The Australian Competition and Media Authority recently decided that the Seven network coverage of former Minister David Campbell had not breached the privacy provisions of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2010.
The ACMA found that "while the broadcast invaded Mr Campbell’s privacy", but concluded "it was nonetheless in the public interest to use the material as it explained the Minister’s resignation."
The decision has been noted for its circularity, given that the Minister's resignation only followed from Seven advising him of the footage and his apparent belief it would be broadcast.
Ultimately though it shows the relatively powerless nature of broadcasting regulation.
Mark Day today recounts a tale of a rather horrid little competition on 2GB and 3AW. But he notes;
I would like to think Chris Chapman, the head of the Australian Communications and Media Authority would step in and hit Smith and John Singleton's Macquarie Media (owner of 2GB, 2CH and partner in MTR) with every penalty in the book, if only for breaching a broadcaster's obligation for decency.
But he probably won't because ultimately, short of stripping the station's licence, there's not much he can do under existing laws.
Ultimately the modern libertarian view would be that we shouldn't interfere directly with licencees rights to broadcast, though we'd probably also expect them to fulfill things like the MEAA Code of Ethics.
It can be argued that Adam Walters in the Campbell case clearly breached Clause 2 (Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics, including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.) and Clause 8 (Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material.)
The shock-jocks of talkback radio are another thing though. As John Laws used to try to defend himself they are "entertainers" not journalists. The "competition" could easily be found to be in breach of The Commercial Radio Code of Practice.
The good news in the story by Day is that in the US the shock-jocks are losing audience, both in individual surveys and in cancellation of syndication contracts. It may take a while here. After all 2UE seems to have made a strategic decision to lurch to the right in 2011.
But maybe we need something in between the actual regulator (the ACMA) and the industry to hear complaints. It would be good to have someone able to make more noise about breaches of the codes than the ACMA is able to do.
Maybe this is a task for the Convergence Review.
Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est