By JR on Friday, June 29, 2012
A truth-telling media threatens their survival
MEDIA owners will be forced to submit to a public interest test under a plan to be presented to the federal cabinet within weeks.
The Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, said the test had nothing to do with Gina Rinehart increasing her stake in Fairfax as work had been under way for two years to tighten media regulation and ownership rules.
"We've been looking at these issues with a view to acting for a considerable period of time," he said. "Ms Rinehart will come, Ms Rinehart may go. But we've actually been putting in place a whole range of processes to give us some advice, to canvass these issues publicly.
"I absolutely reject that anything that we're doing at the moment is based on a knee-jerk reaction to Ms Rinehart. We have strong views about the charter of editorial independence but the Convergence Review, the Finkelstein [review], all occurred long before Ms Rinehart was a significant media player."
Mrs Rinehart has refused to sign Fairfax's charter of independence, should she win seats on the Fairfax board, and has publicly threatened to sell her shares in the company if she was not offered board seats "without unsuitable conditions".
Fairfax issued a statement on Tuesday saying it would not invite Mrs Rinehart to join the board until she signed the charter.
The chairman, Roger Corbett, said he regretted the decision and hoped "it might be possible" for Mrs Rinehart to join in future. "However key elements yet to be agreed include acceptance of the charter of editorial independence as it stands and the Fairfax board governance principles as agreed by all existing directors," he said.
"In coming to this view the board has gauged the opinion of other shareholders and noted some of their recent public comments on these matters, noting in particular they share the company's view on maintaining editorial independence and their desire that board members act in the interests of all shareholders. The company has received tens of thousands of emails and other correspondence from shareholders, our readers and others making it clear that they support Fairfax's long-standing position on editorial independence."
The Australian Financial Review reported yesterday that the public interest test legislation could vet investors such as Mrs Rinehart and the expansion plans of Rupert Murdoch's News Limited. "Labor MPs have been told to sell the idea of a media crackdown to their electorates over the next six weeks after allegations involving the media's role in the Peter Slipper affair galvanised cabinet into 'fierce backing' of the controversial test," the paper reported.
Senator Conroy said there was a clear role for legislation but it was incumbent on news organisations to abide by their codes of conduct.
"There's been a whole range of issues internationally where it's been seen that people [journalists] have played roles - and I think that's the hardest part in today's 24/7 media cycle, just finding that balance between comment, reporting, opinion - and that's why news organisations have their codes of conduct and their standards," he said. "And we're asking simply that they apply them."