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Mar 5, 2012

Simons: how the Fink nailed the media inquiry

You will find it difficult to get an idea of what the Finkelstein report on news media regulation actually says, or why it has reached its controversial conclusions, from reading the mainstream media.


Start with this. You will find it difficult to get an idea of what the Finkelstein report on news media regulation actually says, or why it has reached its controversial conclusions, from reading the mainstream media.

The irony is lost on no one, judging from all the eye-rolling in the ministerial offices this morning, except perhaps those editors and reporters who will deny it is so.

On Saturday and again today, the newspapers were full of opinion, mostly from the interested parties, but harder to find was a decent summary or report of the Fink’s substance and arguments. A newspaper reader would struggle to discern that the Fink had some critical things to say about the way the media performed. Indeed, some breakout quotes used by the tabloids suggested he had been only complimentary.

For the record, the Fink’s report is not calling for direct government control of the media, nor does it contain a bid by Labor to control the media, as the headline in The Australian Financial Review claimed, over a fair and balanced article by Laura Tingle that said nothing of the sort.

So what follows is a summary of this weighty and scholarly, though admirably clearly-written, report. Whatever you think of the key recommendation this is a considerable work, particularly given short time frame the team had to do their work.

So to follow is my cheat sheet. If you want to dive into the report yourself, here’s the link. If you do dare to wade through it, I would start with the clear executive summary and recommendations. Then scan, but put aside for calmer reading and reflection, section two, with its erudite summation and history of the justification for a free press and the long struggle against licensing and regulation from Gutenberg to the present day.

Here, too, you will find a summation of the responsibility that comes with that freedom. The Fink concludes that there is a “compelling case” for a free press, but that there is also agreement that the news media wield power and profound influence, and with this comes responsibility. He writes:

“What is lacking, at least in Australia, is a robust discussion on what institutional mechanisms are necessary to ensure the press adheres to its responsibilities …  This is the situation this inquiry must address: how to accommodate the increasing and legitimate demand for press accountability, but to do so in a way that does not increase state power or inhibit the vigorous democratic role the press should play or undermine the key rationales for free speech and a free press.”

Scan, and save as a reference document for years to come, section three, which examines the news media industry with a focus on newspapers. It is the best pulling together of data on trends in Australian news media consumption and business models available. It concludes, in summary, that newspapers are still profitable, though profoundly challenged. It also makes it clear that many of those challenges have been with us since the ’50s, including declining circulation, but have been masked by rising population. The Fink doesn’t say it, but an available conclusion is that the industry has been slow to recognise the need for change.

This section also concludes that Australia’s newspaper industry is among the most concentrated in the developed world. This is important later, since it forms part of the case for increased regulation.

Section four should be read in detail, not least because it is the one you are never going to see fairly reported in the mainstream media. It tackles media standards. The Fink begins by quoting newspaper executives saying that there is no problem with the Australian media. He goes on to test the validity of these claims, starting with the words:

“Media proprietors often defend their adherence to standards by reference to their readers. So, rejecting any suggestion of bias against the government on the part of News Limited, (then News Limited CEO) Mr Hartigan said such claims were an insult to readers, who were capable of making up their own minds. Often, however, readers are not in a position to make an appropriately informed judgment. They expect news stories they read to be accurate. Usually only the authors/publishers, and the subjects of the story, know the extent to which a story lives up to that expectation. Over time, though, the public develop perceptions about the media that have an important influence on their opinion of the media.”

Thence to an analysis of public opinion data over the decades, including a detailed meta-analysis of 21 surveys. The result is devastating, and adds up to nothing short of a crisis of confidence in the news media — with the sole exception of the ABC. Says the Fink:

“Over the decades, the ABC has been consistently identified as a trusted source of news and information by between two-thirds and four-fifths of people, whereas other media organisations struggle to get even half the people to say they trust them.”

There is nothing in the submissions from the newspaper publishers to rebut these consistent findings by public opinion pollsters, other than the claim that readers make their choices every day by buying the products. But, says the Fink:

“The Australian newspaper market is far from the ideal truly competitive market which imposes considerable discipline on suppliers of products. In highly concentrated markets, and the Australian newspaper market is one such market, that discipline is dissipated and consumers have little choice and little power to influence what is supplied.”

So to the cases, and the Fink examines studies of media performance by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, including material published in Crikey, the recent quarterly essay by Robert Manne and other sources that have found the Australian public has lacked fair and impartial reporting on important issues of public policy, including carbon policy. He quotes findings that include News Limited tabloids were so biased that they could be said to have campaigned against the policy.

The Fink remarks that there is nothing wrong with newspapers having an opinion and advocating a position, even mounting a campaign:

“Those are the natural and generally expected functions of newspapers. Notable examples include The Australian on problems in remote indigenous communities, The Age on the Reserve Bank’s note printing companies that led to bribery charges being made and The West Australian on compensation claims by soldiers returning from the war in Afghanistan … However, to have an opinion and campaign for it is one thing; reporting is another, and in news reporting it is expected by the public, as well as by professional journalists, that the coverage will be fair and accurate.”

The Fink then mentions recent controversies and abuses, including the Tristan Weston affair referred to it by the Victorian Office of Police Integrity:

“The Herald Sun published an editorial on 28 October, the day after the OPI’s report was released, in which it argued the OPI report proved the newspaper was innocent of pursuing a vendetta against Mr Overland. It said the report showed Mr Weston had pursued the vendetta. What the editorial did not say, which is apparent from the OPI’s report, is that the Herald Sun allowed itself to be an insufficiently questioning player in the campaign by Mr Weston and others. That is, its journalistic standards, particularly on independence, fairness and accuracy, were wanting.”

The Fink also mentions the Mooroopna mother who was virtually accused by the media of murdering her sons, before it was revealed that they died in a tragic accident. The columnist who had earlier suggested the mother was a murderer then wrote in a column that the public should not be so quick to judge others. It was a truly Orwellian shift.

