Australian Review Recommends Body to Set Media Standards

Australia should create a new body to set journalistic standards across all media platforms, from newspapers to the Internet, according to the findings of a government-backed review of how the industry is regulated.

The News Media Council should be funded by the government, yet remain independent, and handle complaints about breaches of standards, according to the recommendations from former Federal Court Judge Ray Finkelstein, released today by the government.

“The spectre of a government-funded overseer of a free press in an open and forward-looking democracy like ours cannot be justified,” News Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Kim Williams said in a statement issued after the report was released. News Ltd. is the Australian unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor party and the Greens party pushed for the review following revelations of phone hacking at News Corp.’s U.K. unit. Finkelstein and Canberra University journalism professor Matthew Ricketson led the inquiry into Australian media, a market where Murdoch accounts for about 70 percent of newspaper circulation.

“The government will take a considered approach to the inquiry’s report,” Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, said in a statement today.

The review wasn’t set up to specifically target the influence of Murdoch’s newspapers.

Seven West

The review, known as the Independent Inquiry into Media and Media Regulation, received submissions from at least 65 parties, including News Corp., the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp. and Seven West Media Ltd., the nation’s most watched commercial television broadcaster.

The establishment of a council isn’t about increasing the power of government or about imposing some form of censorship, Finkelstein said.

The council should have the authority to require a news media outlet to publish an apology, a correction or a retraction, he said.

“There is no role for government to be involved in regulation that adjudicates on whether or not reporting is fair and balanced,” Williams said. “There is too much at stake for politicians to be able to stay impartial.”

The Finkelstein review was one of two government appointed media inquiries. The Convergence Review in December recommended rules limiting the number of households a broadcaster can reach be scrapped, which may allow companies including News Corp. and Fairfax Media Ltd. to expand into broadcast markets.

‘Regime Change’

Conroy has previously said News Corp. papers, including Sydney’s Daily Telegraph tabloid, have run a campaign for “regime change” against the Labor government.

Murdoch shut the 168-year-old News of the World following allegations it hacked into the mobile phone of a 13-year-old murder victim.

Gillard said in July the scandal meant that News Ltd. had “hard questions” to answer.

Then News Ltd. Chairman John Hartigan said the Australian papers had not engaged in the practices seen in Britain.

Hartigan retired in December and was replaced by Williams, who previously headed the Foxtel pay television business, which is 25 percent owned by News Corp.

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