Super Regulator To Alter Classifications?


A new report out today says a News Press Council and Super regulator should be set up in Australia.

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The report, the Independent Inquiry into Media and Regulation by Hon R Finkelstein QC and and Matthew Ricketson from Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), recommends a News Media Council be established “to set journalistic standards for the news media.”

The Media Council as envisaged by the report, would govern news across all platforms – print, online, radio and television and ensure high standards in the media:

“One function of a News Media Council should be to chart trends in the industry, and particularly to see whether there will be a serious decline in the production and delivery of quality journalism,” the report states.

Another of the ALRC recommendations (there’s over 50 in all) is a new super regulator to oversee the classification of all content in Australia -everything from print, TV, films, to video games, and web content – meaning identical age classifications across all platforms.

This means taking powers off the Classification Board, Australian Communications and Media Authority as well as Attorney-General’s Department and Dept of Communications.

However, the Classification Board would still be retained as an independent body.

“A single regulator, that incorporates classification and media content regulation within a wider portfolio of responsibilities, may be more responsive to the challenges of media convergence,” the ALRC report states.

The News Council would also seize control for online news currently held by Australian Communication Media Council and handle complaints made by the public when standards are breached and would be government funded.

“New technology, particularly the internet, has revolutionised access to the news,” the report states.

However, no major new standards for media would be created, it appears, rather “those [new] standards will likely be substantially the same as those that presently apply and which all profess to embrace.”

A Media Council won’t be another way of censoring the press, the report states, and should be comprised of “community, industry and professionals.” However, whether any changes will occur if the report’s recommendations are enforced, remains to be seen.

“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,” the ALRC report states.

“A free press is a powerful institution which can, and does, affect the political process, sometimes in quite dramatic ways.”

And the current system of media self-regulation appears to be inadequate the report notes, with “only one or two” newspaper appointing an ombudsman or reader rep, the report continues, and criticised the present system where newspapers largely fund and control regulation.

“The mechanism currently in place these mechanisms are not sufficient to achieve the degree of accountability desirable.”


The Minister for Communications Senator Stephen Conroy welcomed the ALRC report stating:

“I’d like to thank Mr Finkelstein QC and Professor Ricketson and their team for their efforts. I would also like to thank all the individuals and organisations that contributed to the Inquiry.”

The report has been forwarded to the Convergence Review Committee for its consideration, which will take a broad look at a range of regulatory issues across the communications sectors and is set to present its final report to Government by 31 March.

Finkelstein QC, the principal author of the report, is refusing media interviews at present.

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he supported some of the recommendations of the ALRC report, but the “recommendation to set up a new government funded super regulator, a News Media Council, with statutory powers to take over the role of the Press Council, the media regulation role of ACMA and have jurisdiction over the online world is not one which would appeal to the Coalition, believing as we do in a free press,” he said in a statement today.

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