Arguments are raging worldwide about whether media organisations, including newspapers and television stations, should be more tightly regulated. An independent assessment of Australia's media argues that newspapers need much more effective regulation than currently exists and that a new body should handle this, but also suggest bloggers should be included. That's a reasonable suggestion for large blogs, I reckon, but it could be fiddly to implement.
Picture by James Manners
The Independent Inquiry into Media and Media Regulation, conducted by Ray Finkelstein QC, released its findings today. It's a 474-page document, and I haven't read all of it just yet. But the key recommendation is pretty clear:
I therefore recommend that a new body, a News Media Council, be established to set journalistic standards for the news media in consultation with the industry, and handle complaints made by the public when those standards are breached. Those standards will likely be substantially the same as those that presently apply and which all profess to embrace. Moreover, I recommend that the News Media Council have those roles in respect of news and current affairs coverage on all platforms, that is, print, online, radio and television.
In an era where many of us are far more likely to consume news online than from print, that makes sense. Indeed, Finkelstein recognises that the market is very different:
Widespread access to the internet has turned anyone with a computer into a potential content creator. Many have taken the opportunity and there has been a great upsurge in ‘user-generated content’.
But where do you draw the line for regulation? Does anyone who uploads a YouTube video discussing current affairs suddenly become subject to onerous rules? Finkelstein argues that audience size is the best measure for determining where rules are appropriate:
There are many newsletter publishers and bloggers, although no longer part of the ‘lonely pamphleteer’ tradition, who offer up-to-date reflections on current affairs. Quite a number have a very small audience. There are practical reasons for excluding from the definition of ‘news media’ publishers who do not have a sufficiently large audience. If a publisher distributes more than 3000 copies of print per issue or a news internet site has a minimum of 15 000 hits per annum it should be subject to the jurisdiction of the News Media Council, but not otherwise. These numbers are arbitrary, but a line must be drawn somewhere.
In this context, as Mumbrella points out, 'hits' most likely equates to 'page views', though Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes also argues quite convincingly that someone who can't master the basic online terminology perhaps shouldn't be offering thoughts on how to regulate the internet.
The government has said it is "considering" the report, but is holding off saying anything concrete until at least March 31, when its ongoing review into media convergence also concludes. There's no guarantee it will implement any of the recommendations, but they're bound to stir up lots of comment. What's your reaction?