In response to two Australian media inquests (the Convergence Review and Finkelstein Enquiry), Communications Minister Stephen Conroy yesterday announced major reforms to media laws, including plans to appoint a Public Interest Media Advocate who would oversee self-regulating media bodies and evaluate large-scale media mergers.
It’s a contentious proposal that today has The Daily Telegraph likening Conroy to some of the 20th century’s most abhorrent despotic dictators who are responsible for the genocide of millions, including – but not limited to – Joseph Stalin, Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro and Robert Mugabe.
Parodic, hyperbolic reportage aside, it’s hard to find a not-entirely-incendiary response to the proposed reforms in the media. The core reforms described in Conroy’s press release outlining the changes read as follows – as broken down with the help of academics over at The Conversation:
1. A press standards model which ensures strong self-regulation of the print and online news media. [A new code of practice covering all media would be established by and for the industry, meaning that news organisations that sign up to those standards will be exempt from certain privacy legislation; freelancers, citizen journalists and bloggers won’t be exempt from the Privacy Act if they breached standards of the new model.]
2. The introduction of a Public Interest Test to ensure diversity considerations are taken into account for nationally significant media mergers and acquisitions. [An elected watchdog, PIMA (see below) would be asked to evaluate if mergers, takeovers and acquisitions in the media sector are consistent with government requirements on diversity.]
3. Modernising the ABC and SBS charters to reflect their online and digital activities. [Conroy defended the important public service the SBS and ABC provide; their charters just have to be updated to explicitly reflect their digital media activity.]
4. Supporting community television services following digital switchover by providing them a permanent allocation of a portion of Channel A. [Basically a continued prohibition on a possible fourth commercial TV network.]
5. Making permanent the 50% reduction in the licence fees paid by commercial television broadcasters, conditional on the broadcast of an additional 1490 hours of Australian content by 2015. [Permanent 50% license fee rebate for commercial broadcasters who meet Australian content obligations.]
Overseeing all of the above would be a government-appointed (in consultation with the Opposition) Public Interest Media Advocate, or PIMA, who would evaluate said commercial media mergers (i.e. Channel 9’s proposed $4 billion merger with Southern Cross) and authorise the independent self-regulatory bodies dealing with news media standards and complaints (i.e. The Australian Press Council).
So it’s just like the gulags, obviously.
Senator Conroy has an imposed limit of two weeks to push the proposed reforms through Parliament, or else.
“If either of these reforms do not garner sufficient support to pass the Parliament by the end of next week, then the Government will not proceed with the bills containing them,” after which we’ll likely just call the whole thing off.