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What Future For Media Reforms?

  • March 25th, 2013
  • Posted by 7thmin

news-of-world-logo2.jpgrupert-murdoch21.jpg leveson-report.jpg stephen-conroy.jpg                                The British government has announced its plan for regulation of the press, with a new complaints procedure; mirrored by far-less successful efforts, and less cooperation among legislators, in Australia.

It followed the media scandals of 2011 and after, which provoked questions on what to do about the London tabloid newspapers.

MEDIA REGULATION BY ROYAL CHARTER

The vehicle chosen is a Royal Charter, a device used for creating autonomous public bodies like the BBC or a university.

cameron-resize.jpgIts choice has satisfied the Labour Opposition, with a clause providing permanency, or at least longevity to the new regulatory regime, while the Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron(picture), can say it is not a government agency set up to dominate media.

The arrangement, negotiated among the main parties, creates a “watchdog” which can require newspapers to go to arbitration, and prominently display apologies or corrections; those that do not sign up to participate in the statutory system, and its standards, may be exposed to stiffer payments for damages, if, for instance, they abuse privacy to get and publish defamatory news.

It has attracted global interest; with especially, regulation-shy American commentators becoming curious but wary, as in this comment from the Huffington Post:

“The move comes after a phone hacking scandal caught journalists eavesdropping on voicemails, bribing public officials, and intruding into the private lives of celebrities, athletes, politicians and crime victims. Many journalists, however, fear the new system threatens press freedom. Some are even talking of boycotting it.”

BREAKING THE LAW

It is being put in place in response to the emergence of details on illegal telephone probes by journalists and editors, with also investigations of their links with government leaders and the police.

guardian-shot1.bmpA parliamentary committee (the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport), reconvened on the issue after The Guardian revealed an investigation two years before, in 2009, had not got out the full facts on wire-taps; its public committee hearings began to concentrate on the Murdoch group’s tabloid the News of the World.

As reported then in EUAustralia Online, the head of the group, Rupert Murdoch (picture, top-right), was closely questioned, calling it the “humblest day of his life”.

He closed the News of the World, and withdrew a US$12-billion (A$12.4-billion; xe.com, 2.5.12) bid to buy up full ownership of BSkyB television ; avoiding investigation by the broadcasting authority to establish the credentials of the prospective new owners, as persons suitable to hold the licence.

See EUAustralia Online: “Commons Committee’s Harsh Finding On Murdoch …”, 2.5.12; “News Ad Nauseum”, 22.9.11.

A parallel police inquiry began making arrests of journalists or senior managers from the group’s British arm, News International, mostly on the telecommunications offences — cases now moving to court.

Last week, four former editors of the Mirror newspaper group were arrested in London, again in connection with abuse of the phones system, extending the affair beyond the Murdoch family of companies.

leveson-report.jpgLord Justice Brian Leveson
, whose public judicial inquiry –  into culture, practice and ethics of the press — was launched in July 2011, had reported on 29.11.12, recommending the formation of an independent body to handle fairness complaints against press coverage.

The first effect of such a move will be the displacement of the Press Complaints  Commission, a council that included editors from the newspapers, and which had drawn opprobrium upon itself for a weak response to complaints about the phone spying.

Major newspapers have reacted with grumbling restraint to its replacement by Royal Charter, saying they would get legal advice.

Mr Murdoch has lost some of his humility, coming  out to attack the change, though he has been content to use social media outlets for his direct commentary; telling that the Prime Minister had “disappointed his supporters”, created a “holy mess”, and erred by letting the place of digital media, under the new system, remain unresolved.

AUSTRALIAN VERSION

The Australian version  of all this ran into difficulty during the week of 18-25 March; a package of reforms proposed by Stephen Conroy, the Communications Minister (picture, top left), encountered a blinding gale of rejection on a turbulent sea of shifting politics.

He had distilled proposals from a report on media convergence (Convergence Review Committee report, presented 30.3.12), and a judicial inquiry into print and online media, the Finkelstein report (Federal Judge Rayond Finkelstein, presented 28.2.13), set up in the heat of public disgust with trash media emanating from London in 2011.

