Joel Fitzgibbon isn’t the only one using A Current Affair’s mishandling of the Craig Thomson sex worker story to call for greater regulation of the media and privacy laws. There are plenty of critics on social media who think it’s further evidence of the compelling case for tighter regulation.

Fitzgibbon has a point on privacy legislation. There was a brief flurry in the aftermath of the phone hacking scandal last year when Brendan O’Connor as Privacy Minister released a discussion paper on a statutory right to privacy. But since then the issue sunk without trace under Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, who instead busied herself with some marginal protections on issues like credit reports.

The media, of course, remains profoundly hostile to the idea of the community having legal protections against having their privacy breached, although it has been unable to offer any justification beyond a nebulous claim that free speech is under threat. And the rank hypocrisy of some sections of the media on the issue is profound, particularly from News Limited which fought tooth and nail to stop the public release of a report critical of The Australian, and which attacked The Age for revealing the extent to which political parties accumulate private information about voters.

Australia’s Right To Know, it seems, only exists when it’s convenient for media outlets.

Nonetheless, the behaviour of ACA doesn’t reflect the general standard of media in Australia and shouldn’t be the justification for imposing tighter regulation. This is an area in which we must tread carefully. Politicians cannot be trusted to have any role in regulating the media — as is plain from the history of media ownership legislation in Australia.

But there is a strong case for a more effective regulator, whether split between newspapers and broadcaster media as is now the case, or operating across all media, with sufficient powers so the community believes there is genuine accountability for journalists, editors, producers and media executives who flagrantly breach community expectations and standards.

Currently, the community appears to have little faith that there is proper accountability for the media. That is the first and most obvious problem to address.

*As dutiful monarchists revelling in the royal celebratory year, Crikey won’t be publishing this Queen’s Birthday Monday. Normal transmission resumes on Tuesday.

Peter Fray

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