"... this is about as minimalist a response as it is possible to get, though perhaps more than one would expect in an election year."But the independent operation set up by Seven West Media after its dummy spit over Disney's reforms to the APC is unlikely to meet the standards in its present form. So Seven West will either have to brave the Privacy Act, reform its self-regulation body or rejoin the Press Council. That’s if Conroy's package is passed, which you would have to say is unlikely. The other thing Conroy ruled out is government funding for industry self-regulation. So all this lifting of standards and improvement of processes has to be financed by the industry. Good luck with that. The self-regulation bodies will be masters of their own destiny within the standards set. There will be no court of appeal, no legal sanction, no risk of editors and journalists going to jail (as was possible under Finkelstein's approach). The role of the Public Interest Advocate in the area of journalism standards is merely to designate which self-regulation bodies meet the standards and which don’t. As for the public interest test on mergers and takeovers, we need the detail to judge. Conroy's words suggest it is not going to be a "fit and proper person test", which is probably what the Greens would like to see, but which history has shown to be both nasty and legalistic in operation. Lots of people seem to have missed the very limited reach of the public interest test. It will cover only PAID services, with more than about 60,000 customers. That means major newspapers and subscription television, and perhaps in the future paid web-based news services with a substantial subscriber base. Crikey, with around 15,000 subscribers, would not be caught, despite its more substantial traffic on the free website. So Crikey could be merged or taken over by News Limited (what a thought) without a public interest test being applied. Probably, the recent sale of Business Spectator to News Limited would not be caught under this regime, because its subscriber numbers were below the necessary level. The Conversation, the Andrew Jaspan-founded not-for-profit, could be bought or merged without falling afoul of public interest tests because it is a free service. So the test will apply only to changes of ownership among the big boys, and not cover all of their interests. All in all, after all the work and controversy, this is about as minimalist a response as it is possible to get, though perhaps more than one would expect in an election year. Most people expected Conroy to do nothing, given the forthcoming election. He has clearly had to work hard to get even this much up, with the big money hard questions -- like the 75% reach rule -- put off for another day. The time limit imposed by Conroy for passage of the bills means that whatever happens, it will not preoccupy during the election. The time limit will also concentrate the minds of the Greens and independents by making it clear this is the most they will achieve for the foreseeable future. The most one can say is that if this is passed -- and that is unlikely -- it is a small pebble in the foundations for any future action, with platform neutral regulation of media standards surely the most obvious thing to remain undone.
Minimalist media reform that only starts the job
Some expected Stephen Conroy to do nothing on media reform in an election year. He's done something -- but it's not much, and it may not pass Parliament anyway. The government's minimalist approach fails to address convergence.