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39 responses to “Public interest and the media reforms”

  1. Brian

    There was an extended interview with Conroy last evening on RN’s Media Report, together with comments by Bernard Keane. Conroy showed himself as being on top the issues and what was possible now and what could achieved later. He was quite thoughtful and emphasised continually the priority that needed to be given to a diversity of voices.

    The Public Advocate appears two have to roles, one in relation to mergers and the other is essentially about making the self-regulation system, which remains in place, accountable. Keane thinks that Newscorp understands the benign nature of the supervision; their paranoia is about limitations that might be put on commercial expansion. In other words the line they are taking is knowingly false.

    Conroy’s tactics in introducing the legislation in a take it or leave it fashion and leaving a vacuum on the detail which the MSM was more than willing to fill has many scratching their heads. Labor probably wants the legislation either passed or off the agenda, to leave free air for their other policies.

  2. Mr Denmore

    The current criticism of the government among the few progressive voices in the media (see Laura Tingle today is that Conroy has snookered himself by not following due process.

    To which I respond does anyone seriously believe that News Ltd would have been any less rabid had the communications minister employed the full consultations process and drip-fed the proposed legislation? These headlines and photo-shopped caricatures were ready to roll HOWEVER the government responded. This is a plumb story for News Ltd – allowing itself to done its preferred mantle as the working man’s friend while screwing him blind.

    The fact is we have had two comprehensive inquiries into the media (the Convergence Review and Finkelstein). All the options have been canvassed. And it turns out Conroy has chosen the least controversial one – continued self-regulation and the introduction of a public interest test.

    The point I made on my own blog is that News Ltd’s hysterical and deliberately misrepresentative reporting of this issue proves the case for media reform as nothing else has.

    The fact is the media are looking after THEIR interests. No-one is representing the public interest.

  3. GabrielleH

    News Ltd had their campaign ready to go and it didn’t matter what the government did. The photo of Conroy as Stalin etc is so ludicrous it’s almost an own goal as no one can take them seriously. The more pretentious arm of News is pretending to be more sober and ‘measured’ but I hope Labor people are simply going to argue that News is just putting forward a position to prop up their business as the NBN is a threat to Foxtel, the only profitable part of their business. Murdoch has nothing else left so they will be going hard until the election. It will be relentless and will need to be constantly challenged.

  4. Liz

    You’re completely right, Mr Denmore. Love your blog, btw.

  5. desipis

    I’m quite open to parliament developing a basic standard for the media that attempts to balance the need for quality with the need for freedom. However, the bills the government have put forward do not do that. They
    place the authority for approving and revoking legally enforced standards for the media into the hands of the executive government. It comes across as a rushed, sloppy and quite possibly unconstitutional attempt to address the problem at hand.

    The moronic hyperbole by the media on this shouldn’t distract from the valid and important criticisms of the bills put forward. From what I remember of Turnbull’s response in parliament, it was pretty much spot on with my initial read of the bills and the approach of the government.

  6. RWhite

    Ensure for “insure” and plum for “plumb”, actually, but never mind.

    Interestingly, elsewhere online today, The Punch breathed it’s rather overdue last.

    To the fruit loop Right, it was all down to that Commie Conroy’s Stalinist plot.

    Odd, that. News Ltd couldn’t keep their editorial thumb off the scales, and the quality just wasn’t there, but in the end, it was revenue vs costs that scuttled what had become nothing but a repetitive and increasingly vicious shouting match. The market, not some fantasy plot.

    Heigh ho. No point in trying to post that onThe Punch today though. Not interested. And don’ t dare mention LP, either: snip snip!

    Welcome back, Larvatus Prodeo. Welcome back.

  7. Debbieanne

    It is great to have LP back.

  8. Hoa Minh Truong

    Labor and Greens want to control media as the communist regimes in Russia, China, Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba.
    Communist is the enemy of free speak, but in the democratic country likes Australia, Labor party and Greens being applied into a wrong place and wrong people. There is multiple party, not only a political party and Mr. Stephen Conroy couldn’t use the police force and army as tool. He couldn’t order police knocks the door to whose oppose against his reform. However, Mr. Conroy and Labor shouldn’t know the power of media, they have no giving up when the mouth sealed by crazy’s Marxism Leninist way.
    I am a communist expert, 6 years in 9 reeducation camps, a surviver, I recognize the valuation of media, the free speak is the most important matter for democracy.
    In Vietnam, who say:” I don’t like Ho Chi Minh” to be jailed as treason, China is as the same with Mao Tse Tung…probably Labor and Greens want to arrest whoever don’t like their great leaders as Julia Gillard, Christine Milne…but in Australia, on away…

  9. RWhite

    Thanks, MB! Agree. The Grech affair break was a brief moment of relevance in a sea of mediocrity.

