New inquiry into media will not look into bias
THE Gillard government has confirmed it will hold an inquiry into the media, concentrating on privacy concerns and whether media regulators had sufficient powers and were keeping up with rapid technological change.
But the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, told Labor backbenchers yesterday the inquiry would not look at allegations of media bias nor the concentration of print media ownership in the hands of News Ltd. And he said an inquiry should not be about the grievances of politicians.
He told the caucus he did not need a media inquiry to tell him that ''some News Ltd papers were biased'' and that News Ltd dominated the print media, which was not something the government could change.
Not looking into media bias … Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said an inquiry should not be about the grievances of politicians.
He also said there was no evidence of telephone hacking or other illegal practices in Australia of the type which have shaken the media industry in Britain.
Negotiations between Senator Conroy and the Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown, who wants much broader terms of reference, continued yesterday afternoon. An announcement on the inquiry is expected today.
Labor and the Greens are also discussing whether it will be a parliamentary inquiry – the Greens' preference – or an investigation run by an independent body outside Parliament, which appears to be the suggestion of the government.
The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said the inquiry was ''a naked attempt to intimidate the media'' and would not be supported by the Opposition.
''There is no evidence of any significant new problems with the media in Australia,'' he said.
Some Labor backbenchers said they were worried it would appear that the Greens were dictating the terms of the inquiry, while others insisted it should look at News Ltd papers. One said the Murdoch empire was ''a threat to democracy''.
But the terms of reference are expected to concentrate on whether the present regulators – the Press Council for print media and the Australian Communications and Media Authority for broadcast media – had sufficient powers to oversee the media and provide people with grievances with sufficient ''redress''.
It will also look at how new media such as online blogs fit into the regulatory system and whether it makes more sense to have a single over-arching regulator.
The Press Council has proposed a single regulator, run either by a government authority or a non-government council, in a preliminary submission to a separate inquiry into media ''convergence''.
Senator Brown wanted an inquiry to also look at how the government could support quality journalism and whether the media was operating in the public interest. He has deferred a vote on a motion to set up an inquiry, scheduled for today, to allow time for the detailed negotiations with the government to conclude.
Mr Abbott suggested the inquiry was an attempt to deflect attention from the government's political problems.
''The problems of this government are not the fault of the media, the problems of this government are its own fault. It's not bad coverage that's killing this government, it's poor performance which is killing this government,'' he said.
The government's decision about an inquiry comes after a dispute with News Ltd over assertions about the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made in a column published in The Australian, which the paper retracted.
After Ms Gillard accused it of contravening ''all known standards of journalism'', the chief executive of News Ltd, John Hartigan, said her complaints were ''pedantic''.