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Jul 23, 2012

Media regulation and Kim Williams

Crikey readers have their say.

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The Walkley Foundation:

Chris Warren, federal secretary, The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (Friday, item 7). Regarding the item on Friday July 20 on the Walkley Foundation’s annual Public Affairs Convention.

People working in public affairs have been members of our union for about as long as our union has existed. As part of the services we provide to our members in this sector, this is the 13th Public Affairs conference hosted by the Walkley Foundation on behalf of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance offering professional development for members of the Media Alliance.

Many public affairs professionals are members of the Media Alliance, including many who’ve worked as journalists in the mainstream media, and support the professional representation that the Media Alliance offers. Indeed, the veteran quoted in the item can probably rattle off the names of dozens of colleagues who now work in public affairs.

As members of the Media Alliance, public affairs professionals are entitled to representation and professional development opportunities. We encourage their membership of the union so that they continue to adhere to our code of ethics just as good journalists are able to work professionally with public relations professionals without compromising their ethical responsibilities.

It is surprising that Crikey did not contact either the Walkley Foundation or the Media Alliance before this item appearing, particularly as Crikey was represented on a panel at the Public Affairs conference only the night before.

Media regulation:

David Salter writes: Re. “Kim Williams: understanding the principles of broadcast law” (Friday, item 15). It’s flattering that News Limited CEO Kim Williams should set aside so much of his time to respond to my brief critique of his recent speech on media regulation to the Press Club in Adelaide. But how disappointing to discover that rather than rebut the arguments, he prefers to employ the same straw-man debating tricks the newspapers he runs have been trotting out in their editorials.

Railing against phantom threats to “free speech” doesn’t convince anyone with a solid grasp of how the newspaper business works in this country. Willfully misrepresenting my position was just lame. So, for the record:

  • Spectrum is no longer a “scarce public resource” as Williams claims. There are hundreds of channels available and they appear and disappear almost at will. As the former boss of Foxtel, he knows that. In any case, the licensing of radio and TV has nothing to do with the principle of enforceable content standards. My argument is simply that if content regulation has always been acceptable to the electronic media, why not for print?
  • Of course I have read the Finkelstein Report (plus some of its submissions). It is no threat to press freedom or democracy because none of its recommendations will ever come to pass as law. The inquiry was a political sop to the Greens, who wanted to grandstand and bully the government into some formal response to the UK phone-hacking scandal. Invoking the Finkelstein bogeyman is a transparent scare tactic designed with the hope of also sweeping away the far more realistic regulatory proposals in the Convergence Review.
  • I do not “conflate” democratic accountability with media accountability. My point is that these obligations are mutual and interdependent. If the press want to anoint themselves as the unfettered guardians of our democracy by demanding accountability from everyone else, then they must be truly accountable themselves — and not hide behind the flimsy veil of toothless self-regulation.
  • I offered no “lay” legal assertions of my own. Rather, I quoted Professor George Williams, an acknowledged expert on constitutional law. He believes any High Court challenge to a reasonable system of government-backed media regulation would have “little chance of success”.

The bottom line of this whole debate is that in the event the government decides to propose any legislation before the next election (let alone have it passed by both houses of parliament), its content standard provisions are likely to be little more than a re-statement of the same standards the print media have already set for themselves through the MEAA code of ethics and the Press Council “principles”.

But that’s precisely what Kim Williams and his News Limited editors fear: being required to actually play by their own professed rules.  ­

Yemen:

Rod MacQueen writes: Re. “Rundle: Yemen’s multiple proxy wars a recipe for a famine” (Friday, item 10). It’s bit rich to even mention khat as a contributor to Yemen’s food problems. I have no idea how much is grown there, but am aware that for years many Western countries have tried to demonise this drug and its users. That way, all that follows is their own fault. Most sensible analysts suggest khat use is pretty much like coffee, matte, or tea. It peps people up, and perhaps makes life and starvation more tolerable.

No doubt some people do overuse it, just like some in the West overdo the caffeine. Not much to do with all the wars, and tribal conflict though. Most use is local as the psychoactive component deteriorates within days of picking, so there’s little chance for it to become a globally traded commodity. Still, we had better demonise it, just to be sure.

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