rational human being, regardless of philosophy, be interested in a media sector which devoutly declares anti-government sentiment in support of it’s owner’s edicts, instead of and in lieu of putting public policy under the microscope which would reveal the honesty of those reforms in the public interest.
76% of all newspaper mediums in this country are owned by Rupert Murdoch and News Limited. Weight of ownership does not automatically translate to right to expression or relative level of importance in handling public opinion. As dangerous as government interference in news reportage might be, blanket media ownership is equally, if not more so, destructive of the public interest because it only ever supports one sector of that interest. If the least government proposes is a public interest advocate to oversight the ethical behaviour of the media’s own self-funded self-regulatory body, then I for one support such reforms wholeheartedly. let News Limited have their 76% weight of ownership, but also let them be subject to independent oversight as well.