The resultant government plan included several changes to the structure of media, such as Australian content rulings, governance of the national broadcasters, media diversity standards, and a public interest advocate to determine regulatory issues; but with much attention given to a “press standards model”, putting self-regulation on a statutory basis.

That would operate a new complaints procedure, with options for the adjudicator to publish agreed standards, as well as decisions and compliance statistics in relation to complaints lodged.

press-council2.jpgWhile the existing Press Council, formed by the newspapers with an independent chair, could apply to be registered in the scheme, it was itself being labelled as the problem; known more for its adjudications on complaints being ignored, or not noticed, than for major impact through complaints upheld.

NO SIGN OF A TRUCE

As for response, there was no sign in Australia of media proprietors running to the law, or holding their fire; fully biased and hyperbolic attacks on the Minister and his proposal, in the daily press. These provided case study examples of professional failure and possible subjects for fresh complaints against the print media.

Likewise, there was no sign of the parliamentary negotiations, all in the “national interest”, noticed at Westminster. The Opposition joined in with the media campaigns, claiming change would jeopardise free speech.

But that too was about to be swept aside in the week of 18 March  by the latest political crisis for the current government: a bid to remove the Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, strongly unpopular in polls, initiated by a senior Minister, Simon Crean, who demanded a “spill” of all leadership posts, declaring his support for the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

On the day, Mr Rudd declined to stand, saying he lacked the numbers, and enabling the Prime Minister’s easy return, unopposed without a ballot; Mr Crean dismissed for his trouble.

OFF TO THE BACK BURNER?

The media package, which had been brought on peremptorily and given a tight deadline, was struggling to get needed support from independents in the hung parliament.

It was headed for a berth on the back bench of national life with Simon Crean.

“THIRD WAY” PLANNING IN BRUSSELS

eu-flag-reduced-larger16.pngAs a footnote, a third set of activities around the theme of media freedom and regulation was in the meantime on its way, in the form of a round of public consultations being run from  Brussels, up to mid-June.

The European Commission announced, 22.3.13, its program to run a “Single Market for audiovisual media services, and (provide) legal certainty for Europe’s television and audiovisual industry”; saying it wanted public guidance on issues, “such as the scope of the EU’s competence to protect media freedom; the respective roles of public authorities and self-regulation, or protection of journalistic sources in Europe.”

The project was billed as the “Digital Agenda”, focusing on new developments in media technology, and reciting a now-familiar, if difficult requirement: regulators of the mass media should themselves be independent of the state.

Reference

Australian government, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy: “Convergence Review”, http://www.dbcde.gov.au/digital_economy/convergence_review, (25.3.13); “Independent Media Inquiry”, http://www.dbcde.gov.au/digital_economy/independent_media_inquiry, (25.3.13).

.
BBC News, London, “Press regulation: Papers seek legal advice”, 19.3.13. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21840146, (25.3.13).

Tim Castle ,(Reuters), “UK hacking arrests spread beyond Murdoch papers”, Global Post, Boston, 14.3.13. http://www.globalpost.com…, (25.3.13).

Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Canberra, Media Release:  “Government response to Convergence Review and Finkelstein Inquiry”, 12.3.13.   http://www.minister.dbcde.gov.au/media/media_releases/2013/036, (25.3.13).

European Commission, Brussels, “Digital Agenda: Commission opens consultations on media freedom and pluralism and audiovisual media regulator independence”, 22.3.13.

Leveson Inquiry, Official Website, London. www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/… , (25.3.13).

Reuters, London, “Murdoch attacks David Cameron over press regulation”, 22.3.13. http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/03/22/uk-britain-press-murdoch-idUKBRE92K0TT20130322, (25.3.13).

Raphael Satter, “A guide to Britain’s new media regulation regime”, Huffington Post, NY, 22.3.13. www.huffingtonpostg.com/…, (25.3.13).

Pictures

CofA, humanrightshouse, rmit

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