COMMENT By Barry Tucker 16 March, 2013
The audacity! The hypocrisy! Shame! The Daily Telegraph’s front page protest linked federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to some of history’s hideous dictators.
Bit over the top, don’t you think?
All because the minister introduced some new Bills to mildly beef up the existing news media complaint procedures. Oh, and some independent review of ownership, or “diversity”, via a “public interest media advocate”.
There’s the real rub. Independent overseers are only as “independent” as the government that appoints them — which means “not”. In my opinion, a very dangerous move in the case of media ownership.
In other corners of the community the minister has been criticised for pussy footing on the news media regulation, for giving politicians too little notice, for lack of sufficient discussion beforehand, for imposing a “no bargaining” deal — take it or leave it — and for insisting on a deadline. It does sound dictatorial, for such pathetically weak legislation.
In the UK, where News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch is fighting to save his business interests, it’s worse. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has shut down debate on news media regulation. He will introduce his own measures — by regulation — an amendment to a Royal Charter.
Some say he’s letting Rupert off the hook. It’s no secret that Rupert is universally despised as a muck raker following revelations of the ‘phone hacking scandal in the UK — and fears that the same thing is happening elsewhere in his empire.
It’s also spreading to other organisations, with two journalists and two former journalists of The Mirror group being arrested two days ago.
In Australia, News Limited CEO Kim Williams AO accused the minister of attempting to stifle Press freedoms. What really worries him is the Bills, if they become Acts, will hamper his boss’s plans to expand his already suffocating news media empire in Australia.
Mr Williams’ address was also reported in full in News Limited papers and on Michael Smith’s website.
Why wouldn’t any reasonably civilised community want regulation to prevent what was happening in the UK (tapping the ‘phones of murder victims, bribing police, politicians and military personnel) and regulate rubbish newspapers like the one above?
Veteran political journalist and ABC Insiders presenter Barrie Cassidy discussed the irony, or the hypocrisy, of Mr Williams’ bleatings with the ABC News24 Breakfast presenters. Mr Cassidy said Mr Williams had called for a public revolt.
I call for a much more severe limitation of the ownership of all newspaper, radio and TV media, in line with some other leading Western countries, and for tougher legislation to enshrine the public ownership and the impartiality of the ABC.
Australia has the most constipated news media ownership (apart from that controlled by a real dictatorship) and our democracy is paying the price for that. The politicians have allowed this to happen and it’s up to them to fix it properly and permanently with some appropriately stiff legislation. If they don’t they’ll pay the price because Social Media and the Fifth Estate is building up a head of steam and already has some victories in its belt.
It’s my bet digital media will be severely regulated long before print media.
Catch up with Mr Cassidy’s comments on the ABC’s YouTube channel