Also mentioned are the Pauline Hanson pictures published by News Limited Sunday papers that weren’t Hanson at all. Says the Fink:

“Essentially, in the rush to print, the journalists at The Sunday Telegraph carried out only very rudimentary verification.”

Then there is the insensitivity to victims of crime. Exhibit: The Sydney Morning Herald’s treatment of a fire at Quakers Hill, Sydney, with a front-page photograph showing an elderly man lying in his bed on the street, his mouth was agape and his eyes closed.”

And privacy? Exhibit A is the Madeleine Pulver collar-bomb case, with the television media camping outside her house for four days, and pictures published of her walking the dog, despite the fact that she was a child, a victim, and that her father had pleaded for her privacy to be respected.The news media, Finkelstein says, does a great deal of good work. Journalists and editors pursue their jobs with dedication and skill. Yet in all these cases, the media failed its own frequently proclaimed standards. People were damaged, sometimes profoundly, and in most cases had no meaningful recourse.

The proprietors and newspaper executives’ claims that there is no problem that needs addressing do not stand up to scrutiny.

Chapters five to eight deal with the way in which media is currently regulated, from the laws of the land through to the role of the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the Australian Press Council. It also deals with other self-regulation systems and comparable models overseas. If you are familiar with this material already, you can skip these chapters, though perhaps pause for a thorough reading of the history of the MEAA Code of Ethics, and the Australian Press Council, which demonstrates how at every stage the publishers were dragged kicking and screaming into self-regulation.

This material is important, because the Fink has clearly taken it into account in assessing how likely it is that the industry is capable of self-regulation. He looks at this history, together with the clear statements by publishers such as Fairfax Media CEO Greg Hywood, that they would not increase funding for the Press Council, in reaching his conclusion that more is needed, and that self-regulation without mandatory adherence will not work in addressing the problems he has identified. In the attitude of the publishers, he concludes, not much has changed, and the crisis in public confidence is simply denied.

This section also contains a review of overseas models, including the recent New Zealand Law Commission report on news media regulation (as Crikey reported), which was clearly influential on the Fink. A key quote:

“… there must be some effective means of raising standards of journalism and of making the media publicly accountable. What the media have lost sight of is that they accepted the idea of press regulation by having set up the APC to make a positive contribution to the development of journalistic standards.

“Logically it follows that that regulation should be effective. Indeed one would not expect that the media is only prepared to accept regulation that is ineffective.”

Chapter nine is an examination of remedies, including whether or not there should be an enforceable right of reply, and an enforceable right of access to the news media. Yes to the first, concludes the Fink, no to the second.

Chapter 10 is an erudite, and for public policy nerds, fascinating overview of the theory of regulation, and its public interest justifications. This locates the Fink’s recommended model on the second step up of a pyramid that has at its apex total government control, and at its bottom pure self-regulation. What the Fink is recommending is “enforced self-regulation”.

Finally, the Fink pulls all this together in the argument for reform in chapter 11. There is a problem in the news media. The costs of its failure to adhere to its own standards are born, not by the media companies themselves but by injured individuals and society at large.

He concludes that a self-regulation system such as the Australian Press Council, that can be undermined at will by withdrawing funding, and that players do not even have to sign up to, is not effective and not likely to become effective. He acknowledges recent reforms, but does not believe they overcome the fatal flaw of publisher unwillingness to get real.

He canvasses the options — from doing nothing, to licensing of news media. He rejects licensing, because it would mean government control of the media — abhorrent in a liberal democracy. He laments the ineffectiveness of the present system. He concludes:

“Ordinarily, the preferred option would be self-regulation. But in the case of newspapers, self-regulation by code of ethics and through the APC has not been effective. To do nothing in these circumstances is merely to turn a blind eye to what many see as a significant decline in media standards. Australian society has a vital interest in ensuring that media standards are maintained and that there is public trust in the media.”

The remainder of the report lays out the details of how the recommended News Media Council would work. Government funded, and with the big stick of court action in the background, but otherwise with procedures very similar to those presently followed by the Australian Press Council.

However it would be much better resourced — 20 members, with a full-time chair. Half its members would come from public, half from media but not managers directors or shareholders. The chair would be a judge or lawyer. Its funding would be on a triennial basis, and overseen by the Auditor-General to protect it from political interference. Members would be appointed through an arm’s-length committee, similar to the process now in place for the boards of the ABC and SBS.

The news media council would have jurisdiction over all news media, print as well as broadcast. This section includes the eye-popping suggestion that websites and blogs with more than 15,000 “hits” a year would be covered. It would have the power to require publication of corrections, apologies and rights of reply. If there was no compliance, it could apply for a court order, meaning that any breach of the court order would become contempt of court.

Finally, the Fink canvasses the question of whether various kinds of government support should be given to news media or start-ups. He canvasses, but does not come to conclusions, on suggestions of tax deductibility for donations to not-for-profit news media enterprises, and direct government subsidies. All this, he recommends be referred to the Productivity Commission. He also suggests part of the function of the new News Media Council should be to monitor the health of the industry.

So, that’s it. What the Fink actually said. You read it here first.

CLARIFICATION: Monday 5 March, 3.20pm: The initial version of this story referred to a “departmental cheat sheet” and linked out to the full document of Finklelstein’s recommendations. That description was incorrect — the cheat sheet consists of Margaret’s copy above and the link is to the full report. The copy has been amended to reflect this.



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58 thoughts on “Simons: how the Fink nailed the media inquiry

  1. Peter Ormonde

    Thanks Margaret … excellent bit of gear.

    Will be interesting to see what the Government chooses to do. Can’t really see them being too concerned about getting Rupert off-side … his empire is about as hostile as they dare to get. If we’re lucky we might actually see something happening. But it’s a long-shot.

  2. kwn

    Yes, that is what I read in the SMH and The Australian. Shorter than your piece but quite complete and accurate.

