Senate inquiry calls for royal commission-style inquiry into media diversity

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A Senate inquiry has called for a royal commission-like inquiry into the concentration of media ownership in Australia and the need for a new independent press regulator.

Delivering the findings of a year-long inquiry into media diversity on Thursday, the Environment and Communications Committee concluded that Australia’s media laws were “weak, fragmented and inconsistent”.

Backing former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s calls, the Labor and Green Majority Committee recommended “a judicial inquiry, with the powers of a royal commission”.

It would examine whether a new independent media regulator was needed to “harmonize news media standards and oversee an effective complaints process”.

“Corporate media have become so powerful and uncontrolled that they have developed corporate cultures that see themselves beyond existing accountability frameworks,” the survey report said.

The inquiry also urged the government to ensure sustainable and adequate funding for public broadcasters ABC and SBS.

Australia has one of the most concentrated media ownership markets in the world with seven of the 12 national or capital dailies owned by Murdoch’s News Corp, according to a recent fact check.

This represents nearly 60% of the metropolitan and national written press market.

The government has not yet officially responded to the report. But in a sign that he may reject the recommendations, Liberal Senator and committee deputy chairman Andrew Bragg released a statement on Thursday calling the report “a shameless political stunt that should not be taken seriously.”

“Recommendations are for a particular organization that has broad exposure to newspapers [News Corp]said Senator Bragg.

“Assessing media concentration by examining newspaper ownership in the digital age is deeply perplexing and [a] totally inappropriate measure.

If the Morrison government resists pressure to create a Murdoch royal commission, Labor and the Greens could present the proposal in the next federal election.

Opposition senators strongly backed the investigation in Thursday’s report.

“The committee believes that media convergence due to technological change has significantly strengthened the case for [of] a single regulator across all platforms,” the report read.

“As a result, the committee further recommends that the mandate of the judicial inquiry include the review of a single, independent media regulator to harmonize news media standards and oversee an effective complaints process.”

The committee seized on News Corp’s coverage of the climate crisis as an example of media concentration detrimental to Australian politics.

“They called for the policy the Morrison government presented at COP26 – a pledge to achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” the report said.

“The Coalition had resisted this for over a decade, but now, in effect, has a license to adopt this policy issued by News Corp.

“There could not be a clearer example of the influence wielded by the owners who dominate Australia’s commercial media.”

The committee also pointed to YouTube’s recent ban of News Corp’s Sky News channel as evidence that the empire is responsible for spreading false information.

“YouTube’s ban on Sky News for posting public health misinformation highlighted that there is a problem when a private company is able to act quickly to protect the public from misinformation, but not the ACMA, the media regulator,” the report said.

Norman D. Briggs