What kind of responsibility comes with owning more than 70% of Australia’s metropolitan and national news journalism?

That’s one of the biggest questions confronting the government’s freshly-mandated media inquiry, which starts its hearings next week. Yesterday, in a Melbourne courtroom, we all got a glimpse of the answer:

Negus: ”Look, I am formally requesting you from the AFP, Victoria Police and ASIO not to go ahead with this story. People’s lives are at risk if you publish this story tomorrow.”

Whittaker: ”Well, how many lives are at risk?”

Negus: ”Well, if these people are aware of police interest, they may well not go for their intended site … Publishing the article will put public safety at risk!”

Whittaker: ”Well, what are we talking about? One person being killed, or … a number of people being killed?”

Negus: ”You do not have the entire story and The Australian’s intended publication … has far more serious consequences. There are domestic aspects to this investigation, which involved planned attacks on a military base.”

This conversation comes from a statement tendered to the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Negus is Australian Federal Police commissioner Tony Negus; Whittaker is Paul Whittaker, until recently the editor of The Australian. The dialogue is Negus’ version of a discussion between the two before The Australian published this story by Walkley Award-winning reporter Cameron Stewart surrounding the Somali terror raids on the morning of Tuesday August 4 last year, which occurred hours after the paper’s report of the operation hit the streets …

Whittaker’s company is responsible for the vast majority of Australia’s national and capital city print and online news journalism. If the above exchange is a mark of how they wield that responsibility it’s no wonder we need an inquiry.

Every Thursday, Crikey editor Sophie Black and Crikey‘s Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane will talk the week’s events in the national capital.Visit the podcast page (or via our iTunes page) on our website at 4pm AEST to download or listen.