Newsagents:

Bernard Keane writes: Re. “Wayne versus the lizard people: the secret history of illegitimate power” (Tuesday, item 1). On Tuesday I included newsagents along with pharmacists as examples of groups “inviolate from competition policy”.

Mark Fletcher of the Newsagency Blog points out that newsagents haven’t been protected from competition since 1999. Indeed. Sloppy work from me — my apologies.

Finkelstein:

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “Mayne: not perfect, but plenty to embrace from the Fink” (yesterday, item 3). Stephen Mayne’s argument displays much confusion over proposed media regulation from the Finkelstein Review.

He admits that Shane Warne’s tweets should not be covered, even though Warnie does occasionally sound off on current affairs to his 700,000 followers. However, Stephen argues that a blog with 10,000 page-views per month should be covered — even though this would include my blog, which is a part-time writing hobby that costs me less than 200 bucks a year and has reached a couple thousand unique-users in its two-month, 40,000 page-view life.

How do you judge that my blog should be regulated but Warnie’s tweets should not?  And where should it end?  Finkelstein does not address newsletters or direct mail campaigns or public speaking or YouTube videos or even just the content of websites such as Greenpeace or the Lowy Institute. If a lowly blog is regulated, then logic follows that eventually they’ll be regulated too.

The simple answer is that governments should not regulate any media that do not use public resources and have low barriers to entry. TV and radio use public spectrum so they must be licensed and governments can legitimately enforce certain standards. Blogs and the print industry have low or no barriers to entry and use no public property, so neither should be regulated.

They must all abide by common restrictions on free speech (defamation, copyright, etc) but the public marketplace of ideas is where they should be judged, not by a bunch of “non-partisan” (yeah, right) panel members made up of “media experts” … groan.

Nicholas Whitlam writes: There is one further issue, however — naming the offenders. In my experience those agenda-driven journalists who misrepresent the truth are serial offenders. Yet they are rarely named.

So, whatever reforms come out of this debate, I would argue that the journalists who are the subject of any adverse decision should be identified in any correction/apology; that goes for the editors too.

Dorothy Dixers:

Alexandra Penfold writes: Re. “OurSay: euthanasia — and get rid of Dixers, Bandt says” (yesterday, item 5). Leaving euthanasia to one side, Adam Bandt and Gerard Henderson have something in common.

Some time ago there was an evening at The Sydney Institute with Treasurer Wayne Swan as the guest speaker. After his speech, one Alexandra Penfold put a Dorothy Dixer to the treasurer. Henderson jumped up aghast at the Dixer and declared it couldn’t be answered and gave various reasons. As Henderson was drawing to a close, Swan smiled and said he would like to answer the question and proceeded to do so. (The $11 billion Coalition black hole).

Afterwards, Henderson took to the mic and sternly announced that history had just been created twice at The Sydney Institute. First, a Dorothy Dixer had never been asked before at the hallowed SI and secondly one had never been answered before. A short burst of history, Henderson said, and one that will never be repeated here again.

Great Barrier Reef:

Joe Boswell writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). Your Great Barrier Reef industry insider made some interesting points about the Marine Park Authority’s “reef tax” or tourist EMC, due to go up to $6/day per person this April, but, “Instead, because reef tourism is obviously hurting from the slump in tourism in Australia, it will go down to $3.50/day in April. Good stuff to support the tourism industry, which is important economically and to promote the beauty of the reef.”

Actually, this is nuts. The theory behind such levies, which fund a variety of government agencies, is that the levy more or less reflects the cost of regulating each levy-payer and so the agency’s total income automatically adjusts with the demands placed on it. By reducing the reef tax per person when the number of tourists go down the ability of the agency to do its job must be compromised.

If the government feels like subsidising tourism, it should do it some other way or at the very least make good the agency’s shortfall by a direct grant. On the other hand, if the government thinks reef tourists are over-regulated, it should tell the Marine Park Authority to do less and not pretend the cut is a response to the fall in tourism.

Peter Fray

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