NEWS MEDIA COUNCIL

This package was broadcast on Radio Port Phillip in April, 2012. It was also submitted for assessment at Monash University.

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SCRIPT:

PRESENTER: The recommendation for a new body to regulate the Australian news media is not necessarily the best way to go for broadcasting, according to a key figure in community radio.

The activities of all Australian news media could come under the regulation of a News Media Council if the government accepts the recommendation from an independent inquiry into media regulation.

The inquiry, chaired by former federal court judge Ray Finkelstein QC, was set up by the Australian federal government in the wake of the UK phone-hacking scandal.

Community radio veteran Adrian Basso says the recommendations in the final report, released last month, leave many questions unanswered.

Toni Brient reports.

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TONI BRIENT: Current broadcast and online regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, or ACMA, is “cumbersome and slow” in addressing complaints.

It needs a wider jurisdiction to operate in and increased powers to enforce its rulings.

These are some of Finkelstein’s findings during the media inquiry, which began in September last year.

They’re also some of the reasons he has suggested that a new body be introduced to regulate the entire Australian news media – across mediums.

But not everybody agrees with these changes.

Adrian Basso is the President of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia’s Board of Directors, and General Manager of Melbourne community radio station PBS.

He disagrees with the report’s finding that ACMA has failed to properly regulate the broadcast media.

ADRIAN BASSO: I would say that we are regulated, and that we’re heavily regulated.  There’s certain things that we can and can’t do. 

We’ve got a, you know, a legislation, which is the Broadcast Services Act, so it’s not the Code of Practice, it’s written down in law of the things that we can and can’t do.

And the code of practice, you know, touches on those things and more activity.

TONI BRIENT: He says the issuing of licenses for broadcast media outlets is the best form of regulation available – and one that is not accessible to print media.

ADRIAN BASSO: You can lose your license, and then you can stop broadcasting, so I think there’s a lot more at stake. 

You know, what does print – they don't lose anything.  They get a slap on the wrist, if that.

TONI BRIENT: The fundamental differences between the mediums, he says, mean that they should be regulated separately.

ADRIAN BASSO: They’re able to regulate us because the government owns the spectrum, and they license that spectrum and whether it’s FM, AM or digital radio, and whether it’s TV or radio, they have that ability.

I don't know what ability they have with print; you don’t need a license to start a magazine or a newspaper, or the same with online, so they’d have to grapple with that.

TONI BRIENT: Among the proposed News Media Council’s roles would be the adjudication of complaints.

The council would be able to force media outlets to publish or broadcast corrections and rights of reply from complainants.

Mr Basso says this could be a difficult task.

ADRIAN BASSO: It would have to have a lot more teeth.  I think it would be extremely hard.

 I really don't know how they’d do it, because ACMA has way more teeth than the Press Council and people still get away with stuff.

 You’d have to really ramp it up, and then to what end?

TONI BRIENT: According to Mr Basso, this inquiry has sparked a healthy debate about Australia’s news media landscape. 

However, he believes we should accept the report as a platform for more discussion, rather than a final decision about media regulation.

ADRIAN BASSO: You know, I think it’s a good conversation to have in the community about, you  know, when people over-step the mark, and maybe there’s no check on that. 

I’m not sure – this is all quite, still spectulative. 

We’ve had a report, and it’s, you know, 500 pages or so long, but it what whipped together pretty quickly.

 It was also done by, you know, limited resources, as far as one person doing it.

I honestly don't think it’s, you know, a lot of the things that have been presented will be adopted. 

At best they might be able to beef up the current regime.

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PRESENTER: Adrian Basso ending that report by Toni Brient.