    On the Conroy media package, from a scan around the traps it seems the actual self-regulation/industry council focus is being pretty artfully ignored. Scant coverage of actual package, much blether about The Media and etc.

    Oh yeah – for me, tired eyes can produce a rogue pos s blight…

  10. Terry Flew

    Thanks Mark for reposting my piece in The Conversation. It was written quickly, based on a 1 1/2 page media release and a not hugely enlightening media conference held by Minister Conroy, so if time has revealed some gaps in the argument, then so be it. I do note that it has animated the punters here much less than the question of a new Pope.

    I think that the legislation that has been presented will be voted down, and that this may not be a bad thing. I agree with Mr Denmore @ 2 about both the absurdity of the News Ltd reaction, and the fact that they would have reacted in such a manner whatever Sen. Conroy put forward.

    But the fact that such poorly drafted legislation has been put forward on a take it or leave it basis speaks, not only to the organised opposition to media reform, but also to a failure on the Minister’s part to really take on a leadership role in these debates. He has been in the portfolio for 5 1/2 years (and Opposition spokesperson for two years prior to that), and has had two major reports on his desk for 12 months. He needed to craft a case for convergence requiring reform to media legislation, in terms that are amply covered in the Convergence Review, in ways that did not rest on the case for or against what News Limited newspapers are doing.

    Looking back – and as Mark’s article indicated, I had some proximity to these discussions at the time – the Finkelstein review was possibly the political curve ball here that crippled media reform initiatives under this Minister. In contrast to the Convergence Review, which presented the usual cast of winners and losers within the established media sectors, Finkelstein allowed News Ltd. and others to craft a broader anti-censorship coalition which in turn articulated to concerns about this being a ‘nanny state’ government. Given that Finkelstein was partly commissioned at the urging of the Greens, it was perhaps telling that by late last year, GetUp! was joining the IPA on the bandwagon that media reform legislation was a threat to free speech. And with the 5-year campaign surrounding mandatory Internet filtering, Stephen Conroy of course had form among online anti-censorship advocates as an enemy of free speech.

    The same problems remain, however, with the Press Council, the ACMA, the Broadcasting Services Act, and so on. The contrast this week between the mangled presentation of the media legislation and Simon Crean’s launch of the National Cultural Policy was pretty striking. Sure, its not that hard to walk into a room full of arts advocates, offer them more money, and receive a rapturous reception. But Crean was always across the work of dealing with his own often fractious constituency far more than Conroy has managed his. In the end, he hasn’t made the case for change beyond the need to ‘do something’ about News Ltd., which is not hard to portray as petty and vindictive – not the sort of big picture thinking required to takle policy issues arising from media convergence.

  11. RWhite

    Hoa Minh Truong (9) above and also On Sat Salon (http://larvatusprodeo.net/archives/2013/03/saturday-salon-145/#comment-394681) makes a number of wild but baseless claims about Senator Conroy and the Government’s proposals for media self-regulation, mergers, and Australian content.

    As we all live in a free country, Hoa Minh Truong is entitled to his opinion. However, he says (his link) that he’s a journalist. He must therefore know very well how and where to research a topic before sounding off , and that he has a duty to get his facts right.

    Minister Conroy’s brief release outlines the proposals here:

    The state of play has been discussed in some depth in the original article, above, and in Prof Flew’s own piece here: http://theconversation.edu.au/low-key-conroy-proposals-are-media-reform-lite-12778

    It’s more than a pity that Hoa Minh Truong hasn’t bothered to try and follow any one of them. Journalists must be able to do better than parrot hysterical unchecked claims, when factual information is easily to be found.

    We have the same press freedom now as we’ve always had. We will have if Conroy’s proposals get up, and we will have if they do not get up.

