For a second, when I heard the news reports, I thought online media had risen in importance to the point where the government wanted to investigate them along with print. Closer reading of the terms of reference rebuts this presumption on my part. They’re interested in the Internet, but only to the extent that it is attached to newspapers.
Well at least that’s what I’m hoping, because the only part of the terms of reference that appears at odds with this reading entertains the notion that the Press Council should be extended to cover on-line publications. On top of the existing laws with respect to defamation, privacy, discrimination and hate speech across seven national jurisdictions and (who knows how many international ones), the last thing we need is another busy body telling us what can be published. And given that virtually anyone with a computer and modem can be an on-line publisher, where would they draw the line for Press Council interference?
I’ve put the terms of reference below, but the one that made me laugh the hardest is that which looks at the effect of the Internet on the business models of the newspapers. I think the media proprietors are all having their own inquiries on that one, and they’ll get back to you via sales on the news stands or computer terminals when they have one. Surely the government isn’t thinking they might take up Eric Beecher’s idea that news media ought to be subsidised by the government? We’ve already got the ABC, that’s enough.
The terms of reference read:
An independent panel will be appointed to inquire into and report on the following issues, while noting that media regulation is currently being considered by the Convergence Review:
a) The effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological change that is leading to the migration of print media to digital and online platforms;
b) The impact of this technological change on the business model that has supported the investment by traditional media organisations in quality journalism and the production of news, and how such activities can be supported, and diversity enhanced, in the changed media environment;
c) Ways of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including in relation to on-line publications, and with particular reference to the handling of complaints;
d) Any related issues pertaining to the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the public interest.
The panel will be required to provide a report to Government by 28 February 2012, while working with the Convergence Review committee to ensure that findings are able to be incorporated into the ultimate report of the Convergence Review by end March 2012.