It appears the government has decided to conduct a media inquiry, with details to be announced this afternoon.

To be accurate, it’s conducting another inquiry. Its convergence review, chaired by Glen Boreham with Louise McElvogue and Malcolm Long, has been underway for months, and is intended to cover off not merely technical and regulatory issues, but media diversity as well.

Some weeks ago, as the phonehacking row embroiled Rupert Murdoch himself, the Government also promised a discussion paper on a right to privacy, following up the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2008 recommendations. The promised paper has never appeared. Presumably it will be rolled into the new media inquiry.

Inevitably there will be howls of outrage from News Ltd and the Opposition about an inquiry (although, oddly, not a peep was heard about the terms of reference of the convergence review). Tony Abbott has already said it “looks like a naked attempt to intimidate the media.” And, true, any time politicians set about purporting to inquire into the conduct of the media, they should be watched closely. Few politicians come to the issue of media regulation with pure motives. Nonetheless, there remain areas of concern beyond privacy, particularly around the capacity of the communications industry regulator to effectively and independently police the media, and the extent to which public policy should actively support diversity and quality journalism.

The longer-term question, however, is whether the report resulting from such an inquiry will end up gathering dust on a bureaucrat’s bookshelf — alongside all the over media inquiry reports of the last two decades.

Peter Fray

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