    Hoa Minh Truong ‘s remarks suggesting we have a dictatorial regime, planning to arrest those who dislike our PM, are simply nonsense verging on the hysterical. He’s just as free today or any other day to speak his mind as any of us. Just as we are free to make up our own minds about the worth of his remarks.

    Our best protection of our freedoms in our country is free, *informed*, rational debate, in the press, the blogs and in politics. Slanging matches like Hoa Minh Truong’s simply do not cut it. On this showing, he is part of the problem – not part of the solution.

  12. akn

    The broad left needs to start organising an anti-fascist alliance to deal with these issues.

  13. Sam

    Quick trivia question: who is Kim Williams’ father-in-law?

    (No cheating.)

  14. adrian

    Gough Whitlam ?

  15. Paul Norton

    Rupert Murdoch?

  16. Terry

    Its Gough Whitlam.

  17. Sam

    It is indeed Gough.

    If anyone thinks that the treatment of Gillard by the Murdoch media is bad (and it is hideously bad) the treatment meted out to Gougn was much, much worse.

  18. Tim Macknay

    and we all know how that ended…

  19. Terry

    There are actually a lot of parallels between the last months of Whitlam and the current period. One is in fact an an attempt to regulate newspapers in 1975, that was heavily campaigned against by the Murdoch media. The establishment of the Australian Press Council in 1976 was a self-regulatory alternative to the system of newspaper licences and a government-funded press council proposed by Media Minister Moss Cass.

  20. Sam

    Moss Cass is one of the few surviving Whitlam ministers. He must be pushing 90. Someone should get his recollections of the period while it is still possible.

  21. Terry

    It is funny you should ask, Sam:


    Isn’t it great to have LP back on which to share such things.

  22. Sam

    It is indeed Terry.

    Since you’re such a meeja expert, answer me this. Why is there such outrage at the idea of licensing newspapers, when nobody bats an eyelid at the licensing of television and radio stations? It can’t just be because they use the scarce radio spectrum. You can always sell them the rights to use the spectrum without attaching a licence, with all its censorious implications.

  23. Terry

    Sam, I pointed that out to someone on The Conversation, who re-quoted the Malcolm Turnbull line about “a government [that] introduces legislation to control the media – the first time outside of wartime that this has ocurred in our short history.”

    Because you had to be licenced to make use of the broadcasting spectrum – and s. 28 of the Broadcasting Service Act still has a “three station rule” for broadcasting in a licence area – conditions can be placed upon how that licence is used, in addition to the requirement that broadcasters pay a licence fee.

    Hence, there has been a range of bodies in Australia – the ABCB, the ABT, the ABA and now the ACMA – who oversee how broadcast licences are used. If Alan Jones, Kyle Sandilands or someone else does something bad on air, the ACMA has the power to revoke the owner’s licence, although in reality they have always stopped well short of that. Such licences have never, of course, existed for newspapers, hence the inability of Arthur Calwell to apply certain war time powers.

    There is also a Constitutional issue here. s. 51(v) gave the Commonwealth powers over “postal, telegraphy and like services”, which has been interpreted to refer to telecommunications powers, powers over broadcasting and, since 1999, powers relating to the Internet. By contrast, powers related to newspapers and print publications generally have been presumed to reside with the states, who have except on very rare occasions (e.g. the Norris Inquiry into Victorian newspapers in 1981) not chosen to apply them.

    The latter would be the basis of a Constitutional challenge that Kim Williams, on behalf of News Ltd., has threatened should the current legislation be passed.

  24. Fran Barlow


    Moss Cass is one of the few surviving Whitlam ministers.

    Oddly, I have a mental picture of him that dates from about 1975.

  25. Sam

    So, constitutionally, governments can regulate the web site editions of newspapers but not the dead tree editions.

    If I were the Government (not that they are going to be around long to do anything, but still) I would say to Mr Williams: “fine, we will leave your newsprint stuff alone, but we will be all over your electronic content like like a bad case of impetigo.”

    Fran: it must have been his Solzhenitsyn beard. They were very fashionable in the mid 70s.

  26. Katz

    Yes, the rabbit-in-the-headlights demeanour of the Gillard government is most reminiscent of the Whitlam government’s withering under the media blows enabled by the Khemlani Affair.

