As the phone-hacking scandal broke in the United Kingdom in 2011, pressure was brought to bear on local publishers. The Australian government took to regularly criticising the media and reserved particular ire for News Limited, as it was then known. An inquiry was set up to look into how the Australian media was regulated, and it proposed a new media council — a government-funded, central arbiter of ethics and morality in the press.
In the midst of this came a stirring defence from publishers about the adequacy and importance of the self-regulation regime headed, in print, by the Australian Press Council.
Publishers have never had an easy relationship with the APC. The Australian, in particular, could never really be described as a fan. But it has, in the past, been far more complimentary. Here’s some of what was said then in its pages, and here’s some of what’s said now.
On Seven West Media’s decision to leave the Press Council to form its own complaints body. Opinion piece by columnist Mark Day, April 9, 2012:
“Seven West Media’s decision to quit the Australian Press Council is a disservice to the rest of the publishing industry. Unity is a valuable commodity at a time when regulatory reform is on everybody’s mind and the decision destroys that value…
“SWM says it plans to set up its own internal complaints resolution processes to ensure that its publications are accountable to the public. It says this will be an independent process, but that’s an oxymoron. It can’t be and the mind boggles at how it might deal effectively with some past examples of ethically challenged behaviour by New Idea.”
On the same topic. Australian editorial, August 9, 2014:
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“It may now be time to consider a new body along the lines of Western Australia’s Independent Media Council, whose rulings are fair, clear, swift and sensitive to readers’ interests and community standards. The nation does not need a censor-in-chief or emperor of taste.”
On the Press Council’s chairman Julian Disney. Opinion piece by then national affairs editor Mike Steketee, July 16, 2011:
“Disney, a professor and director of the social justice project at the University of NSW, is nobody’s puppet; something he demonstrated in previous positions, including as president of the Australian Council of Social Service. Paul Keating once excluded him from a meeting because of his criticism of government policies.”
On the same man. Opinion piece by deputy editor Peter Fray, August 16, 2014:
“Someday I’d like to meet the journalist who once misquoted Julian Disney (or ran over his cat) because, futile as it now is to note, he or she didn’t say sorry nearly enough. Or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered: perhaps Disney, with his distinguished record of social activism, always hoped to make a name for himself by taming the press … Under Disney’s avuncular, academic looks lives an old-school social engineer.”
On the desirability of a robust Press Council. Opinion piece by then-media editor Stephen Brook, May 1, 2012:
“The fact is we can do better than ACMA, which recently thrashed radio bad boy Kyle Sandilands with a wet lettuce, and the anaemic Australian Press Council, which is fast muscling up after a funding injection.”
On the same topic. Australian editorial, August 14 2014:
“Under activist chairman Julian Disney, a community agitator and interferer from way back, the APC has tried to extend its brief to justify its existence. In doing so, it has become a laughing stock in the industry, unwilling to pursue its original mission and hopelessly skewed in its deliberations and judgments.”