Get Fact: media on media reform. The legislation outlining the most contentious aspect of the Gillard government’s media reforms — the creation of a Public Interest Media Advocate to oversee self-regulation schemes — was released last Thursday morning. A mere 17 pages long, and written in plain English, it takes around 10 minutes to read. Yet much of the reporting on what it contains has been dead wrong. Take veteran media commentator Mark Day. In his column in The Australian today, Day states:

“The PIMA [Public Interest Media Advocate] would have the capacity to impose a sanction on any company it decided was acting outside the standards set by self-regulatory bodies such as the Australian Press Council. It could deny journalists working for that company the protections of being exempted from privacy laws.”

But it’s just not so. As Crikey explained on Friday, the PIMA’s authority relates to self-regulation bodies (such as The Australian Press Council), not individual media companies. The PIMA would be able to revoke a self-regulator’s approved status if he or she felt the body was not up to scratch. In the case of the Press Council, this would mean all member organisations (including News Limited, Fairfax Media and Private Media, the publisher of Crikey) would lose their exemption to the Privacy Act.

In The Australian Financial Review today, Ben Holgate, quoting media law experts, writes that “the PIMA [would have] the power to issue a ‘punitive sanction’ if a newspaper publisher refused to act on an order by the self-regulatory body to publish a correction”. He then writes that the PIMA would be able to “force the self-regulatory body to expel the publisher as a member for not complying with a correction order”.

The legislation, however, makes no reference to punitive sanctions on individual media outlets. Nor does it allow the PIMA to “force” a self-regulator to expel a member. The PIMA’s authority relates to approving, rejecting or revoking the status of media self-regulation bodies.

The Press Council would, indeed, be able to expel members for not publishing corrections or bringing it into disrepute. This does not represent a change to the current system: the APC can already expel members, as explained in its submission to the Finkelstein inquiry. The difference is that expulsion currently has little or no deterrent effect for publishers. Under Conroy’s laws it would be the outlets which don’t belong to a self-regulatory body that would lose their exemption to the Privacy Act, making it extremely difficult to do investigative journalism.

You don’t have to take our word for it. If you’re interested in the proposed reforms, it’s well worth taking a look at the actual legislation before delving into the commentary that surrounds it. — Matthew Knott

ABC journos in Sunday Tele stunt. A News Limited stunt ensnared some innocent TV journalists yesterday in the group’s hysterical reaction to Labor’s proposed media law changes. A Sunday Telegraph splash had the 32 “most trusted TV faces” apparently united in their “passion for news and current affairs” — as well as “concerns about the government’s controversial media reforms” (it was a follow-up to a similar feature for the 18 leading women in TV the paper ran in February) …

But when the newsmen posed they had no idea they’d be used to back the paper’s stance. It snared journos from the ABC and SBS — aghast at being associated with the anti-government line — and ignored journos who actually spoke in favour of reform and were critical of News’ treatment. The ABC’s Michael Rowlands took to The Drum today to reveal the extent of the stunt:

“The paper, planning to run the story on Sunday, approached the ABC and the other networks wanting some extra quotes from the presenters involved. Specifically it wanted to know our views on the federal government’s contentious media reforms.

“Fair enough. It had been one of the biggest stories of the week and The Telegraph was within its rights to seek the views of some of the country’s most prominent TV news figures. Our comments were sent off and we all thought nothing more of it. Then the bomb dropped on Sunday morning.

“There we were on page 9 laughing and joking in one of Justin Lloyd’s great photos but the headline above screamed: “The Men Of TV Vent Free Speech Outrage”. Readers could easily be forgiven for thinking we had, as the paper put it, ‘united to share their… concerns about the government’s controversial media reforms’. Except, well, no we hadn’t.”

The online version has a caption that states simply “all concerned about media reforms”. But as Rowland records, two Network Ten journos featured are miffed. Hamish Macdonald said on Twitter the Tele “never asked for a quote and I never gave one”. And not surprisingly comments from Hugh Riminton — that the reforms “deserve a proper debate” and “some of the media reporting has been so over the top it becomes ridiculous and self-defeating” — weren’t run. ABC 7.30 political editor Chris Uhlmann did criticise the timing of the legislation in the article:

“In 2006 Labor attacked the Howard government for limiting debate on its media bills to three weeks. So how is it reasonable to set a one-week deadline on a bill that imposes government regulation of the press for the first time?”

And SBS reader Anton Enus was put forward as a dissenter of sorts:

“SBS World News Australia presenter Anton Enus said he believed freedom of speech was not under threat because, ultimately, ‘in a democracy like ours, the public would never stand for it’.”

But others at the ABC — including Joe O’Brien, Peter Wilkins and Jeremy Fernandez — and SBS journalist Ricardo Goncalves probably felt used when they opened their paper yesterday.

Ellen delay a greatest hit. US talk show queen Ellen DeGeneres is sick in bed, delaying her much-hyped Australian trip until next week. Unfortunately, New Idea didn’t know that when it sent the current edition to the printers …

Video of the day. Speaking of News Limited’s campaign against media regulation reform, never underestimate how strong the feeling is among some News hacks. Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Ackerman practically screamed at the federal government — and his fellow laughing panellists — on the ABC’s Insiders yesterday in a performance that will rank as the program’s scariest …