    The issue was bogus but the personnel and narrative played to Australians’ racism, xenophobia and anti-intellectualism.

    Political conservatives are quite adapt at pandering to Australians’ atavisms.

  27. Terry

    Sam @ 26. That’s pretty much right. The same issue comes up with p*rn in magazines, which are a state government responsibility, and p*rn on the Web, which the Commonwealth deals with. The wonders of Federalism.

  28. Lefty E

    The Brits have moved on it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21825823

  29. Paul Norton

    Terry @24, you and/or others might recall that Melbourne Community Radio station 3CR had recurring battles at the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal over renewal of its license in the late 1970s and 1980s, primarily but not solely due to objections to its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. At one point a Victorian Labor Government Minister, Steve Crabb, objected to the license being renewed.

  30. paul burns

    RWhite @ 12,
    That needed to be said. As I noted on another thread I’ve sort of been biting my tongue. Following a policy of not encouraging ’em, not feeding trolls etc.
    Thank you.

  31. desipis

    There is also a Constitutional issue here. s. 51(v) gave the Commonwealth powers over “postal, telegraphy and like services”…

    That’s not the head of constitutional power that is likely to be relied on here. The Privacy Act is founded on the external affairs in s 51(xxix). The new legislation is essentially about managing exceptions to that so could be founded on the same power. However given media self regulation bodies are limited to being corporations under the legislation, it also clearly fits under the corporations power in s 51(xx). Neither of those powers would require the law to differentiate between print, online or broadcast media.

    The only challenge I can see succeeding would be based around freedom of political communication that the High Court has found is implied in the constitution.

  32. Peter Murphy

    RWhite and Paul Burns: Mr. Hoa had a pretty rough life before coming to Australia, with a couple of years spent in a labor camp under Lê Duẩn, a fuckwit and a reprobate. Having lived in that country, I can see where he’s coming from.

    The problem is that one’s ability to handle tolerance and ambiguity is often hampered by being at the sharp edge of one ideology – making too many people go in the opposite direction. Look at Solzhenitsyn, who became such an anti-Communist that he went reactionary and started thinking the Tsar a good bloke. (Unto which I say, “Dude“.) So one becomes vulnerable to too many slippery slope arguments, which is a fallacy I’ve observed here.

    I’d wish Mr. Hoa would look at Conroy’s reforms on its merits and demerits, rather that see it as the second coming of the Commisars.

  33. Paul Norton

    Peter @33, closer to home we had Professor Frank Knopfelmacher filling 2-3 pages of Quadrant in 1984 with a review of Serpent’s Tooth by amiable Australian Eurocommunist Roger Milliss which seriously compared Milliss with Adolf Eichmann. This can only be understood in the light of Knopfelmacher’s searing formative experiences confronting High Stalinism in Eastern Europe after WWII.

  34. Katz

    Mr Hoa, like any other person whose understanding is deficient, would be better employed asking questions rather than making ignorant statements.

  35. paul burns

    What Katz said.

  36. Matt in the Springs

    Leaving aside Mr Hoa’s tirades, which I am sure we are all glossing over or chuckling at, aren’t all of our understandings “deficient” Katz (in the sense that none of us can know everything). Indeed some of the most interesting things that emerge on LP are those ongoing exchanges in which it is clear that differences of opinion exist (facts don’t exist in a vacuum). So the issue is not so much that Mr Hoa should get back in his box and only emerge when his understanding has developed (or when he’s prepared to just ask questions) – but how he might be productively engaged. Having said that I can understand why he is mostly just being ignored and generally think that might be the sanest approach.

  37. Katz

    Well yairs, Matt.

    No one’s perfectly sane. But we know that most of us don’t belong in an asylum. These matters tend to be a matter of relativity rather than absolute. I disagree with many commenters but I hardly ever regard them as ignorant. They know their facts but tend to draw the wrong conclusions from them. And/or they ignore more important facts.

    I was prepared to pass in silence over Mr Hoa. Imagine my surprise when I clicked on his link and discovered that he is a published author. In English! Only when Mr Hoa’s contributions became a matter of debate did I venture to make my own observations.

  38. Matt in the Springs

    Hiya Katz, yes and fair enough observations I ‘spose in light of the comments which started it all- Mr Hoa’s “style” certainly attracts attention. Can’t imagine reading one of his books though!