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and in the public interest. Great journalism is ethical journalism, whatever the medium.”3 The Alliance subsequently made a detailed submission to the inquiry, calling for the expansion of the Australian Press Council into a “one-stop shop” for all media platforms, but concentrating on a discussion of ways in which the health of the news business could be enhanced with government support, including tax breaks. The Alliance submission can be found at http://www.dbcde.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_ file/0007/142990/Media,_Entertainment_and_Arts_Alliance.pdf and covers: 1. The twin crises of trust and a breakdown in the business model of journalism 2. The business crisis hitting Australian journalism 3. The Alliance Journalist Code of Ethics and complaints procedure 4. Recommended reforms to the Australian Press Council 5. Ways in which governments might help support the health of the Australian news industry.4 The Alliance submission concluded by exhorting the inquiry to take seriously the opportunity for a broad-ranging discussion of ways in which the government could help save the news industry. Journalism is a public good which feeds democracy in Australia and must be maintained and enhanced. It can no longer be in doubt that the business model which has always paid for journalism in this country is broken and despite the efforts of major commercial news organisations to develop new ways to replace the loss of advertising revenues, nothing has developed with a credible chance of success. This is not the case merely in Australia but in virtually all developed nations. Most Western countries are engaged in discussions about how to save the news industry. It is time Australia also engaged in those discussions rather than blinding ourselves to the very real prospect that large parts of the news industry may fail in the medium to long term. The Alliance is committed to participating in these discussions, throwing the very considerable weight and expertise of our large membership of working journalists behind any effort to save the news industry and enhance the proud history of journalism in Australia.

Inquiry hearings The inquiry sat in Melbourne on November 8 and 9; in Sydney on November 16–18; in Perth on December 6 and again in Melbourne on December 8, hearing testimony from most major media organisations and a number of prominent academics and other interested parties, including the Media Alliance, represented by federal secretary, Christopher Warren, and the Australian Press Council (APC), represented by its chairman, Professor Julian Disney, who appeared twice and delivered a blueprint for reform of the Council.

The APC’s plan is for gradual development into a unified media council, comprising two phases: a two- to three-year period of consolidation during which the APC will expand a set of specific standards to complement its mandatory Statement of Principles and its guidelines. The first standard – for reporting of suicide – was completed last year and a second, governing hospital visits, is well advanced. Once the Standards Project is complete, the APC would aim to develop into a unified “Media Council” (a name has not yet been finalised) which would apply across all media platforms. Membership would be on an “opt-in” basis, but there would be significant “statutory incentives” provided for members as inducements to join. These would include a raft of rights and privileges already available to the news media, such as shield law protections and exemption from the Privacy Act and aspects of the Trade Practices Act, and some new privileges, such as accreditation for major sporting events, Budget lock-ups and government press conferences and briefings. Extra funding would be sought, both from new members – such as online-only news organisations and broadcasters, plus a quantum of government support and funding from third parties, such as that already provided by the Myer Foundation. The Council’s complaints handling body would move further down the spectrum towards independence from both government and the media organisations, with more public members.

Cartoon by Rod Emmerson

Press Council reform proposals

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2012 Press Freedom Report  

The Annual Media Alliance summary of press freedom issues in Australia