Elsewhere in Crikey, that well-known firm of media consultants Keane, Simons & Associates have been tackling the larger issues they see as arising from the Convergence Review committee’s final report released on Monday by Minister for Communications Stephen Conroy.
To my mind, they’re taking the whole thing much too seriously.
You can judge the quality of a cake from any slice. As a measure of what a muddle-headed document this report truly is, let’s take a look at just one section — the pages dealing with the crucial issue of news and commentary content standards and how they should be regulated.
The three-member committee has produced proposals that are about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike. Herewith, in their own words, (and good luck if you’re trying to follow the logic), is the essence of their thinking, and what they suggest should happen:
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“The Convergence Review has adopted a deregulatory approach and therefore proposes the self-regulatory structure for all news and commentary.”
That’s it. Fait accompli. No serious acknowledgment of the (admittedly problematic) case for regulation by government authority. The terms “deregulatory” and “self-regulatory” are repeatedly used in the report without explanation or justification.
“The Review has concluded that a media industry scheme with an independent governance structure is the most effective way of promoting standards, adjudicating on complaints, and providing timely remedies.”
Yet in the same section they claim the reason for proposing their “new” content standards system is that the old self-regulatory model hasn’t worked. Solution? Another self-regulatory model, but with absurd exclusions that undermine whatever effectiveness it might have.
“Sanctions for failure to meet standards should be meaningful and credible.”
But they decline to specify any such sanction other than a requirement to publish corrections with “appropriate” prominence — a sanction that already applies (and is largely ignored) within the current print self-regulation regime.
“The proposed news standards body would be independent of government. Government would not dictate its form, structure and operation.”
So the government, as the representative of the people, is to have no say whatsoever in setting content standards or the way they are to be maintained? Why bother at all?
“Membership of the news standards body could be a condition of retaining legal privileges currently provided for news and commentary in Commonwealth legislation.”
This would, of course, be utterly unenforceable. See you in the High Court.
“Once this scheme has operated for a period of time, the government can determine whether self-regulation is working or whether further measures should be considered.”
In other words, if our scheme turns out to be a complete dud, someone else will have to sort out the mess we’ve created. It would be difficult to imagine a more feeble cop-out.
Indeed, the committee was so timid in its approach to contend standards that rather than tackle the difficult question of how the ABC and SBS would be regulated within their proposed system, they simply left them out. But why should the required standards and mechanisms of compliance be different for broadcasters and online journalists just because they’re on the government payroll? (And how can the committee claim to be creating a system that operates fairly “across all platforms” and then exclude such a powerful cross-media entity as the ABC?)
Yet the most ludicrous aspect of the review’s model is its notion that around a third of the new self-regulator’s budget would be provided by the taxpayer. This is rather like suggesting that the Mafia should get government funding to help regulate organised crime.
There is, however, a certain grand futility to this whole exercise. If Labor decides to follow up on the review’s proposals, they — like all governments — will cherry-pick only those few recommendations that suit their short-term ends. As already noted elsewhere, federal politics is too fraught at the moment for them to risk anything that might raise the hackles of the proprietors.
In any case, this is much ado about nothing. Changes of such magnitude require the endless deliberations of departmental and inter-departmental committees and working groups. Then the parliamentary drafting office needs another solid stretch of time to turn the ideas into carefully-worded legislation. After that there’s more consultation before cabinet even considers a bill.
By then we’re likely to have had a federal election, a change of government — and Labor’s entire legislative program will be in the dumpster.