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Toothless tiger? Press Council bites hard, says News boss

Fining newspapers or forcing them to publish a right of reply when they are found to have breached standards would be a fundamental attack on free speech, according to News Limited’s editorial chief.

Campbell Reid, News Limited’s editorial director, told a forum in Sydney today that the current sanctions regime — which forces papers to publish Australian Press Council adjudications in a prominent position — is tough enough to keep journalists honest.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph has published two critical Press Council rulings this week  —  the first about its coverage of asylum seekers and the second about its coverage of lord mayor Clover Moore.

All the people who say the Press Council is a toothless tiger haven’t been bitten by it,” Reid, a former editor of The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, said.

An editor and a newspaper absolutely hate to devote space to somebody else’s opinion and assessment that the newspaper has done the wrong thing. It is a very public and prominent and painful procedure to go through — and we’ve signed up to it.

The challenge for us is to be up front and quick and admit we’re wrong and accept the referee’s ruling. Beyond that is an attack on the fundamental freedoms of our society.”

Earlier, referring to the Finkelstein inquiry, he said: “The government has to do the hardest thing for all governments to do: keep their hand away from the regulatory button. This is about putting the Murdoch empire on trial for crimes committed overseas. It’s wrong.”

Reid spoke yesterday at Mumbrella 360, a forum hosted by media and marketing website Mumbrella. Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes was in the crowd, as was News Limited CEO Kim Williams.

In its submission to the Finkelstein inquiry, the Australian Press Council referred to the option of publications that repeatedly breach standards being fined up to $30,000 (but not by the council itself).

The Finkelstein inquiry didn’t recommend fines, but did suggest a statutorily mandated “right of reply” when a complaint is upheld.

Matthew Ricketson, the former Age journalist who assisted the Finkelstein inquiry, told the crowds at Mumbrella 360 that such a power would not curb freedom of speech.

The way the inquiry’s report was covered in the mainstream media by and large was to suggest that we’d be off to Stalingrad or that we’re going back to the Reich Press Chamber in Nazi Germany, which was ludicrous,” he said.  “What’s envisaged is to provide a right of reply where a complaint has been upheld … to me that seems to add to freedom of speech.”

Press Council chairman Julian Disney told the forum that publishers were already moving to beef up the council before the Finkelstein inquiry and convergence review were announced. But he said the inquiries had compelled publishers to further increase the council’s funding and support a requirement that they must remain members for four years.

Disney’s preferred regulatory model is that only media companies that have signed up for self-regulation should be granted special privileges such as shield laws.

Membership of the Press Council is currently voluntary. Kerry Stokes’ Seven West Media abandoned its membership when the four-year requirement was implemented recently.

Sydney Morning Herald publisher Peter Fray said that opinion polls showing journalists are not trusted by the public should not lead to a more heavy-handed regime.

Journos don’t exist to be loved and don’t expect to be loved,” said Fray. “People need us and want us and the concept of not having us is a grave thought.”

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  • 1
    Gocomsys
    Posted Wednesday, 6 June 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    Sydney Morning Herald publisher Peter Fray said that “opinion polls” show journalists are not trusted.
    One certainly does not need useless opinion polls to know that. Its extremely obvious.

    No wonder the major culprit is crying out:
    “A fundamental attack on democracy, according to Limited NEWS editorial chief.”
    The Australian, the Daily Telegraph, the Herald Sun and all other Limited News tabloids are assisting daily in cementing these public opinions. It’s also time to speed the demise of the dead wood print media as a whole I’d say.

  • 2
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted Wednesday, 6 June 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    What a bunch of cry babies they are.

    4 corners allow a ridiculous program go to air demonising refugees based on the word of one moron who has vowed revenge on refugees because someone once conned him in Indonesia.

