Oz Blog News Commentary

Social responsibility of media organisations

April 22, 2019 - 15:43 -- Admin

There is a regulatory
agency called the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission
(CRTC)1, which is an administrative tribunal that regulates and
supervises broadcasting and telecommunications in the public interest. In the
first decade of this century, this organisation had been considering revoking
or relaxing the rule on ‘prohibited programming content’ that includes ‘broadcasting
false or misleading news’. The CRTC withdrew the plan when a legislative
committee determined that the rule does not run counter to the Canadian Charter
of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees press freedoms2. Despite
the fact that the rule had never been invoked, there was some unfounded suspicion
that the reason it was not revoked was because of the public outcry over the idea
that Sun TV3  was going to be
an eventual Canadian version of the US’s Fox News. Indeed, some wags called the
Sun TV proposal ‘Fox News North’2. Canada dodged a bullet, and Sun
TV went bust in 20153.

There have also been
rumours for a decade or so, stating that Fox News is banned in Canada because
of this truth in journalism legislation, but that is not the case. The CRTC regulations
only apply to Canadian broadcasters using Canadian airwaves. The regulations do
not apply to Fox News which is a non-Canadian entity transmitting via satellite
and cable, and is not broadcast to the public. Murdoch was denied permission to
establish Fox News Canada in 2003 due to Canadian laws regarding foreign
ownership of print and broadcast media, but did allow him to include it in
cable and satellite services4.

In response to the
disgusting behaviour of the Murdoch media in the phone-hacking scandal in the UK,
the then Gillard Labor government instituted the Independent Media Inquiry,
headed by Raymond Finkelstein QC, former judge of the Federal Court. To assist
in the preparation of the report, Professor of Journalism, Matthew Ricketson
was appointed6. The terms of reference comprised the following:

  • The effectiveness of the current media codes of
    practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological change that is
    leading to the migration of print media to digital and online platforms.
  • The impact of this technological change on the
    business model that has supported the investment by traditional media
    organisations in quality journalism and the production of news, and how such
    activities can be supported, and diversity enhanced, in the changed media
  • Ways of substantially strengthening the independence
    and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including in relation to
    online publications, and with particular reference to the handling of
  • Any related issues pertaining to the ability of the
    media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the
    public interest6.

The report recommended that a News Media Council be
established to set journalistic standards for the news media in consultation
with industry, and handle complaints made by the public when those standards
are breached. The News Media Council should chart trends in the industry, and
particularly to see whether there will be a serious decline in the production
of quality journalism. The report found that an area requiring especially
careful monitoring is the adequacy of news services in regional areas6.

Matthew Ricketson
wrote an article for the ABC in 2012, which argued that the most persuasive argument
for the need to reform regulation of the news media was in fact the reporting
of the Independent Media Inquiry itself by the mainstream news media. He stated
that they have under-reported much of what was presented to the Inquiry and either
misreported the Inquiry’s findings or ignored larger parts of the report
altogether. On the other hand, some of the smaller news sites such as Crikey
and New Matilda and some bloggers reported the Inquiry accurately and in detail6.

I’ll just stick with
newspapers for the purposes of the remainder of this article, otherwise it
would become too long. It almost goes without saying that some of the most
strident criticism of the Inquiry’s report appeared in Murdoch’s Australian,
which published three editorials and 12 opinion pieces criticising it (three
other opinion pieces were not critical). Unsurprisingly, one of the opinion
pieces ludicrously likened the proposed News Media Council to the Reich Press
Chamber in Hitler’s Germany, and Mark Day, the Australian’s media writer
described the Inquiry’s report as an ‘academic wank’. The major print media
companies News Limited, Fairfax and West Australian Newspapers maintained that
if they were printing rubbish then people would simply stop reading. Ricketson
opined that if it was that simple, then newspapers must be printing a lot more
rubbish now, as overall circulation per head of population has been steadily
declining for decades. In addition, the Inquiry demonstrated that the great
bulk of the revenue of newspapers comes from advertising rather than circulation,
so keeping advertisers happy is more important to newspaper executives than
keeping their readers happy6.

Newspapers are
regulated by the Australian Press Council and have been since 1976, and at the Inquiry,
its then chair and two past chairs lamented that the council does not work
properly. The problems were that the council relies on the industry for its
funding and reducing funding has been used as a threat to control the council,
and the then chair suggested that to adequately fulfil the charter, double the
level of funding would be required. Press council adjudications of complaints are
supposed to be published prominently in newspapers. However, while most are
published, they are buried, and some are not published at all6.

While it is important
for a democracy to have media which are free from state interference, it is
necessary to realise that the media have a responsibility as a ‘social actor’ and
need to act in a responsible fashion7. The Press Council, which is a
self-regulatory mechanism, as it currently stands, does not work as it should.
That is clearly demonstrated by the behaviour of News Limited media, and to a
lesser extent other corporate media. News Limited have a propensity for lying, such
that reports which are supposed to be news items, are often slanted to favour
the Coalition government either by misleading, or simply lying, mostly by
omission8,9,10,11. Misleading the public in this way should be made
illegal, as it is in broadcast media in Canada. In addition, in Australia, when
an article or news item is shown to be inaccurate or in error, often the
apology or correction is buried several pages back in the newspaper12.
To prevent newspapers getting away with doing so, corrections should be in the
same font on the same page of the newspaper as the original article. This
should not be optional, but should be mandatory. This would soon make
journalists or others check their facts.



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