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Hacking scandal separate from Australian media debate

By Brendan Rowswell - posted Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Voters should be worried when a government struggling in the polls raises the issue of media censorship.

Apart from a very obvious attempt to change the channel for her government, Julia Gillard's support for an inquiry into Australia's media in the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal could be seen as threatening the media's legitimate involvement in the debate over her most contentious policy.

While the carbon tax has been a consistent stumbling block for the Prime Minister, she also finds herself the leader of a Party with the lowest recorded approval rating in Australian history. What better time to change the subject?


In recent weeks the heat surrounding the News of the World scandal has been turned up.

After it was reported that the phone of a 13 year old murder victim had been hacked by a private investigator working for the paper, head's began to roll. These heads included those of News International CEO Rebecca Brooks, senior members of the Metropolitan Police and ultimately the newspaper itself, which printed its final edition earlier this month.

While these incidents, and the culture they reflect at this individual paper, are disgraceful, they are also isolated.

There has been no evidence that this type of behavior has occurred in Australia. We have been assured by John Hartigan, the chairman and chief executive of the Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch's News International empire, News Limited, that this is the case. He has even ordered an audit of editorial expenditure to provide further proof.

Even Greens Leader Bob Brown agrees. He said recently that he is "not aware of any phone hacking in Australia". Despite this, Senator Brown has been making headlines of his own by attacking sections of the press who he has labeled the 'hate media'.

His use of the term is not aimed at journalists advocating for the detention of asylum seeker children in Malaysia or the anti-Semitic boycott of Israeli products, but rather at newspapers like The Australian, The Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph.


Brown's point is that criticism of him, his party or their policies is, in his own words, "doing a great disservice to the nation". So it comes as no surprise that his considered response to the scandal in the UK has been to call for a media inquiry in Australia.

Julia Gillard has also entertained these calls, going so far as to claim that News Limited, has 'hard questions' to answer. Although she has refused to go into the detail of what these questions might be.

One question that should be asked of Bob Brown and Julia Gillard is what link they see between what has happened in the UK and the role for a debate around media regulation in Australia.

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About the Author

Brendan Rowswell is a Melbourne based government relations and communications consultant. He has advised clients across sectors including infrastructure, planning and local government. Brendan was formerly Manager - Public Affairs at the Victorian Farmers Federation and worked as a staffer to Sophie Mirabella during the third and fourth terms of the Howard Government.

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