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Friday, March 15, 2013

Media self-regulation legislation contains no threat to democracy

But in providing some incentives and disincentives the proposed changes may mean news media organisations take self regulation seriously.

As references are hard to find beneath the mountain of blather in the media this week, the two bills that set out the proposed scheme which allegedly poses threats to the very pillars of our democracy, and the second reading speech in each case (Hansard 14 March) are as follows. The main legitimate gripe is the government's handling of all this and the two week "take it or leave it" ultimatum. A Senate committee has a few days to examine. No ticks for the process in getting to this point (five years since the ALRC recommended some slight tweaks to the exemption from the Privacy Act) or managing it from here on.

News Media (Self-regulation) Bill 2013
Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:26):

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The News Media (Self-regulation) Bill 2013 will strengthen and improve the self-regulatory arrangements for significant providers of print and online news and current affairs.

The bill addresses important issues identified in the report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation, including the low levels of accountability of, and lack of sufficient incentives for compliance with, the decisions of the Australian Press Council.

In announcing the independent inquiry, the government made its commitment to an independent press clear.

A healthy and robust media is essential to the democratic process.

Labor believes it is incumbent upon government to ensure that the regulatory processes and industry structure are sufficiently strong to support the continuation of a healthy and independent media.

As citizens in a democracy we rely on the media to scrutinise the actions and decisions of those in power, to hold business and political leaders to account and to reflect and contribute to our national identity.

We therefore need media that is independent and diverse, and capable of putting the public interest above the interest of media owners, whether those owners are governments or shareholders.

Under the existing arrangements for print and online news publications, news media organisations operate within a predominantly self-regulatory framework.

Within this framework, the Australian Press Council is a self-regulatory body with principal responsibility for handling complaints about Australian newspapers, magazines, associated digital outlets and some online-only providers.

The Press Council is also responsible for developing, promoting and monitoring standards of good media practice.

The bill will significantly strengthen current arrangements by providing incentives for news media organisations to participate in self-regulation that promotes the maintenance of standards relating to accuracy, fairness, privacy and other matters relating to the professional conduct of journalism.

Additionally, the bill promotes the availability of effective mechanisms to enable Australians to make a complaint about a breach of the standards and to ensure complaints will be handled quickly and inexpensively.

The bill will empower an industry self-regulatory body to establish and have recognised, through a transparent process that includes public consultation, a news media self-regulation scheme.

The scheme will also effectively and transparently promote print and online news media organisations’ compliance with standards of practice and improve accountability to the public.

Designated broadcasting services will be exempt from the scheme, in recognition of the existing regulatory schemes and co-regulatory arrangements provided for under the Broadcasting Services Act.

A self-regulatory body may be approved by a statutorily recognised officer—the Public Interest Media Advocate—subject to the advocate having regard to certain matters.

These include whether the standards formulated under the scheme effectively deal with privacy, fairness, accuracy and other matters relating to the professional conduct of journalism.

As well as the extent to which those standards reflect community standards.

The advocate will also have regard to whether complaints can be made to the body free of charge, and the extent to which decision making under the body is independent from government and industry.

Importantly the bill also requires the advocate, in considering whether to approve a body, to also have regard to the need for freedom of expression, and the need to protect individual privacy.

It is only by being a member of a declared news media self-regulation body that a specified news media organisation will have the benefit of the 'journalism' exemption from obligations imposed under the Privacy Act.

The scheme that is established by this bill will be independent of government, and will be funded by industry.

This bill offers a simple and effective way to strengthen and improve the self-regulatory framework for significant providers of print and online news, free of government interference and for the benefit of the Australian public.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.


News Media (Self-regulation) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2013
Mr ALBANESE (GrayndlerLeader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:31): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The News Media (Self-regulation) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2013 will amend the current exemption from the operation of the Privacy Act 1998 that exists for certain acts and practices of media organisations that are publicly committed to observing standards that deal with privacy.

Currently a media organisation is exempt from the operation of the Privacy Act where its activities consist of the collection, preparation and dissemination of news, current affairs, information or documentaries, provided it is committed to observing published, written standards that deal with privacy.

This bill will improve the accountability of news media organisations by requiring that, where it is a significant provider of print and/or online news, it must be a member of an approved, independent, industry self-regulatory body, as set out under the News Media (Self-regulation) Bill, in order to have the Privacy Act exemption available to it.

The bill will not affect other news media organisations' access to the existing exemption under the Privacy Act.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.

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