What’s your opinion of the Convergence Review’s recommendations?

sm mediaOn April 30 the Convergence Review, a federal government investigation into Australia’s media and communications policy framework, brought down its final report and recommendations. The recommendations have been presented to the government which is considering its response before making any changes.

The Review comes at a vital moment in the transformation of Australia’s media landscape. It’s recommendations may be controversial to some, common sense to others.

We’d like to know what you think…

In this survey, we’d like to explain the Media Alliance position on the Convergence Review’s key recommendations that will affect you. And we want to seek out your thoughts. Please respond to each of the questions below. The survey is open from Monday May 7 – 21.

The Media Alliance welcomed the broad approach of the report, particularly its findings with respect to the promotion of Australian content, media ownership and media regulation. Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren said: “We welcome this sensible approach to media regulation and it is exactly what we have been calling for throughout the submission process.”

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Among the Convergence Review’s recommendations was the creation of an all-media industry body to self-regulate news content through the use of a media code aimed at promoting fairness, accuracy and transparency in professional news and commentary. In effect, the Convergence Review rejected the Finkelstein Inquiry’s earlier recommendation of imposing a government regulator on the media industry. Instead, the Review is in favour of Australia’s media businesses creating their own self-regulator (similar to the Australian Press Council – but involving broadcast media as well as print) that would be largely funded by the media businesses and operating to their own set of guidelines and principles (again, like the Press Council).

Currently, broadcast media is regulated by the government through the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

The Alliance view was that we preferred the Convergence Review’s approach of self-regulation. Christopher Warren said: “The Convergence Review has rejected the Finkelstein Inquiry’s approach of imposing a government regulator, instead opting to allow the media industry to demonstrate that it can and should be allowed to regulate itself. This is what the Alliance has been calling for all along.”

Most print media have already responded with last month’s strengthening of the Australian Press Council with increased funding and commitment. And already online media groups have been seeking to join the new Press Council. “Clearly, the Convergence Review believes self-regulation is the way to go and has rightly recommended that the Finkelstein option should only be implemented as ‘a last resort’,” Warren said.

“The Press Council has got its house in order and the Convergence Review has recognised this. The Press Council is therefore in the best position to be the model and foundation of the Review’s proposed News Standards Body,” he said.

The proposed industry-led self-regulator would have credible sanctions and the power to order members to prominently publish its findings (much as the Press Council does now).

The Government is not walking away entirely, however. It proposes creating its own regulator (effectively it will be the successor to ACMA but extended to cover the entire media industry) would operate in the background of the industry-led self-regulator. While the self-regulator would develop and enforce its own media code (that promoted news standards, adjudicated on complaints and provided timely remedies – much as the Press Council does now). The Government regulator would be responsible for compliance on media content standards (much as broadcasters have their content overseen now) but not for news and commentary.

It’s important to note that the Government regulator would also play an occasional role regarding the industry body’s work. The Convergence Review recommends that the self-regulator would be able to refer persistent or serious breaches of its media code to the government regulator. And the Government regulator would be able to request the industry self-regulator to conduct an investigation.

The Convergence Review also aimed to tear down the divide between print media and broadcast media, and also to acknowledge the growing development of new media platforms through digital technology. “By tearing down artificial barriers, the Review is recognising that it is the journalism in news content that is vital and not which platform audiences receive their news and entertainment,” Warren said.

The Review has also adopted a new approach to media ownership. Australia has the most concentrated media ownership in the Western world – just three media groups control 98% of the newspapers bought in Australia.

At the moment there are a variety of rules that apply differently to media groups depending on the platform (radio, TV and print) the location (cities versus regions). The Review recommends discarding this confusing mish-mash of rules in favour of a minimum number of owners rule and the application of a public interest test aimed at curtailing the appetites of media moguls that have gobbled up small media outlets only to then deny audiences of local content.

Speaking for the Alliance Christopher Warren said: “The Convergence Review has clearly heard the message about the need for diversity of voices in Australia’s media landscape while also being flexible enough to encourage media groups to acquire media assets prudently, keeping audience needs at the top of mind,” Warren said.

As a member of the Media Alliance you are bound by the Journalist Code of Ethics. There has been some discussion about adding a “Conscience Clause” in our journalist agreements. Such a clause would explicitly give you the right to refuse any request from your employer which would involve a breach of the Journalist Code of Ethics.