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Australian media: any media inquiry must involve the ABC

By Malcolm Colless - posted Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Federal Independent MP, Rob Oakeshott, has reportedly swung his support behind a parliamentary inquiry into the media saying there hasn’t been one of any substance for about 20 years.

Even if this were right so what? But he is wrong. Between 1992 and 2006 when laws restricting cross media and foreign ownership were overhauled there were endless inquiries into various aspects of the industry. Currently there is a federal labor Government review underway into the impact of converging media streams and Oakeshott is, himself, chairing a parliamentary inquiry into the Government’s National Broadband Network which will be the country’s content gatekeeper when the project reaches its goal of connecting all homes and businesses across Australia.

But that is not what this issue is all about.


It’s about trying to draw a line between the political firestorm raging around the phone hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct News of the World in London and claims by Oakeshott, Greens leader Bob Brown and the government of rough handling from his papers in Australia.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard ran the flag up for her minority Government associates when she claimed that News Ltd had hard questions to answer in the wake of the News of the World issue.

Having thrown that dead cat on the table, the Prime Minister did not attempt to detail her assertion, apparently being content to leave that to unsubstantiated innuendo.  But what it did do was give some oxygen to claims by bruised politicians, including Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, for the media to be put on the mat for, effectively, trying to exercise too much influence on public opinion.

Give me a break. This is what politicians do every day and with our money. Just look at the current multi-million dollar advertising campaign behind the carbon tax which has not even been translated into legislation.

In trying to justify their periodic parliamentary forays into the operations of the country’s media, politicians invariably argue that they need to satisfy themselves that there is an acceptable diversity of opinion and not an unacceptable concentration of media ownership.

Having been directly involved in all of those media inquiries over a 15 year period from 1992 I think it is fair to say that most, if not all, were a waste of time and money.  What these inquiries did do was provide a platform for our politicians to demonstrate media management.  To show that even though they were confused about how the industry operated, they were the ones who made the rules which determined its future.


But the reality is that the rapid and continuing expansions of Internet, mobile services and particularly social networking are changing the face of the media faster than any politician’s regulatory pen can move.

If, however, Gillard decides to ignore the lessons of the past and placate her minority government colleagues with a media inquiry she must extend this to cover the ABC. After all Oakeshott’s argument that there has not been an inquiry of substance into the media for about 20 years applies more so to the ABC where the last major review was conducted by Bob Mansfield in 1996.

Then again Labor and its minority partners are getting a soft ride from the national broadcaster so why would they want to rock the boat?

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About the Author

Malcolm Colless is a freelance journalist and political commentator. He was a journalist on The Times in London from 1969-71 and Australian correspondent for the Wall Street Journal from 1972-76. He was political editor of The Australian, based in Canberra, from 1977-81 and a director of News Ltd from 1991-2007.

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