Media Inquiry is a political game

It’s part of a political game that apparently goes with the territory of running a minority government that includes Bob Brown, of the Greens.

The inquiry is aimed at News Limited – and despite any denials, it could not be more obvious in sky-writing.

But its aim is not very good and will miss the target.

News’s editors have been giving the government a hammering on seemingly endless policy fronts.

Independent opinion polls indicate the people are concerned, too.

News Ltd’s papers are not the only ones to put the boot in.  But its editors do have a way of doing it.

It’s not quite in the league of “Up Yours Delors”, an infamous front page of The Sun railing against European efforts to curtail British freedoms, but it is a long way from the more demure but no less perceptive broadsheets.Up Yours

That doesn’t mean News Ltd’s papers are better, or worse. Just different.

News Ltd’s broadsheet The Australian, in its political stances, is not so different from the pro-Tory papers of the UK, the Labour-loving Guardian and Observer, or the Democrat-cheerleading of the New York Times.

Under editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, it does not take anything at face value; not policies, climate change science, digital visions . . . everything gets the treatment.

How any of this warrants a media inquiry, goodness knows.

It has fallen to Senator Stephen Conroy to explain it to the people.

He says he’s concerned with the future of print media because of the emergence of digital technologies that are changing the way society consumes media.

So are the publishers. Few industries today face the degree of transformation this one does. This inquiry will not help.

The newspaper business is hard at the best of times. In some regards, this is the toughest of times as publishers recalibrate and reskill for a digital future in a slow economy.

There’s concern about media diversity, which is strange given the Internet has encouraged countless voices. No publisher is afraid of competition, but always on a level playing field.

Let’s be clear on one thing: since the GFC, the profile of our media ownership has been a strength not a weakness. It has ensured the survival of many regional newspapers where hundreds of similar  titles in Britain, Ireland and America have closed.

Another trend in today’s media is the reliance of radio, TV and fringe websites to feed off the journalism and newsroom cultures of newspapers. Any regulation, therefore, will have implications beyond print.

Potential for the greatest change concerns the Australian Press Council, which has done itself no favour by questioning its own position in a submission to another government review on media convergence.

Much is being made of the newspapers’ own codes of conduct. I have read those of the four biggest publishers, plus those of the press councils of Australia and New Zealand, and the union’s. The Association has its own guiding principles.

While not carbon copies of each other, none is remarkably different and all tick the appropriate boxes.

Newspaper companies can turn this inquiry into an opportunity.

It presents a chance to demonstrate their value to society and to discuss openly the processes of news gathering and editing, and the diligence with which they do it.

Australian publishers are not perfect. But they’re not phone hackers, either. There is much to be proud of.

It is also an opportunity for self-reflection.

For too long, anecdotal evidence has suggested readers struggle to differentiate between news reportage and comment, and it infuriates many.

Readers are often bemused by why newspapers do what they do. In the modern economy, long-term relationships between buyer and seller are built on transparency and, consequently, trust. Rupert Murdoch said as much when he shut the News of the World. And Australian publishers can improve in this area.

Publishers say they will co-operate with the inquiry.

They can do more than that. They can show the nation – readers and those who have been lost – that our journalism is among the best in the world and it is to be valued, not regulated.

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