ABC Lateline Interview May 7, 2013
By Peter Clarke
May 11, 2013
Media regulation reform was never going to be easy in Australia. As it turned out, the legislation proposed by the Labor government foundered midst roiling misinformation and hyperbolic claims of draconian state intrusion into media freedoms.
It was also not helped by the ham-fisted presentation, timing and advocacy by the minister responsible for its passage through the parliament, Senator Stephen Conroy.
The irony of a news media reporting with dubious accuracy and fairness on the details of both the Finklestein Independent Media Inquiry and The Convergence Review processes and outcomes was lost on most but not all citizens and informed observers.
Professor Matthew Ricketson of Canberra University, who assisted Finklestein during the Inquiry, vented some of his frustration at the overall quality, orientation and accuracy of the media coverage and analysis around the process and ideas for reform explored by the Finklestein inquiry in an address to the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne.
Ricketson suggested in that speech that the best case study for the need for media reform in Australia was the news media reporting of the Inquiry itself: “What they have done in my view is to under-report a lot of what was presented to the Independent Media Inquiry late last year and to either mis-report the Inquiry’s findings or to ignore large parts of the report altogether”.
Those of us who have followed the Finklestein Inquiry, read the diverse submissions, the final report and the surrounding, often borderline hysterical, media coverage cannot help but have some sympathy for Ricketson’s view even allowing for his immersion in the inquiry process and his detailed contributions to its findings.
Perhaps the overall news media antipathy to the Inquiry itself and its recommendations were encapsulated best by the somewhat arch comments from the CEO of Fairfax, Greg Hywood, appearing in person before the Finklestein Inquiry. He asked in effect, “What’s the problem? Why are we here?”
He was not alone in that view. The coverage and advocacy journalism of the News Limited media was strident and tipping into polemical over-kill especially via its CEO Kim Williams. Sober analysis and balanced coverage were but a pipe dream.
In the UK, the equivalent struggle around the Leveson Inquiry’s findings and recommendations continue. There, the hacking scandals at the News of the World and elsewhere drove the sentiment, rhetoric and forensic character of that inquiry. Here in Australia, Finklestein was oriented more towards the transformations of the digital revolution albeit clearly within the ripple effect of the hacking scandals in the UK and Leveson.
Before Finklestein started his hearings, The Convergence Review was already doing its work and had issued an interim report. Finklestein’s eventual findings and recommendations were effectively folded into their processes as the government (at a snail’s pace) forged its legislation aimed at effecting some media regulation reform across a range of pressing issues including the growing anomaly of regulating the printed news media in one (to many deeply unsatisfactory) way compared to the regulation of analogue and digital broadcasting and online digital media.
Now, in the “phony war” phase of the lead up to a federal election in September 2013, the failure of that legislation and the apparent junking of much of the extensive research and analytical work by Finklestein and The Convergence Review are, of course, inevitably part of a campaign of intense political point scoring. Read the rest of this entry »