In the SMH this morning Richard Ackland writes
Of course, this is not the first time the print media has been disturbed by officials taking a peek under its skirts. The inquiries of recent human memory both concerned Fairfax, the publisher of this organ.
In March 1992 a House of Representatives select committee produced a report called ''News & Fair Facts - the Australian Print Media Industry''. .... The committee went on to produce a report that lies unstudied and forgotten in the parliamentary library. It even produced a chapter on how to beef up the Press Council and the impact of ''technology''. ...
The other major print media inquiry took place in the 1980s in Melbourne under former judge Sir John Norris. It concluded there was too much concentration of control and ownership, what with Fairfax at that time having large shareholdings in Herald & Weekly Times Ltd and The Age.
It is worthwile in the context of the current inquiry noting the existence of earlier inquiries, but Ackland gets their number wrong.
The Print Media Inquiry report is available online (though at the time of writing the online version is not complete - a matter being rectified by APH staff now).
Ackland also notes that the committee's hearings coincided with the Tourang bid for Fairfax, but this was not its motivation. Its motivation was the acquisition of the Herald and Weekly Times by News Ltd and Fairfax going into receivership.
Mr Packer did go on to give some compelling evidence given the significance of the Tourang bid to the question of concentration of ownership.
But a later committee was actually established in the Senate to fully inquire into the Fairfax issues of 1991 and 1993 producing the report Percentage Players
Intriguingly that committee formed the view that the PM suggesting that the foreign acquisition of Fairfax would be allowed on the condition that reporting be"balanced" was inappropriate. Yet the backdrop to the current inquiry is unbalanced coverage by newspapers owned by a foreign proprietor.
The committee in particular called for the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeover Act and other instruments to be replaced with a single instrument covering all foreign ownership issues. It also called for the Foreign Investment Review Board to be replaced by a new Statutory Authority. This was a report written in 1994 by the then opposition. Interestingly in 12 years in Government neither of these things occurfred.
But on the core issue of standards rather than ownership and concentration the parliament again visited the issue in 2000 with a report by the Senate Information Technologies committee In the Public Interest.
That committee actually recommended
establishment of an independent statutory body, the Media Complaints Commission (MCC), which will be a one-stop-shop for all complaints and will assist to enforce standards established by self-regulation.
This appears to be highly relevant to the current inquiry.
Meanwhile the Member for Bradfield has another Op Ed published claiming Stephen Conroy's media circus is an exercise in revenge.
If an inquiry is needed, why is it confined to the print media as opposed to many other forms of media including free-to-air television, pay-TV, radio and the booming online sector?
In doing so he conveniently ignores the fact the Minister already has a Convergence Review looking at these sectors.
This inquiry is an exercise in retaliation, designed to lead to the imposition of new regulatory burdens on News Limited papers, with those operated by other companies to suffer collateral damage.
It is a political exercise pure and simple. For anyone who cares about the role of newspapers in our democracy, this new inquiry is the last thing we need. It should be cancelled immediately.
It is interesting to note that the committee report from 2000, on which the Howard Government with Richard Alston as Minister (an office in which the Member for Bradfield once worked), was a report from the coalition members of the committee, the dissenting reports were from the ALP and the Democrats.
Finally let's note that the last trigger for this inquiry was the Bolt blog and the pulled Milne article. The error of their publication was revealed by the way that News responded. Clearly that News response wasn't based on a deal about the media inquiry (as suggested).
But Bolt himself raised the concern that an ordinary citizen would not have had the mechanism for redress the PM used - ringing the CEO. And that is exactly the point, there is no effective complaints mechanism, a fact that has been reported as part of two previous committees.
It is perhaps time the Member for Bradfield caught up and let the current Minister get on with doing things that the member's former boss ignored!
Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est