May 18, 2012

Ricketson to media: you’ve had your chance on self-regulation

One of the authors of the independent Finkelstein media inquiry says the Convergence Review's method of regulating the media won't work because non-compliant media companies can't be forced to join self-regulatory bodies.

Andrew Dodd

Media lecturer and journalist

One of the authors of the independent Finkelstein media inquiry says the Convergence Review's method of regulating the media won't work because non-compliant media companies can't be forced to join self-regulatory bodies. Professor Matthew Ricketson, who assisted Ray Finkelstein QC on the five-month-long review of news media standards, also attacked the mainstream media for overreacting, misreporting and completely failing to cover major aspects of the inquiry. Speaking at the University of Melbourne last night, Ricketson suggested this "tribal" coverage has undermined public confidence in the inquiry's principal finding that greater regulation of the news media industry is required. A recurring theme in the media's coverage since the report was released in late February has been its attacks on Finkelstein's call for a News Media Council to set standards and handle complaints about news reporting. Commentators have railed against the idea that the media, and especially newspapers, should be forced to comply with a government-funded statutory body. While this recommendation was central to Finkelstein’s report it was rejected by the recent Convergence Review, which said such a measure should be a "last resort" and that larger media outlets should be obliged to join a self-regulatory body instead. But Ricketson's personal view is the Convergence Review's approach is not an alternative because it fails to explain how media outlets would be compelled to join a self-regulatory body and address the media's antipathy about government funding. "In other words, they [the Convergence Review committee] seem to arrive at pretty much the same conclusion as Mr Finkelstein but choose not to take the step that the logic of his position requires," he said last night. Ricketson cited West Australian Newspapers' recent decision to withdraw from the Press Council as proof that forcing media companies to comply with a self-regulatory body is fraught. He also accused media critics of failing to think beyond their initial anger at being targeted for an inquiry because of the News of the World scandal in the UK. The response from News Corporation was to "react tribally to any suggestion of government interference in press freedom". "To take these positions and stick with them no matter what means closing your mind to the substantive issues of failure of media performance and lack of genuine accountability, which is what too many people in the industry have been doing for too long," Ricketson said. The former Fairfax reporter's most cogent criticism of the media was this:
"The sub-text of the report is to call this for what it is -- a charade. It says to the industry: you have sound standards of journalistic practice that you say you believe in and you have had 35 years to make a success of the self-regulatory system for dealing with complaints about these standards and you haven’t -- and you seem to be content with that situation. So, you've had your chance. If you won't do it you have left us with little choice but to recommend some means of making it work and in your absence that someone will have to be government. "But, really guys, it shouldn't be too big a deal: all we are recommending is that you adhere to your own standards and that when you fall short of them there is a prompt means of righting that wrong."
Ricketson listed several aspects of the report that were not covered by the media. These included the bald statement by Finkelstein on the first day of the hearings that he was not remotely interested in licensing the press because it was akin to a government decree on who is able to publish news. Finkelstein said this "is as close as going back to the Dark Ages as you could find" because it represents "probably as extreme an encroachment on news dissemination as you could get". Despite this clear statement of intent, commentators continued to run the line that the inquiry was determined to introduce heavy-handed regulation of the press. "What they [the mainstream media] have done is to under-report a lot of what was presented to the independent media inquiry late last year, and to either misreport the inquiry’s findings or to ignore large parts of the report altogether," he said. The inquiry received around 10,600 submissions, of which 762 expressed dissatisfaction with the news media and only four expressed satisfaction -- although it should be noted the vast majority of the submissions were channelled by the online advocacy groups Avaaz and NewsStand. And what of the coverage by other media outlets? According to Ricketson the "smaller independent news websites such as Crikey and New Matilda and some individual blogs covered the inquiry in detail and with a good deal of care". *Disclaimer: Andrew Dodd has written a chapter in the new book Australian Journalism Today, edited by Matthew Ricketson

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

14 thoughts on “Ricketson to media: you’ve had your chance on self-regulation

  1. John64

    What does the media really need to report though? I just googled “Finkelstein media inquiry” and the entire pdf came up as the second result. If I really gave a damn, I could read the thing myself. If I don’t care so much but am interested in the media, then chances are I’m a member of some internet forum or facebook group that discusses these things and someone will take out the relevant quotes for me.

    And if I don’t care, chances are, I just don’t care.

  2. shepherdmarilyn

    Chances are that our media here are so dreadful we don’t bother to read any of it.

  3. Michael de Angelos

    Imagine if electricians demanded to self regulate!. The howls from the media would be deafening.

    Don’t forget the British Press Council (with more teeth than our pathetic lot) castigated Nick Davies and The Guardian in 2009 for exposing the sorry mess in the UK, and claimed it was all an exageration.