  3. Cleaver

    An “arm’s length committee” like the ones that choose the ABC and SBS boards. Well, there you go. Or perhaps like the one that chooses the MEAA ethics committee? (That other pursuer of ethical purity.) This nidea is just another way to narrow the issues and avoid the core problem. Which is that these folk are all very comfortable and arrogant (not as arrogant as the folk in London now under scrutiny, but the sentiment isn’t different.)
    You know some of us have noticed the change in culture and standards that has emerged since the 1980s, when Fairfax gobbled up The Age and other, smaller, independent publishers. Then Hawke and Keating cleared the way for Murdoch to grab virtually all the rest in one swoop.
    Both Fairfax and News have been run by powerbrokers ever since. Monopolists and oligopolists don’t usually spend a huge amount of time worrying about consumers.
    The effective answer to this is real choice, which hopefully will come when the bloated bureaucracies that sit atop Australian news reporting have a big collision with the consumer’s lack on interest in their shoddy product.
    And can you please lay off the “Fink” bit? The man has a real name.

  4. Suzanne Blake

    This report was created by Gillard / Brown and Co being uphappy with media coverage and reporting on their Government, disguised as a needed report cause of the UK phone hacking episodes.

    Its all about control of the media.

    If people don’t like what they read, they should cancel their papers, decline to buy them, watch something else or go and weave baskets. Its simple really.

    If demand drops, the new outlets will collapse or change. Its simple economocs really.

    No need for Governments to be the nanny state there as well.

    Leave media control and this to Comminist States.

  5. shepherdmarilyn

    Anything that stops whines like Katharine Murphy today claiming they got all their yarns about nothing happening wrong because it moved too quickly.

    Poor dear doesn’t seem to get that reporting what is actually happening is far better than reporting crap.

    And poor David Penberthy, he of the 5 star asylums for asylum seekers and other lies, is having apoplexy about nothing much.

  6. GeeWizz

    So this is the inquiry into nothing….

    What a waste of taxpayer dollars

  7. Michael de Angelos

    So Suzanne Blake : you don’t seem to see a problem that 70% of Australian newspapers are run by a corporation currently being investigated in the UK for a vast criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, the police and public service , illegally hack defense officials politicians including the Deputy PM and ministers of the Crown and so on. Remarkable.

    What is missing from this report is the ability of ordinary citizens who are not rich to access the libel courts, an amazing oversight in our system of law that really demonstrates that the rich have greater access to justice.

    Justice Levesen in the UK has mused on the idea of a libel tribunal for libeled citizens who are at the mercy of rapacious organizations like News Corp (who needs Communism S.Blake ?)and I have no doubt that he will recommend as much. It’s a shame Justice Finklestein did not tackle this problem. Australian tabloids (including Fairfax) have demonstrated too many times that are not answerable to anyone.

  8. klewso

    “Media coverage” – it’s like a cat burying it’s “scat”.

  9. Michael de Angelos

    Cleaver : let’s leave the MEAA out of this :
    they were the ones who in 2005 went into bat for the non-union paparazzi when police said they were investigating bugging devices left outside Nicole Kidman’s house in Darling Point.

    As a union the MEAA acts like middle management. Ask any freelancer who they ignore while taking their fees.

  10. klewso

    (“The Brotherhood of the Elusive Consistency” are off their blocks early.)
    What is the comminist state – “de Nile”?

  11. izatso?

    self regulation’s great. it is. no-one appreciates ‘being Told’ , its so much better to do that for one’s self, to set a standard……… and to recall one’s own fathers raised eyebrow……… and part of that ‘standard’ is putting one’s hand up, when a mistake has been made……. to not do so, is to have it fester inside, accumulatively, not good………… owning up to one’s blues is freedom itself ……….. of course, a standard, is a big issue …….. much too big for a mere piece of media to hang in front of itself, every day 24/7 ……. most in the media sold their parents yonks ago….. and so you will duck, dive, dodge and weave, before you can say ‘thanks Finkelstein……….. ‘

  12. mikeb

    @suzanne blake. Presumably you are one of the less than half who “say they trust them” – i.e. the non-ABC media. I’m also guessing that you’d be one of the one-third and one-fifths of people who doesn’t trust the ABC. If you believe there is no problem that we can’t ignore then you are sadly delusional.

  13. DF

    SB and GWizz are not actually people – they are robots much like those programmed to buy or sell in reaction to whatever is happening on the stock market. In their case, they have a “new blog” sensor to which they react with a random quote from a quite limited and very unimaginative stock.

  14. GeeWizz

    [“So Suzanne Blake : you don’t seem to see a problem that 70% of Australian newspapers are run by a corporation”]

    Stop whinging lefties and setup your own newspaper.

    There is nothing stopping you other than your own inability to do anything successfully

  15. J Borowicz

    Suzanne honey, you don’t need a comminist state to have a controlled press. Just eliminate other viewpoints by allowing right wing moguls and billionaires to own and control most of the news outlets and presto, we have our own capitilist version of Pravda!

  16. Microseris

    As part of his culture wars, Howard threw away the ethics book with his partisan board appointees especially the ABC & SBS:

    The list is too long to detail here. Check the link.

  17. paddy

    Just the sort of pointers to the “meaty bits” of Fink’s report I was hoping to find.
    Bravo and thanks Margaret.

  18. calyptorhynchus

    Sounds good, let’s hope it happens.

  19. DF

    gwizz wrote: “Stop whinging lefties and setup your own newspaper.”

    Just wondering which newspaper(s) the righties consider their own or, at the least, are not the ones for the lefties.

  20. guytaur

    I like the Journalist code of ethics being made enforceable by law.
    Of course this means the shonky journalism of the tabloid tv shows could be in big trouble.
    Anothe show that might go is Mediawatch. No jornos doing the wrong thing no programme.