    No facts were allowed to intrude in Sarah Fergusons’ crap
    ACA style program and she completely ignored the fact that her main target is not a criminal, he is a man whose entire family were brutalised by us for over 4 years and who were illegally trafficked from our country twice before being dumpes at the border of Jordan and forced to pay for escorts to Baghdad while war waged all around them.

    http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/04/04/1081017039611.html

    And now Matt Brown at the ABC continues the lie that he is a criminal of some kind.

    We are the criminals in his case.

  • 3
    drmick
    Posted Wednesday, 6 June 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    If only they look at themselves and see that they are worse than anything the Nazi or Soviet mob could possibly dream up. Just look at the rubbish they threw at an individual; (Moore). They have done the same every day to Gillard. Pravda didnt do that to any US President. Goebbles went after a whole ethnicity. Maybe if they employed journalists instead of ratbag churnalists? we will never know.
    Close them down.

  • 4
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Wednesday, 6 June 2012 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    A more fundamental attack on democracy is the palace eunuchs of the press, the unelected and unsackable politicians of the Fourth Estate arguing that they above any law that constrains their freedom to be absolutely unaccountable.
    In this ambit claim to be beyond civil law the Fourth estate most closely resembles, in its actions
    and arrogance the Third Estate- The Church,
    The best example is “compurgation” where priest judges priest and the Capital Christian crime of child abuse avoids the punishment of the civil courts.
    This is obviously what the fourth estate wants and by way of conclusion, in more ways than one,
    the notorious failure of the press to protect, through public denunciation of the guilty parties, the victims of priestly perversions proves how perverted and destructive of democracy the fourth estate
    are in policy and practice.
    The Courier-Mail, when other outlets were breaking this scandal, notoriously printed nothing on the local perverts, pretending in a very church-like fashion that such things just could not happen in QLD.
    The Fourth Estate is doing to democracy what its role model in the third estate does to vulnerable children, make no mistake, The stake is not good enough for these traitors, in fact the punishment
    is to be cast into the sea, with a millstone attached to their necks to make sure they never rise again.
    Since death is the penalty for treachery against the nation two birds of very related feather could be
    gotten here with one civil law stone.
    If these characters like a bit of fundamental extremism here is an example of just what they are
    asking for. Fighting fire with fire!

  • 5
    JRAPQQ
    Posted Wednesday, 6 June 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    What a shock. “News” Corp believes that denying the freedom of a Right of Reply is “…a fundamental attack on free speech”. Curiouser and Curiouser - News Corp in Rupert’s Wonder Land again. (Apologies to Lewis Carroll.)

  • 6
    Michael de Angelos
    Posted Wednesday, 6 June 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Peter Fray confuses love with trust. Surely he knows the difference.

    I think everyone has missed the point.
    Lord Leveson mooted that perhaps what is needed is a libel tribunal that can be accessed by the ordinary punter, libel being basically the preserve of the rich at present.

  • 7
    izatso?
    Posted Wednesday, 6 June 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    @Hamis Hill more power to your pen, I wish I could write similarly. I hope to see more posts from you. CYA, but……

  • 8
    Zarathrusta
    Posted Thursday, 7 June 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Newspapers are not free speech. Like commercial radio and commercial TV they are paid speech. Someone pays to put their agenda up and spray it everywhere. That’s what they are for.

    Usually that’s advertising and that’s OK, but sometimes its cash for comment and often implicitly controlled editors following the tycoon’s party line.

    Let’s wake up! We don’t have a right of free speech in Australia but we do have a concept of it. Free speech is the ability to say what you like, it should not be falsely argued to be the right to amplify your comment so strongly you drown out others’ comments just because you are rich or own a news network.

    True free speech would be ensuring that moguls do not get any more chance to have their utterences heard than anyone else on the street.

  • 9
    Maroubraman
    Posted Friday, 8 June 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    The comment from Campbell Reid, News Limited’s editorial director, says it all:

    An editor and a newspaper absolutely hate to devote space to somebody else’s opinion.”

    Yes Mr. Reid, we know. But it isn’t just differing opinions that most editors find annoying. We all know the media motto: “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

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