The response to ACMA’s findings against Alan Jones highlight two common elements, both enemies of Australian media regulation: mateship and certainty.

John Singleton is disappointed that Chris Chapman hasn’t cut him a bit of slack, because, after all, Chris owes him a few, and according to Alan Jones, Chris has wanted to use his influence as well. Maybe says Singleton, Chris didn’t have any legal choice, but he’s not happy about it. Certainly not.

The people with the legal job to do, ACMA , have responded to the attention and unhappiness by issuing a second press release saying they still believe in their first one, and urging people to read the whole report. It’s as hopelessly tired a plea as the legend on the lid of the paint tin reminding us “when all else fails, read the instructions”. A principle that has eluded the Prime Minister.

Mr Howard doesn’t want to comment on individual cases, but he does want to say this, that Alan is a great broadcaster. A great broadcaster. And he’s not the kind of bloke who would ever encourage prejudice, but he is good at saying what a lot of people think.

Though, presumably, not the prejudiced ones.

2GB, perhaps happier with the PM’s idea of how to maintain relationships than they are with Mr Chapman’s, has posted the PM’s comments on their website.

The ACMA report is more than 80 pages of closely argued, carefully footnoted, legal detail. It includes a fine-toothed exegesis of the broadcasts and complete definitions from the Macquarie Dictionary of ‘hate’, ‘incite’, and ‘vilify’.

It’s a major piece of scholarly research and analysis. Add the costs of the senior managers and the ACMA board to the weeks of work by the skilled author, the management time and legal work by 2GB, and it’s cost well into six figures and taken over a year. No wonder they’d prefer people, including the PM, would read it before making such confident comments.

They’re probably right in this, that things would be better if people were more like John Singleton than Alan Jones. According to Singleton, he’s never sure of anything, while Jones is sure of everything. It’s a quality he shares with many of the people who use the complaints process, and perhaps with many of those involved in the original sad affrays on the beach at Cronulla.

The report lists the complainants simply as A,B,C, and D. But in general much time, effort and money is spent examining complaints by people who are sure about things – governments unhappy with the ABC, ethnic organisations pursuing old tribal conflicts.

The complaints system is cumbersome, costly and encourages abuse. In common with other media regulation, its effectiveness is undermined by fixed views and fixed relationships.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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