  21. klewso

    “Ethics are good – as long as they’re confined to their own culture, race and religion.”?

  22. J Borowicz

    DF, I like your robo-poster theory. It appeals to my socialist, latte and chardonnay sipping leftie elitist snob tendencies.

  23. Jan Forrester

    Thanks Margaret, this article is a perfect example why I subscribe to Crikey. The comments above mostly lead me to think it is too big so lets just vent our old prejudices. Apologies to those who didn’t. I look forward to trawling through all of the sections more thoroughly through research that is highly-detailed, benchmark stuff. There are many challenges to, problems with the Fourth estate, nothing changes till we are prepared to stare it in the face. Whilst looking for new seeds.

  24. guytaur

    I hope the Government can use the comments about concentration of media ownership to force changes through to increase competition.
    eg. All printing to be contracted out. No Newspaper controlling the printing press in a city or town. It was by controlling the printing press that Mr Murdoch established his virtual monopoly.

  25. Syd Walker

    Margaret – I’m a fan of much of your output, but I find this a very dangerous article – not so much for what it says, but for what is doesn’t mention.

    It’s become apparent that if one wants to sell a potentiallyn unpopular measure, such as war against Libya – or in this case internet censorship – it’s best to get “progressives” and “the left” to sell it. No-one trusted Bush – but even the Greens croon over Obama (judging by his visit to Oz last year). Similarly, Conroy’s filter raised hackles (against the “Christian Lobby”, the Labor right etc). So get the Greens to sell it – much more effective! If fear this article of yours also carries water for this latest attempt to regulate the internet.

    Recall that the impetus for the inquiry was Newscorp phone-tapping in the UK – and concern about Newscorp’s grossly excessive market share here. That, initially, was the “problem”. So why then do we have a “solution” that calls for an unprecedented new level of interference with the blogosphere as a whole)?

    That’s the part of Fink’s proposals that bother me – and they are CENTRAL to his recommendations – which despite all the report’s padding and erudition, are actually few in number.

    I run a blog which attempts to cover subjects not covered AT ALL by the mainstream media (in this case, including Crikey, New Matilda etc). I look at issues pertaining to the power of the Zionist Lobby, the truth about 9/11, the truth about events such as Port Arthur etc. I believe full discussion of these topics is certainly in the broad public interest – but not everyone agrees. The people for instance, who run Australia’s mainstream media, public and private, do not agree. Nor, apparently, do the folk who run Crikey and New Matilda… etc

    What are the chances that the people who’d staff the proposed News Media Council would agree with me (as opposed to the very well-established majority?) I’d say they’re minimal. What are the chances they’d use their power to “respond to complaints received” and harass my blog? It’s an unknown, of course, but I’d say they’re very high.

    At present, I must ensure I don’t breach defamation laws (an obligation I willingly accept and try to honour to the best of my ability). Other than that, my only major problem is to avoid being blocked by filters. A few weeks ago I managed to get access to my site from Parliament House Canberra restored. There were never legitimate grounds for blocking it, so I was able to shame the admins into removing the block. I’m less successful with other “filters” such as those covering many public libraries, schools and state government bureaucracies.

    A negative ruling from the NMC would undoubtedly “do the trick” for the censor wannabees. That, I strongly suspect is what this LATEST attempt to regulate the web is really all about – blocking pesky little blogs such as mine that do discuss matters of legitimate public concern that happen to be unpopular with highly powerful vested interests such as the Zionist Lobby and our so-called “Intelligence Agencies”.

    One pointer is that my own submission wasn’t listed on the appropriate page by the Department. It gave itself an out with this disclaimer: “The inquiry will not publish submissions that breach applicable laws, promote a product or a service, contain offensive language, or express sentiments that are likely to offend or vilify sections of the community. The inquiry reserves the right not to publish submissions which do not substantively comment on the issues raised by the terms of reference. The purpose of publishing the submissions is to advance discussion. Publication of a submission is not an endorsement of the content of the submission.”

    I invite Crikey readers to view my submission (Google “40 points for Australia’s Independent Inquiry into Media”). You may not like my submission – but see for yourself if you think it should be excluded from public discussion).

    Then ask whether you really want to give more power to yet more unelected officials to help stifle free speech – not only for my humble efforts, but for other blogs that someone in power may deem “offensive”.

    Wrong Way! Go Back!

    Just say NO to this LATEST assault on the free internet!

  26. Gederts Skerstens

    This Finkling is run by a delusion:
    “…Often, however, readers are not in a position to make an appropriately informed judgment.”

    Sure they are. From the evidence provided in their own lives. The Soviets had absolute control of the press, providing one single viewpoint, backed by all the financial and coercive powers of a large state.
    Made no difference. The ‘readers’ kicked down that whole shithouse anyway, making a very well-informed judgement from the actual Truth, not Pravda.

    Just as people here can tell for themselves whether it’s raining or not, even while a steady stream of Billion-per-year BS from our ABC tells us there’s a permanent drought, say.

  27. mikeb

    @Syd Walker – You lost all credibility when you included “the Zionist Lobby, the truth about 9/11, the truth about events such as Port Arthur etc”. Prior to the internet people who subscribed to so-called conspiracy theories like these caused no more harm than the local village idiot. Now tin-foil hatters can receive global coverage no matter how preposterous their theories are. The problem we have with internet and some of the print media is that the power of ordinary people to get reliable information is being clouded – so that misinformation becomes the default truth. I believe Margaret’s article and the Finkelstein report highlight the difficulties of such widely distributed misinformation, and opinion masquerading as news.

  28. mikeb

    @Gederts Skerstens – re “The ‘readers’ kicked down that whole shithouse anyway, making a very well-informed judgement from the actual Truth, not Pravda.” Did you read the crikey articles (yesterday & today) about the Russian media under Putin. Not very reassuring.

