"The report has laid down a clear challenge for the publishers. If they wish to avoid regulation by the new body ... they would need to guarantee substantially improved financial support for the Press Council. They also would need to accept measures aimed at providing the council with due independence from them and to cooperate with strengthening its powers to remedy media mistakes."So that’s the option.There is good reason to suspect that the will to implement the Fink report might be weak, given that the government would face opposition from the media proprietors in the lead-up to an election. On the other hand, both Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Prime Minister Julia Gillard have invested considerable political capital in the process so far. And the media is, as the Fink demonstrates, in a crisis of public trust. Nevertheless, what the Fink has done is effectively given a picture of what the future is likely to look like, if the media doesn’t reverse the trend of decades and get serious about its own self-regulation. So a possible outcome of this report will be a strengthened Australian Press Council, which in time will be expanded to cover all media, probably with a change of name. That would be the best outcome. I hope to see it occur. Some points around the edges. I was disappointed that the question of extra measures to encourage new media start-ups were canvassed but not decided by the Fink. He has hand-passed all these questions to a future Productivity Commission review. Understandable, given the ridiculous deadline the Fink had to meet. But a Productivity Commission report will take years, even if it occurs, and in the meantime the situation will get worse. The Fink mentions a string of media start-ups in recent times, saying "Among the most important such websites that have grown up in Australia over the last decade are Inside Story, Australian Policy Online, Online Opinion, The Drum, The Conversation, and New Matilda." He does not seem to realise that none of these (with the probable exception of The Drum and The Conversation) are at present sustainable, resting as they do on the passion and dedication of overworked individuals and uncertain funding from philanthropists and stretched universities. Yet they, and a raft of other start-ups, might be able to achieve sustainability if they could access hubs of skills, ideas and research on issues such as the sale of advertising and business management. Such hubs are encouraged and fostered by government in other industries. Urgent action in this area could make a real difference to media futures in Australia. The Fink team’s lack of understanding of new media is also evident in the eye-popping suggestion that websites and bloggers that achieve more than 15,000 "hits" a year should be caught up in the regulatory regime. I assume this figure was meant to be an indication of audience size, but of course "hits" are not this. Each web page can cause many "hits" to be recorded. But even if we assume he meant to say unique browsers or page views, it is still an extraordinary suggestion. Quite apart from the desirability of capturing just about every organisation in Australia’s web page (just about all organisations these days are, after all, media organisations in some sense) the sheer amount of work involved would swamp any council. Not to mention that monitoring the number of "hits" unique browsers or page views would be next to impossible, leading to endless debates about jurisdiction and measurement techniques. And what about Facebook pages and Twitter feeds that give news or opinions on the news? How would they be monitored and treated? Three thousand followers and you’re in? The only sensible way of managing bloggers and others is an opt-in or opt-out system with statutory incentives so strong that it would be stupid for serious practitioners not to join up. This was recommended in many submissions to the Fink. Under this system, those who wanted exemptions from the Privacy Act or protection of sources would have to sign up to the regulatory regime. It is not clear to me why the Fink rejected this approach. Moving on, how likely is it that the Fink’s report will lead to improvements? There are some reasons for optimism, but the media’s own conduct over the past three days is not among them. Judge the bias of most media reporting of the Fink from the fact that on Saturday former Australian Press Council chair David Flint got about 10 times the column centimetres than current APC chair Julian Disney. Flint, no matter what the weight of his thoughts, is a figure from the past -- but he agrees with media proprietors in opposing the Fink’s recommendations. Disney was clearly influential on the Fink, and will be a key player in the aftermath of the report. His opinions were backed by two other former APC chairs. Flint was out on his own. But Flint gets the airplay. Where have the news values gone?
Simons: I don’t like media inquiry’s call on enforced self-regulation
There is a point of view, represented in many of the submissions to the Fink, that the bad things about a free media are simply something we must put up with, in order not to throw out the free press baby with shitty bathwater of media misconduct.