A rather alarming report to the Australian government by Ray Finkelstein recommends setting up a News Media Council to exercise control over political speech in the media, both professional (TV, radio, and newspapers) and amateur (bloggers, Facebookers, Twitterers, and other private individuals posting their opinions to the internet). It appears to be directed at climate change sceptics, but the provisions of the proposed body of rules will allow a great deal of control over all political speech:
The historic change to media law would break with tradition by using government funds to replace an industry council that acts on complaints, in a move fiercely opposed by companies as a threat to the freedom of the press.
The proposals, issued yesterday by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, also seek to widen the scope of federal oversight to cover print, online, radio and TV within a single regulator for the first time.
Bloggers and other online authors would also be captured by a regime applying to any news site that gets more than 15,000 hits a year, a benchmark labelled “seriously dopey” by one site operator.
The head of the review, former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein, rejected industry warnings against setting up a new regulator under federal law with funding from government.
[. . .]
“News Media Council should have power to require a news media outlet to publish an apology, correction or retraction, or afford a person a right to reply,” the report states. It says this would be enforced through the courts.
The council would absorb the supervision of radio and TV current affairs by Canberra’s existing regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which ran the “cash for comment” investigation into talkback radio over many years.
The council would scrutinise online news sites that get more than 15,000 hits a year, clearing the way for government-funded action against amateur website operators who comment on news and current affairs. Greg Jericho, a prominent Canberra blogger on national politics, said: “The level of 15,000 hits a year, or about 40 hits a day, is seriously dopey.”
Some media executives privately dubbed the News Media Council as a potential “star chamber” because it would not have to give reasons for its decisions, which would not be subject to appeal
There’s a petition site at http://www.freespeechaustralia.com/ for those Australians who’d like to register their opposition to the new council.
Some excerpts from a Menzies House email from Timothy Andrews:
It is clear from the report, in particular paragraphs 4.31-4.42, that silencing climate realists is a major reason for these regulations: it is unashamedly explicit in this (and even uses the dirty trick of using polls from — wait for it — 1966 as evidence the media is pro-climate skeptic, and that — wait for it — only the ABC is unbiased!)
The size and scope of the proposed Super-Regulator is breathtaking. They will have the power to impose a “code of ethics”, force you to print views you don’t agree with as part of a ‘right of reply’, take you to court, and even make you take pieces down! Even personal blogs that get only 40 hits a day will be covered! To make matters worse, the SuperRegulator “would not have to give reasons for its decisions” and the decisions “would not be subject to appeal.” Even climate change websites in other countries like Watt’s Up With That will be covered by this!
[. . .]
11.69 Another aspect of jurisdiction concerns how the News Media Council will exercise its power over all internet publishers. Foreign publishers who have no connection with Australia will be beyond its reach. However, if an internet news publisher has more than a tenuous connection with Australia then carefully drawn legislation would enable the News Media Council to exercise jurisdiction over it.
Well, unless Australia is going to claim jurisdiction over the entire internet, I would imagine it will only prevent Australians from visiting foreign sites. I guess it’s a good thing that they’ve been getting friendlier with China: they can order up their national firewall from the same division of the People’s Liberation Army internet force.
James Delingpole points out that the usual suspects are involved in the process:
You can read the full 400 pages here, if you’re feeling masochistic. But Australian Climate Madness has a pretty good summary of the key issues of concern, starting with Pinkie Finkie’s proposal to create a new super-regulator called the News Media Council [missed a trick there, didn't he? surely Ministry of Truth would have been more appropriate] which will impose its idea of fairness and balance not only on newspapers but even on blogs with as few hits as 15,000 a year.
But whose idea of fairness and balance?
It’s an astonishing fact that of the 10600 submissions received by the inquiry no fewer than 9600 were boilerplate submissions from left-wing pressure groups, led by Avaaz “a global civic organization launched in January 2007 that promotes activism on issues such as climate change, human rights, poverty and corruption.”