  29. guytaur

    @Gederts Skerstens

    Pravda was started about the end of WW2 if memory serves. It was certainly around in the days of President Kennedy.
    So 20 to 40 years and the loss of many lives before Russians kicked it all down.
    I think Australia can do better than that.

  30. Michael de Angelos

    Gedets: with a state controlled media it’s probably far easier to see through the lies. With a so-called ‘free press’ the indoctrination si far more subtle.

    Is it true that Krushev said to Kennedy :”how do you get your reporters to print what you want ?..we have to threaten ours?”

  31. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Interesting to consider how many lives have been lost due to our media supporting the conservative line.

    Certainly the highest death toll due to Australia is our share of the many lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. And I would argue that the Australian troops have died for no reason as it now looks pretty certain that the Taliban will at the least share power with a future Afghan government.

    Our ineffective intervention on Aboriginal wellbeing has also resulted in premature deaths.

    We also have the suicides of those who legally came to Australia seeking asylum.

    I’m sure some of our health policy has caused deaths, and our lack of preventive health many more.

    And Australia’s lack of action on climate change is sure to result in many future deaths.

    Australia is doing much better than Stalinist USSR, but as we are a democracy and they were a brutal dictatorship, perhaps it is Australia that should feel the most shame.

  32. GeeWizz

    [“Just wondering which newspaper(s) the righties consider their own or, at the least, are not the ones for the lefties”]

    I consider all papers except the Daily Telgraph to be left leaning.

    Just getting sick of lefties whinging they don’t have their own newspapers… save up your pennies and start your own and stop whinging about what others are doing

  33. guytaur

    Chris Uhlman on 7:30 Report put Hockey under a little pressure. FINALLY!!!

  34. GeeWizz

    [“And I would argue that the Australian troops have died for no reason as it now looks pretty certain that the Taliban will at the least share power with a future Afghan government.”]

    Lefties solution.. pull out and hand over to the nice little Taliban and Saddam Hussein

    [“Our ineffective intervention on Aboriginal wellbeing has also resulted in premature deaths.”]

    Lefties solution… just pull out and let the Aboriginal men go to town with the local Aboriginal girls, just pretend there is no violence and let the binge drinking continue. Ignore the Aboriginal elders who say the intervention is working

    [“We also have the suicides of those who legally came to Australia seeking asylum.”]

    Lefties solution…. encourage the illegals, try and get as many coming here on leaky boats as possible.

    More suicides, more drownings, more riots and more kids and women behidn the razor wire… the lefties dream come true under the now failed open borders solution. When the boats crash on the rocks of Christmas Island make sure you blame everyone but yourselves for encouraging the boats. Lefties never take responsibility for their policies, it’s always someone elses fault….

    [“And Australia’s lack of action on climate change is sure to result in many future deaths.”]

    Lefties solution…. attack Australian jobs and export them to much more polluting nations like China. Sure it will actually increase global emissions, but it gives lefties a fuzzy feeling inside and thats important

  35. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)


    Thanks for proving just how far to the right your views lie.

    I would say that there is no major newspaper in Australia that is truly progressive. Even the ABC (TV and radio) is now, overall, strongly biased towards the right.

  36. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    All the PROGRESSIVE (not left) arguments against the views of Geewiz are well known, so I’ll not bother to say more.

    Of course it is no surprise that Geewiz supports the views of our right wing governmentS (yes, plural – because all the points I raised are shared by Labor as well as Liberal).

  37. GeeWizz

    [“I would say that there is no major newspaper in Australia that is truly progressive. Even the ABC (TV and radio) is now, overall, strongly biased towards the right.”]

    Not true, the ABC recently released complaints of bias made against it.

    It showed that TWICE as many people complained of bias against the Coalition as what there were towards Labor.

    Seems Aunty is just as left as it’s always been

  38. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Geewiz, as your post above have proven, the far right see anything that does not support their view as biased.

    The complaint figures just show who is complaining.

    It is pretty easy to make a case that the ABC is now biased towards the right, so what is your evidence that it is biased towards the left?

  39. Alexander Berkman

    Margaret, an informative argument and thank you for the summary, it really seems that the only things that have changed in this country, since Marshall McLuhan wrote “The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects” and Chomsky’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’ is that media ownership has become more and more concentrated. One only has to watch any commercial news service (ABC & SBS as well but not to the same extent) to see the formula for manipulation of ideas & opinions. The ‘news’ really isn’t that, it is in almost all cases ‘opinion’ dressed up as news to ensure a pliable, newspaper reading & tv news watching public. News Ltd is the penultimate case, being able to cheerlead for the invasion of Iraq & Afghanistan and to attack any govt policy that doesn’t fall into the ideology of Murdoch and his editorial minions.
    Looking at what makes up the majority of the Australian news media is a lesson in frustrating futility, in hair pulling and shaken heads of utter disbelief. It is, in this country, not just what is being said, but mostly what isn’t.

  40. Syd Walker

    Michael Wilbur-Ham writes: “I would say that there is no major newspaper in Australia that is truly progressive. Even the ABC (TV and radio) is now, overall, strongly biased towards the right.”

    I’d agree, Michael – except I no longer view pro-war bias as essentially right-wing. Nor is support for peace the preserve of the left – and indeed many on the “left” and “progressive” side of politics have become enthusiastic supporters of imperialist wars justified on the pretext of “humanitarian intervention”.

    Support for such wars, in Australia, is now TRI-partite, with Bob Brown vying to be more macho than the Labor Party. A few weeks ago he actually demanded closure of the Syrian Embassy, something that Rudd, to his credit, refused to do. Brown – and his publicly inaccessible (faceless?) staff seem to get all their information from the war-crazy mass media. When lobbying Greens MPs and staff over Libya, I (and others) found we only ever got back garbled, regurgitated horror stories about Ghaddafi from the mass media (eg bogus rape accusations) – most of which had already been discredited to anyone paying attention with access to the internet.

    I have respect for some individuals within the Greens – especially Scott Ludlam – but Scott’s great work defending free speech can be undone in five minutes by an autocratic Bob Brown. It’s entirely in character that Brown endorsed Fink’s Report before the ink was dry. Who did he consult in the Greens before coming out with his gush? Certainly not the rank and file. In the case of Brown’s statements of support for NATO bombing in Libya, he didn’t seem to consult his colleagues either.

    It’s lucky Bob Brown doesn’t have an army, because he leads his party with the type of autocratic style that’s reminiscent of Joe Stalin. No wonder now he’s at the FOREFRONT of selling out on free speech. He insists on hogging the Foreign Affairs portfolio, yet seems to live in a world of abject ignorance – a world in which there are goodies and baddies and the ABC tells us who they are. Thus it was he lent the Greens (former) good name to the destruction of the most prosperous society in Africa – a nation that prior to NATO’s assault had the highest UNDP Human Development Index in Africa, including the lowest infant mortality and highest life expectancy in Africa. Needless to say, 9.000+ bombing sorties later, that’s no longer the case, womens’ right in Libya have taken a dive and the nation is in intractable turmoil. Tens of thousands are dead (NATO nations refused to allow the UN assess casualty numbers) and there are vast numbers of Libyan refugees – internal and external.

    Does Brown care? Is there any sign of remorse that he chose to support war so disastrously, breaching his Party’s charter and making a joke out of the idea that The Greens are about “grass roots democracy”?

    Not a bit of it – he simply wants the rest of us to be as ignorant as him. If – God forbid – this appalling Fink nonsense gets the green light from Parliament – he may well get his way.

  41. Groucho

    Funny how the right didn’t have a problem with Howard when he stacked the ABC board, attacked ABC journalists and threatened charities tax deductible status if they spoke out against government policy.

  42. GeeWizz

    [“Funny how the right didn’t have a problem with Howard when he stacked the ABC board, attacked ABC journalists and threatened charities tax deductible status if they spoke out against government policy.”]

    The ABC Board is stacked full of lefties now… as I said the complaints released by ABC show that the majority of the complaints made to them were about bias against the Coalition 2 to 1

  43. AR

    The PM’s tin ear & appalling delivery are unarguable when she is sticking to a script (why they are so badly written is a different question) but on her feet, ad lib she can really be mordant. Her advice to the meeja “Just don’t write crap; it can’t be that hard at their own clubhouse sums up the problem.

  44. Anna Kae

    Paul Grabowsky said something very interesting on Q and A last night when he commented that if journalists were to raise their game and be more professional that maybe our politicians would respond accordingly.

    I am sure that the author of this article would not refer to our current PM as Gill, so why she would abbreviate the The Honorable R Finkelstein QC to Fink is I’m sure not only insulting to him but completely undermines the credibility of the the author and the seriousness of the subject material of this article.

    One could possible extrapolate that by abbreviating Hon Finkelstein QC’s name to Fink the author was making subtext antisemitism commentary.
    Fortunately if some of the proposals in The Finkelstein Inquiry are implemented a news piece such as this could be subject to News Media Council regulation.

  45. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Anna Kae,

    Margaret Simons would have an incredible ego if she wrote the headline as it starts of with her name.

    So, as usual in much of the press, the headline was not written by the author, and I would not be surprised if she was shocked when she saw it.

    Changing the subject – as mentioned on Media Watch, 15,000 hits a year for a blog is only 43 per day, which is very low traffic. So the report is recommending that a huge number of blogs be covered by the new body.

    I’m also not sure what would be covered in a blog which are all opinion. They cannot be saying, for example, a pro-lifer should get right of reply on a anti-abortion blog?

    And if they are just correcting ‘facts’ – then not only would this new body become judge and jury on any issue (e.g. climate change) but would have to draw a line on values – for example if a blogger said that “Woolworths are ripping off their customers” then Woolworths might lodge a complaint that as they are just following ‘normal business practices’ this claim is wrong, and demand a correction, and this would then stifle all debate on this issue.

    News reporting is different because, for example with how News has reported climate change, it is easy to show that they are biased and have not fully informed their readers.

  46. Syd Walker

    @MIKEB There’s a most unpleasant indication in your reply to my initial comment on this thread that you would indeed support censoring views with which you strongly agree.

    You may wish to deny the existence of a massively powerful zionist lobby in the USA and elsewhere, including Australia. You may think the views of 1,600+ qualified engineers and architects who’ve put their careers on the line to call for re-investigation of 9/11 can be totally disregarded. You may believe it’s just fine that the largest mass murder in recent Australian history occasioned no coronial inquiry, inquest, trial (at which evidence was tested) or subsequent public inquiry – while by contrast we’re now into the FOURTH inquest over the death of a single baby in 1980.

    Your biases, indeed, are entirely consistent with those of the mainstream media in this country, whether publicly funded (eg the ABC) or private such as NewsCorp and Crikey.

    However, others may well wonder why, given the near absolute exclusion of dissenting opinions such as mine from virtually every major media outlet, it’s also necessary to chase such opinions entirely off the web. Is it really about the public interest – or protecting the self-interest of criminals?

  47. Anna Kae

    Respectfully Michael I appreciate that the headline needs to be attention grabbing and also fit within typeset constraints, but to abbreviate his name every single time in the article is unacceptable journalism. This is not a parody piece. There is no excuse for it.

    As for paragraph 12.26 to which you refer on page 301 of the report Dr David Stockwell, on his Niche Modeller blog, did a great math calculation on the ‘arbitrary’ figure of 15,000 which completely highlighted the lack of technical literacy of the contributors to the inquiry.

    Add in Paragraph 11.69
    “11.69 Another aspect of jurisdiction concerns how the News Media Council will exercise its power over all internet publishers. Foreign publishers who have no connection with Australia will be beyond its reach. However, if an internet news publisher has more than a tenuous connection with Australia then carefully drawn legislation would enable the News Media Council to exercise jurisdiction over it. ”
    They are not seriously thinking they can moderate every international hosted blog written by a person with some ‘tenuous’ connection to Australia???

    and hidden most behind that paragraph was intent to go after wikileaks…

    scary stuff imo

  48. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    What Labor might do with the internet is VERY scary given their past record.

    We know that Conroy (and thus Rudd and Gillard) at one stage were trying to ban all x-rated content on the internet.

    We know that Conroy has deliberately misled the public by implying that Refused Classification in the same as illegal to own. (For example, a DVD of ‘World’s best child p*rn’ would be Refused Classification and is illegal to own, but a DVD of ‘Ken Park’ is Refused Classification but is legal to own and view in private – what is not legal is to sell this DVD or show it in public).

    We also know that Conroy pretends that what is Refused Classification (RC) is independent of Government, whereas some of the absurd rules for what must be classified as RC are written by Government (I’m not sure, but if I recall correctly, this list can be altered without it going through parliament). Some of the rules regarding s*x are so silly that what could be shown overseas on an M-rated TV show would be banned in Australia (e.g. rules on breast size – very small are banned, and rules against kinky activities – e.g. spanking).

    And of course we know that Labor include some political and social content as RC – e.g. euthanasia.

    But I’m not sure that the press council is the new threat to the internet because if all they can do is demand apologies and right to reply then that will not prevent any content from being published.

  49. Tom McLoughlin

    For me it has always been about the Big Media being big business, and as such the obligation of all other big and small business to comply with the rule against misleading and deceptive conduct in the course of business. This should include properly identifying what product is “news”, and what is not. That quality control used to include licensing of journalists.

    Incredibly news organisations have to date bullied or brainswashed all the other institutions in society into thinking they can self define what “news” is and their own labelling laws. According to this formula they can call any crap the news and no one can do a damn thing about it. That’s very arrogant power at work there.

    This rule against misleading and deceptve product labelling is a carefully constructed legal norm regarding advertising and product description. A “newspaper” and a “news” service have now lost alot of credibility as to what their “news” product actually is.

    Is the content mere commercial posture/rhetoric like the alleged example above of the non sequitur headline above the reportage of admirable journo Laura Tingle in the AFR?

    Is it thinly disguised political electioneering/destabilisation by a virtual undeclared political party (Murdoch’s corporate dictatorship – benign or otherwise). A variant is running interference for one side or the other (e.g. the Rudd leadership ramp up over 6 months ago).

    Is it cash for comment for present or future advertising accounts (refer Alan Jones scandal).

    Is it indeed masochistic power mongering by folks who have drowned the better angels of their nature in too many late nights on the booze (and other substances) such that destroying people has become a nasty sport?

    I tend to apply the coffee taste test – cafes are legally obliged to sell real coffee. Bakers sell bread. News organisations should be obliged to sell real news or else be obliged to relabel their product as infotainment, fiction, party political, surrealism, whatever, just not news.

    I wouldn’t mind so much if say The Daily Telegraph was relabelled as a comic book – I get a laugh out of it most days. Penberthy was hoot on Sunday projecting the sins of corporate dictatorship onto the government re the NMC. But I never treat it as news. Rather a snapshot of vested interest and what they are up to. People shouldn’t have to spend years of higher education developing the skills to see through blathering, shouting and dishonesty mislabelled as news.

  50. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    @Syd Walker,

    I think you are too hard on The Greens.

    Firstly, no party can be expected to be, for any individual, perfect. I think a true progressive can easily support the majority of Greens policy. Yet how can anyone economically literate support Abbott, and how can any truely progressive person support Labor?

    Also the Greens have a conscience vote on every issue. So if one Green supported internet censorship for example, all of the others could vote against it. And I’m sure Brown’s support for the media report was mainly concerned with the major players – I don’t think it is right to jump to the conclusion that Brown supports small blogs being under it’s mandate.

    I’m probably much more on Bob Brown’s side when it comes to wars than your view. But for now I have no time to get into a discussion on the right or wrong of Syria or Libya.

  51. Brisbane James

    Personally I’d just like to say I find the “Fink” moniker lightly amusing. Nothing more.

    Seems a bit of a mixed bag.

    On the one hand, I’m really sick of facile dogwhistling, opinion and outright Lies being reported as Factual News.

    On the other, setting up a system that can control the expression of someone’s point of view on a blog really does seem Orwellian.

    Is there no sensible middle ground?

    I think there needs to be some kind of Bad Thing that can happen to those journalists who Lie and Steal. Media has an exceptionally priveleged and powerful position in todays “Information Age”, and it needs to be accountable.
    History seems to prove they are not capable of keeping themselves honest.

    Logically someone else needs to keep them to some kind of minimum standard.

    How would it be possible to set up a non-partisan, bias-free regulatory body?
    Who would staff it? How would they be selected? Get a good answer to that problem, and it ought to be applied to many other power-wielding authorities.

    Maybe even as high up as governments themselves!

    Democracy (being the least-worst option, I’m constantly told) isn’t a bad theory I suppose, but when it comes to the topic of media regulation its too close to home: just say those who are to regulate our flow of information need to be elected by the public.
    Then the only ones with a real chance are rich, famous, or BACKED BY THE MEDIA.

    My suggestion would be to populate the council (or tribunal, or whatever) with mentally-competant adults drawn from the census or electoral roll.
    Like Jury duty. Drawn randomly with a visible Lotto ball or similar.

    Joe Average will have his own biases of course, but most citizens do have a modicum of common sense they could apply, and they would hopefully have some professional advice from non-decision-making staffers to help inform their judgements.

    Give them a decent wage, keep tabs on the gifting and other possible ways of influencing them, make them unable to hold another similar position for a time after their term, and try to help them focus on the Responsibility rather than the Power.

    @ Guytaur: it would be great to see Mediawatch find itself irrelevant. That show has been doing a job the rest of the media ought to have been doing themselves for years. Now, where’s its competition? Maybe a show that reaches the audiences that refuse to watch Mediawatch (because of its obvious Aunty Leftwing-Bias(tm)?) but calls out the BS that is regularly served up in our media.
    That might be nice. It probably doesn’t sell advertising time, so it’s not worth making it. A perfect example of how the business of the media diverges from the informing public-good responsibility. News Ltd and Fairfax ought to be quite grateful there are public-funded media organisations, this allows them to concentrate on making money with “Two headed Aliens Stole my Mother for Plutonium-Fuelled Interspecies SEX ROMP!!” stories, instead of the onerous and underpaid task of actual journalism.

  52. mikeb

    @Syd Walker – no you misunderstand. I do not advocate consorship of views – no matter how ridiculous. I do however support the notion that coverage of these views should be proportionate to their merit. It’s like hosting a debate where one party argues that the sun is hot & one party argues that the sun is cold. To give equal weight to both arguments is only adding to the corruption of public intelligence.

  53. Syd Walker

    @Michael Wilbur-Ham

    I have friends still in the Greens and I wish them well. I hope they (and the Greens) can regain the respect of people who care about self-determination and who despise imperialism – positions that used to be the norm in progressive circles, at least until recently.

    It took me ten years to completely lose my faith that the Australian Greens would come good over war and peace issues. My decision to leave was not taken lightly. There is, it seems, a place for a political party in Australia that has progressive environmental views but supports the bombing and invasion of independent nations based on discredited war propaganda. However, my place is not in that party.

    I hear a lot from the Greens leadership about the issue of refugees and much of it is good. But I never once hear mention of the fact that the nations hosting by far the largest number of refugees in our world are Pakistan, Iran and Syria. All three have recently been lambasted by the Greens leadership for one reason or another; never does the HUGE role they place in harbouring the victims of NATO aggression get ANY acknowledgement. That’s just one example of what I regard as the Greens petty-minded, flawed and heavily biased foreign policy.

    You may not have time to discuss Libya and Syria and that’s understandable. No reason why you should. But unfortunately that’s also been the stock response from elected Greens over the course of the last year. Bob Brown finds time to demand the overthrow of Ghadafi and Assad – but no time to explain or justify these bombastic verbal assaults on the leadership of other nations. Of course, he doesn’t need to justify those views in the mass media; no journalists ever ask him probing questions about them. All these “insiders” play the three monkeys game. The grass roots must like it or lump it.


    There is no list of 1,600+ architects and engineers who publicly SUPPORT the official narrative of how three huge skyscrapers collapsed in their own footprint on 9/11 at close to free-fall acceleration. If, therefore, mainstream media coverage of that topic was truly proportionate to the “merit” of views as gauged by publicly-expressed expert opinion, it is the sceptics view that would predominate. Needless to say, the opposite is true.

    You dismiss 9/11 sceptics as “ridiculous”. You’re entitled to your opinion of course, but I’d rather be in the company of Drs Lynn Margulis, Richard Falk, David Ray Griffin and other such outstanding intellects than in your company, whoever you are.

    Abusive words are cheap; heterodox analysis that cuts against the mainstream view takes rather more courage. To date, the crucial issue of what truly happened on 9/11 has NEVER been publicly debated in Australian mainstream media – not for more than a decade (a decade in which a string of new wars and repressive legislative measures were rationalised on the basis of officially-endorsed notions of what did occur on that day).

    If that’s acceptable to you, fine. It is not acceptable to me and to MANY others in Australia. We are, at present, effectively disenfranchised in parliament and wholly unrepresented in the cowardly and conformist mainstream media. Now there’s ANOTHER push to harass the few places we can air these matters of great public importance. Pardon me if we resist. There is, at present, no other habitable planet to which sane people can retire, leaving the rest of you to finish off planet earth with your blinkered mendacity.

  54. mikeb

    @Syd Walker – scepticism is a good thing but when it blindly ignores inconvenient facts and accepts the most outlandish theories then it is no better than dogmatism. Nevertheless this is getting a bit off topic so apologies for any “abusive” connotations and thanks for introducing me to the rather elegant word “heterodox” (I had to look it up).

  55. Arty

    Our military personnel who risk their lives to defend us never-the-less are subject to regulations in that deadly activity.

    Our police forces that some time put their lives in jeopardy are also subject to regulations.

    Why wouldn’t the news publishers who claim to be defending our democracy also suffer some regulation?

  56. Schnappi

    Would have liked to have seen more penalties to make sure murdoch can never do here ,what he did in the UK.
    Charlotte Church got it right,in saying they said sorry,but only meant they were sorry they got caught.

    No way is any murdoch home free,what has transpired the last week has shown police and public service bribes,which if those that are proven,could result with murdoch himself charged in the USA.

  57. guytaur

    Today the Daily Terror showed yet again why regulation is needed. In their continuing campaign of the Car is King (Car related advertising forming a massive part of dwindling advertising revnue) mentality. Their headline trumpets O’Farrell clipping Lord Mayor’s wings on cycleways. Never mind that facts are all traffic proposals like cycleways go through the state government level.
    Proof right there that these reforms are indeed needed. This campaign for cars headline and article could not have happened under these proposed regulation. The factual reporting aspect would have killed it before it started.

  58. Tom McLoughlin

    It’s a stark raving mad publication.

    It will NEVER help solve the unsustainable traffic problem in Sydney. More of the same – it’s brain dead.

    They couldn’t care less that 1,000+ people a year die prematurely in Sydney alone from air pollution due to the million cars sold every year in Australia.

    They couldn’t care less that air pollution fatalities are going up every year. How pathetic of the so called editor.

    By the way the page 1 story was to sideline the bigger story of new bus lane all the way along Victoria Rd which will really cramp cars on tarmac. I know that road too well. Let’s see OFarrell reverse Gladys on that one.

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