Australian Labor Party shelves government oversight of media legislation

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Friday, March 22, 2013

A package of six media reform bills introduced last week before Australia’s Parliament — including one proposing appointing a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) to monitor print and online sectors — was shelved yesterday by the Australian Labor Party, with only two passed before a seven week break for the country’s legislative body. Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, had hoped to see the legislation package passed by the end of the week.

Australia’s Parliament building in Canberra
Image: JJ Harrison.

The six-bill media advocacy legislation package, including Public Interest Media Advocate Bill 2013, Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Convergence Review and Other Measures) Bill 2013, Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (News Media Diversity) Bill 2013 which includes provisions related to news media and PIMA, News Media (Self-regulation) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2013 which would require media organisations to be registered with the government to enjoy protections traditionally enjoyed by journalists and the media, News Media (Self-regulation) Bill 2013 which creates PIMA, and Television Licence Fees Amendment Bill 2013, were introduced Thursday February 14 before the House Standing Infrastructure and Communications and the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee.

The Parliament of Australia summarized Public Interest Media Advocate Bill 2013 as, “Part of a package of six bills in relation to the media sector, the bill: creates the independent statutory office of the Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA); provides for the functions, appointment, and terms and conditions of PIMA; and requires an annual report to be prepared on PIMA’s activities and other specified matters.” Other bills in the package delineate what PIMA’s role would be. Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Convergence Review and Other Measures) Bill 2013 and Television Licence Fees Amendment Bill 2013 both had their second reading on Tuesday in the House and were the only bills to pass both houses of parliament. Unlike the other bills in the package which have not had a third reading before being shelved, the former bill deals primarily with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Special Broadcasting Service, while the latter bill increased licensing fees for television stations.

On Monday, the Australian Associated Press (AAP) released a statement saying such government oversight is not required. Other Australian media organizations have protested the proposed legislation. Australia’s The Daily Telegraph is quoted by the Brisbane Times describing this legislation as an “aggressive attempt to silence your media.”

Speaking before a Senate committee about media reform, AAP chief Bruce Davidson said, “We simply do not believe that there is a problem with the conduct of the media in Australia, and certainly not that of AAP, that warrants further oversight by a minster-appointed body […] Any hidden perception, I believe, of government interference is simply a dangerous precedent that may lead to control, may lead to interference […] The aims may be noble, Mr Chairman, but the potential for potential misuse and changes of that legislation as presented to us, I think, is a dangerous thing to contemplate.”

Former federal court judge Ray Finkelstein oversaw an inquiry into the Australian print media in 2011. He told a government inquiry, “There are no powerful groups in society that can come along to governments or anybody and say ‘we can do what we like when we like and there’s nothing you should do about it’.” Finkelstein is also on the record as stating that self regulation by the industry through their own organization has failed.



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