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Green agenda to defang the News

By Graham Young - posted Thursday, 4 August 2011

The nexus between News of the World's illegal "phone hacking" and a decision by the Greens and Labor to inquire into our media and to restructure privacy law is convenience rather than causation.

The Greens in particular have been looking for an excuse to defang News, and now they have it. In fact, there's a reference to it in their policy, but you could be excused for missing it in amongst the platitudes about media diversity.

They proposed to "ensure diversity of ownership and opinion by introducing a media-specific public interest test to guide... ACCC decisions on proposed mergers..." and "by giving the ACCC the power to enforce the divestment of merged media companies where those mergers fail a ...public interest test".


You may be wondering what a "media-specific public interest test" might be and how it might differ from the other tests that apply to other businesses. You might also be wondering what exactly a "merged media company" is and why the ACCC would need retrospective as well as prospective powers. Well now we know. It's all about "bias" or what others might call "diversity of opinion", and attempting to dismantle media companies which may have been merged for decades, and which just happen to publish views at odds with yours.

The respectable cover for the call for an inquiry and changes in the law are that because illegal activity occurred in one part of the News empire then it must be inferred that it could be happening elsewhere. As illegal activity has occurred, News is no longer a fit and proper organisation to publish newspapers or hold broadcast licences.

This makes no sense at all. Did anyone think to call for an inquiry into Rio Tinto because three of its operatives in China were convicted of corruption? Criminality by a smalll number of employees of a company doesn't taint the rest of the organisation.

But even on this, the strongest argument, there is a big double standard in operation. The distaste at the phone hacking scandal in the UK is more an aesthetic and news judgement than an ethical one. When the phones belonged to celebrities or royals, it was fair game, but when phones belonging to ordinary people in the middle of a tragedy were hacked it didn't look good.

Even the journalists' code of ethics allows for illegal activity, as long as it is in the public interest, and Julian Assange, who runs an online fencing operation for stolen documents and videos (some of which he sold to some of the media organisations now weighing into News) was named Time Magazine's runner-up for "Person of the Year 2010".

In any event, there are no criminal allegations against Newscorp in Australia, and no domestic equivalent publication to News of the World.


Calls for News to be investigated are all about political advantage. They are rife with conflicts of interest and not to be trusted. They also illustrate the Greens' tendency towards authoritarianism and paranoia, as well as a failure to grasp the new media reality.

Does Newscorp hold a dominant position in Australian news media? It might dominate newspapers in the eastern states but that is a minority position on the news spectrum with competition from broadcast media and increasingly new Internet-driven media.

Murdoch might have his newspapers but the Greens and ALP left have other tools, such as GetUp, an organisation which can narrowcast to 580,000 Australians who aren't just subscribers but proven activists and tribal loyalists.

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This article was first published in The Australian on August 2, 2011.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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