March 14, 2013

Horse 1449 - Public Interest Media Advocate... YOU'RE STALIN

He who shouts the loudest, has the floor...

If you'd opened a newspaper in Australia over the last few days, you'd be forgiven for thinking that a fascist government had just been elected and that we're all facing some Orwellian nightmare where the government is going to take control of all print and broadcast media. The actual truth being so far removed from all of this, that the public has almost been neglected in being told what is intended, that is a statutory watchdog called the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) which would be appointed to do the job which ACMA and the press council currently fail to. Presumably the PIMA would look into and possibly enforce the existing standards when it comes to press reporting.
Can we all just take a stress pill and take a little time to calm down? No-one is talking about imposing licences, or restricting what can and can't be printed; not at all. Given the results of the Leveson Enquiry looking at media and ethics in Britain, which failed to find much use of ethics and that News Corp is a sister organisation to News International, is it little wonder that the frame of reference is a little wider than when the idea was first floated in July of 2011?

Perhaps the response was obvious. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said that he hadn't seen the front page of the Daily Telegraph in Sydney when interviewed by the ABC but that he had expected to be lampooned.

As despotic as Stalin? Really? Come on people...

The Daily Telegraph itself must surely be trying to turn itself into an Australian version of Britain's Sun Newspaper if comments like these are splashed all over the front page. They haven't actually invoked Godwin's Law* but comparing Stephen Conroy to six of the world's despots is hardly non-partisan - maybe it falls under the Fox News banner of being "fair and balanced".

I for one believe in the freedom of the press, despite how News Corp decides push public opinion on the matter. That in itself makes you wonder what exactly is meant by freedom of the press in the first place.
Freedom of the press is an interesting concept to begin with. Although any given writer is free to write whatever they wish, they're more likely to be published by a media outlet if they either represent or have internalised the values of the media outlet. In other words, although an outlet like Fairfax or News Corp might say that they're highly in favour of expanding free speech, they aren't the one's through editorial practice who are going to attempt it in the near future.
What is being objected to here is any form of regulation and compliance whatsoever; most likely on the basis that it will hurt profits in what by most accounts is already viewed as a sunset industry. Quite apart from the fact that to set up a daily or even weekly newspaper is hideously capital intensive and therefore already a barrier to entry for new firms; especially this late in the game, you're not going to get any new media in print to compete with. Not even Britain's Guardian newspaper which intends to set up shop later this year has any intent to go to print, preferring to remain online.

Also, given that copy is now written and published online at such a furious pace, I don't honestly see how the media companies imagine that the government would even have the ability to censor or muzzle the press. We've already seen with the reduction in size of newsrooms, the mass laying off of subeditors and the willingness to print third party copy from companies like Reuters and Associated Press, that newspapers don't even have the same scope to write slamming editorial pieces anymore.
To be honest, 80% of the population was already too disinterested and disengaged to read much beyond the headlines; and the remaining 20% is mainly comprised of business people who have a natural tendency to lean right anyway. Of that 80%, most of them can name the contestants of MasterChef, My Kitchen Rules or The Biggest Loser, more than they can the Minister for Trade or the Shadow Minister for Finance. Admittedly there are other opinions but unlike a media environment such  as France or Germany, they were quietly killed off some time ago; you certainly won't find them in a daily newspaper in Australia.

No, I think that PIMA would be more concerned with actual breaches of the law and standards than it would trying to put a dummy in the mouths of the press. Instances where they've published names in court cases while its still under orders not to, where there has been violation of the law such as hacking a dead girl's mobile phone or bribing police officers to extract information.

I also don't think that "Cabinet was cornered into backing" anything as the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun so brazenly trumpeted today:
Cabinet was cornered into backing the government's draconian media regulations during a special meeting on Tuesday, senior Gillard ministers have confirmed.

Cabinet sources revealed that most ministers were denied time to properly read Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's proposed media reform rules before they were rubber stamped.

- Simon Benson, Daily Telegraph, 14 Mar 2013

It seems rather a bit daft that Cabinet hadn't had time to read the recommended media regulations when you consider that Ray Finkelstein, QC, handed his report to the government on 30th March 2012, or 349 days ago. By the government's own admission:
The government also announced that it will continue to progress its consideration of the report with further announcements to be made during 2013.

Ray Finkelstein's report can be found here:

While we're at it, I find it a little daft in that report that:
News Limited CEO Kim Williams, publisher of this website, described the Conroy reforms as "Soviet"-era argument and a "travesty of public process of the most heinous kind". 
could revoke a newspaper's privacy protections if it didn't abide by new unknown standards which have not yet been set.
Now correct me if I'm wrong but how can you describe anything as heinous and a travesty if you don't actually know what it is?

It seems to me that the Public Interest Media Advocate which is being proposed by the Minister for Communications, Stephen Conroy, is in essence similar to the proposed News Media Council in Ray Finkelstein's report of almost 12 months ago.
We've seen in Britain the sorts of criminal activity an unregulated and under-supervised media will get up to. It is naive to think that that isn't going on in Australia. If the current Australian Press Council is under funded under a voluntary system (by “constituent bodies”, which comprise News Corp and Fairfax) and seemingly deliberately so, so it can't perform its job properly, then maybe the PIMA is both a timely and needed shot in the arm.

*Godwin's Law - As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

No comments: