The Review proposes that the government first test the effectiveness of a self-regulatory arrangement that operates across all platforms. Under this approach, content service enterprises would be required to join and adequately fund an independent self-regulatory industry body which would develop self-regulatory standards for news and commentary and adjudicate complaints. As stated, this body would be predominantly funded by industry with some government contribution. The news standards body would set clear goals to be achieved within a specified time frame. If, on review, this industry-led body was not effective, the government would have the last resort option of introducing some direct statutory measures.
The Convergence Review Report has effectively concluded that Ray Finkelstein got the diagnosis right but the prescription wrong when he recommended statutory regulation for news media.Perhaps the stick is worth waving but who would predict with any degree of confidence that a government three to five years hence would ever use it, regardless of how the proposed standards body performs?
Membership of the news standards body could be a condition of retaining legal privileges currently provided for news and commentary in Commonwealth legislation. In particular, it seems reasonable that only those organisations that have committed to an industry self-regulatory scheme for upholding journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy should be entitled to the exemptions from the provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 concerning misleading and deceptive statements and from the obligations of the Privacy Act 1988 that would otherwise apply to those organisations. However, there is not the same argument for applying this requirement to laws protecting journalists’ sources. These laws apply to information collected by individual journalists, who might be freelance journalists rather than employees of an organisation.
Given media hostility to the Fink, the proposed scheme reeks of pragmatism and realpolitick, and comes with a load of qualifications about the prospects for real improvement in media standards. But given the state of play in Canberra it's unimaginable that the tough Fink line was ever a goer regardless of how you see the merits.
At best this suggested change amounts to a new set of dentures for the existing publisher’s poodle. It will be able to accept sanitised government funding in ways that will not upset the old-guard in the newspaper industry who see Armageddon in every attempt at regulation by government. There is no indication in this 170+ page report that there is any real problem or issue with media accountability and standards in Australia. This is a whitewash of the highest standard.
There are some strong recommendations which deserve to be applauded, but the bottom line is, the recommendations of the Convergence Review will likely do little to solve the problems that prompted public concern in the United Kingdom and in Australia about news organisations their culture, ethics and practices..Unless forced, I doubt the new standards body will be able to agree to enforce a common media code aimed at promoting fairness, accuracy and transparency.