    And the lovely Sky News that demanded Brown debate Cameron and then set him up in the studio with bad lighting and kept crossing to scowling audience faces with News Ltd newspapers screaming that Cameron had won decisivley whilst perplexed radio radio listeners said the opposite. It’s said to have cost 3 seats.

    Do not trust the media. What is needed also is a defamation tribunal which ordinary people to access.

  4. Recalcitrant.Rick

    I love the delicious irony that their own failure to report the Finkelstein inquiry truthfully and accurately might be the trigger that prompts the formation of the regulatory body. One can only hope! Whatever happened to “without fear or favour”?

  5. klewso

    Self-regulate narcissism and conceit? We’ve see what too many of them do with that.

  6. Bernie Woiwod

    What surprises me is that anyone is surprised that the media does not honestly report the facts of the findings of the Finkelstein report.
    We have seen it constantly in recent years. The media keeps saying the Government is not getting its message to the electorate but it is also making sure that the message does not get through.
    I am not referring to Crikey with that comment. (:

    [email protected]

  7. Ned Sarko

    A sloppy reporter and barrow pusher, Ricketson complains of sloppy reporting and barrow pushing. Funny.

  8. klewso

    Bernie – while the media runs the static through which that “message” has to penetrate – of their own opinions.

  9. Syd Walker

    I’m deeply interested in the media and its evolution, so this was one inquiry to which I decided to make a submission. I put it on my website so anyone can check it out: Google for “40 points for Australia’s Independent Inquiry into Media” (Oct 2011).

    I received a formal acknowledgement, but nothing else. I wasn’t called to present to the inquiry during its hearings. My submission wasn’t mentioned in its findings. Not surprising, perhaps. They received a lot of submissions, after all.

    I then noticed my submission wasn’t even listed on the Department of Communications webpage. I called to ask why, and put the request for an explanation in writing. I’ve heard nothing back since. That was months ago. A follow up email was also ignored…

    If this was just about my ego it would be one thing. But my motivation to ensure my submission was actually read is driven by concern that it raised issues not canvassed in other commentary on this topic, as far as I’m aware – issues I believe should be discussed. As it is, we have what I regard as a stilted debate between people defending the utterly indefensible (the status quo – backed by big private media in this country) and people proposing the utterly unworkable (Finkelstein, Ricketson and the bevy of media ‘experts’ who spoke out its support of its main proposal when it was first published).

    I’ve blogged about this in “Come in No 12! Taking a Megaphone to Australia’s Finkelstein debate” (March 2012) – just so there’s a record for posterity. In this case, I share the defensiveness of right wing / mainstream media critics of Finkelstein: I think his proposals are way too intrusive and effectively unworkable. But my greatest problem of all was Finkelstein proposes his publicly-funded complaints procedure is extended to small blogsites such as my own. That’s burdensome for most small self-publishers.

    But it’s what is MISSING from the Australian mass media at present – and from the debate about reforming it – that’s of greatest concern to me. It’s still missing, judging by this article by Ricketson and the responses so far. This is the nub of it (my point no 12 in my original submission):

    “The public myth is of a fiercely competitive media environment, in which journalists vie to rush out the truth to the public. This process doubtless operates to some extent. Of equal if not greater importance…. is the tendency of journalists – across institutions and companies and even including paid free-lancers – to form consensus about news value, both positive and negative. Competition drives the news process – but collegiate conformity sets its boundaries… The mass media, en bloc, has utterly failed to provide fair and honest coverage of credible, evidence-based perspectives on very important issues – to an extent that merits the term censorship.”

    That is the subject that unites News Corp and Finkelstein, with all points in between from Wendy Bacon to Julie Possetti, Stephen Conroy to Bob Brown). No-one “in the business” seems to want to discuss that. Perhaps it’s their “business to help ensure it isn’t discussed?

    I have no idea if Professor Ricketson was even made aware is my submission to the Finklestein Inquiry, let alone read it. If he did, I’d appreciate some kind of reply – if not to me in person, at least to the key ideas it canvasses. And before we get too carried away supporting bureaucrats regulating free speech in this country, could the Communication’s Department’s own staff please explain the workings of their own Memory Hole. Why can’t they even reply to letters from members of the interested public? Do they simply trash submissions they don’t agree with? Or if my submission wasn’t listed because it was deemed “offensive” in some way, could they please inform me on what grounds. It might help me (and others) appreciate better the type of censorship regime they propose to run, long-term. I think I may have an inkling… but I’d like them to put it in writing.

  10. izatso?

    as in, when something is to be proposed, and the expected reaction unfavourable, set the proposal even higher, so that ( after the hue and cry is over) the inevitable watering down settles at that originally proposed …… ? obviously this can be inverted. can someone put this in better words, with examples, please ?

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details