Members of the government and its ally, the Greens, have been calling for an inquiry since the closure of News of the World. Rather presumptuously, Prime Minister Julia Gillard had claimed: “Australians look at News Limited [the Australian arm of the Murdoch empire] and they’ve probably got some hard questions they want answered”. There were no suggestions of phone-hacking and the government was concerned over Murdoch’s control of 70% of the press and its relentless, sometimes unjust, criticism of the Labour-dominated Cabinet.
But those calling for reform were disappointed yesterday as the communications minister, Stephen Conroy, was careful not to create enemies. “Let me be clear: the government is not interested in attacking any one media organisation, or in seeking to reduce the necessary scrutiny of the political process,” he said.
The inquiry will ask how to improve media standards as content shifts online. Recognising the challenges that print media’s decline poses to quality and sustainability, the inquiry will seek recommendations to ensure that the media will serve public interest. It will not cover media ownership or bias.
The exclusion of the most contentious issues in Australian media is seen by commentators as a sign that although the minority government has been obliged to work with the Greens (who demanded inquiry into media ownership and the “hate media”), it will do so on its own terms – terms that won’t offend the already hostile, Murdoch-dominated media.
In lieu of the key issues, the inquiry is likely to focus on what the government perceives as the press’s unaccountable system of self-regulation. Sound familiar? DM
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