"The Finkelstein report into Australia's media industry has stirred howls of protest about over-regulation of the media with its push for a statutory body to oversee standards for all news media.... Sydney Morning Herald)
"The government seems set on a collision course with the media if it accepts proposals for a new regulatory body to oversee all news and current affairs media in Australia. Newspaper publishers have reacted with alarm at the prospect of a government-funded statutory body to regulate news organisations and, if necessary, use the courts to bring them into line ...(Sydney Morning Herald)
JULIAN DISNEY, AUSTRALIAN PRESS COUNCIL: .. I think one of the most important things about Mr Finkelstein's report is the clinical and forthright way in which he brings home, I think, the reality of the problems of media standards here. There are significant problems and of the problem of public attitudes and lack of trust in the media.
We favour a two-phase approach. We favoured it before he reported, and we favour it now. Strengthen the Press Council first for three to four years, get the print and online regulation working well, and then transform into a new council that goes across all media.
AMY BAINBRIDGE: Julian Disney admits the council has been too slow to respond to complaints and has struggled to raise its profile. The Press Council has four full-time employees, and it says it needs at least double that to do its job properly.
JULIAN DISNEY: I think that's really the key thing of the Finkelstein report now, is that it's laid down a very clear challenge to the publishers - if they want to avoid a body which as Mr Finkelstein proposes is Government created and fully Government funded, then they must strongly improve the resources of the Press Council and the security of those resources.
"Mr Finkelstein has rightly emphasised the need to strengthen media standards and the relevant regulatory systems. Many weaknesses he mentions, including in the Press Council's past performance, were identified in the Council's submission to him. He acknowledges, however, that the Council has achieved significant improvements in recent times. Mr Finkelstein considered two main options for reform – strengthening the Press Council or replacing it with a new body. Clearly he preferred the latter option because some publishers told him they were not willing to help strengthen the Council's resources. But he also spelt out ways in which the Council could be strengthened if sufficient resources were provided. The report has laid down a clear challenge for the publishers. If they wish to avoid regulation by the new body he proposes – which would be created by government and fully funded by it – they would need to guarantee substantially improved financial support for the Press Council. They also would need to accept measures aimed at providing the Council with due independence from them and to cooperate with strengthening its powers to remedy media mistakes.
The Press Council's submission proposed, in effect, a combination of Mr Finkelstein's two reform options. Its proposal involved strengthening the Council in the print and online area over the next 3-4 years and then transforming it into a body which covers news and comment in all media. This new body was designed to avoid the risks of excessive government influence and legalism which apply to the body proposed by Mr Finkelstein. The Council's phased approach would allow complex questions of implementation to be worked through during the transition process rather than risking a protracted period of paralysis or confusion while the new body was being debated, established and then becoming fully operative.”
Key publishers are meeting next week with the Council to consider whether they are now willing to support it with substantially increased, secure funding and firmer powers.