After a campaign from the Australian Greens, on 14 September 2011 the Australian Government established an independent inquiry into the Australian media. The inquiry was led by former Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, Mr Ray Finkelstein QC. The inquiry reported to government on 28 February 2012.
Many media outlets have failed to accurately report the findings and recommendations of the inquiry.
The full inquiry report is available here.
An excellent summary of the report can be found at Crikey here.
Other leading academics offered their views here.
From the executive summary of the report, some of the key findings;
There is common ground among all those who think seriously about the role of the news media and about journalistic ethics that:
- a free press plays an essential role in a democratic society, and no regulation should endanger that role
- a free press has a responsibility to be fair and accurate in its reporting of the news
- a free press is a powerful institution which can, and does, affect the political process, sometimes in quite dramatic ways
- a free press can cause harm-sometimes unwarranted-to individuals and organisations
- a free press should be publicly accountable for its performance
- codes of ethics regarding accuracy, fairness, impartiality, integrity and independence should guide journalists and news organisations
The problems with both the external and self-regulatory mechanisms are inherent, and cannot be easily remedied by piecemeal measures.
I therefore recommend that a new body, a News Media Council, be established to set journalistic standards for the news media in consultation with the industry, and handle complaints made by the public when those standards are breached. Those standards will likely be substantially the same as those that presently apply and which all profess to embrace.
Moreover, I recommend that the News Media Council have those roles in respect of news and current affairs coverage on all platforms, that is, print, online, radio and television. It will thus explicitly cover online news for the first time, and will involve transferring ACMA functions for standards and complaints concerning news and current affairs. It will replace the voluntary APC with a statutory entity. In an era of media convergence, the mandate of regulatory agencies should be defined by function rather than by medium. Where many publishers Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation9transmit the same story on different platforms it is logical that there be one regulatory regime covering them all.
The News Media Council should have secure funding from government and its decisions made binding, but beyond that government should have no role. The establishment of a council is not about increasing the power of government or about imposing some form of censorship. It is about making the news media more accountable to those covered in the news, and to the public generally
It is vital that the public debate on this issue be informed and reasonable. If you would like to add your voice to the discussion, you can write a letter to the editor of your newspaper here.