Introduction and background
On 10 May 2017 the Senate established the Select Committee on the Future
of Public Interest Journalism, to inquire and report on the following matters:
- the current state of public interest journalism in Australia
and around the world, including the role of government in ensuring a viable,
independent and diverse service;
- the adequacy of current competition and consumer laws to
deal with the market power and practices of search engines, social media aggregators
and content aggregators, and their impact on the Australian media landscape;
- the impact on public interest journalism of search
engines and social media internet service providers circulating fake news, and
an examination of counter measures directed at online advertisers, 'click-bait'
generators and other parties who benefit from disinformation;
- the future of public and community broadcasters in
delivering public interest journalism, particularly in underserviced markets
like regional Australia, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities;
- examination of 'fake news', propaganda, and public
disinformation, including sources and motivation of fake news in Australia,
overseas, and the international response; and
- any related matters.
Background to the inquiry
This inquiry was initiated to look into the current state of public
interest journalism in Australia and globally, to consider what the role government
should play in assisting the sector in meeting the challenges and capitalising
on the opportunities of the digital age.
In so doing, the committee was interested in investigating the potential
ways that the Commonwealth could seek to encourage and maintain a healthy media
ecosystem, particularly ensuring that public interest journalism is supported by
the Commonwealth in appropriate and meaningful ways, and appreciated by
Australians as a public good and essential component of our democratic system.
The committee's work has been underpinned by three considerations.
The first is identifying the nature of the challenges and opportunities
the media sector currently faces. This has necessitated not only considering
the challenges facing traditional media providers from the new online digital
media environment–including gaps in service provision to particular groups, but
also the opportunities for innovation for new and existing players in the
Second, the committee has focussed on identifying what the role of
government should be in assisting industry to mitigate these challenges and
take advantage of the opportunities presented. In this regard, policy options
that emerged in evidence tended to focus on either direct assistance measures
to producers through targeted, stringently-applied subsidies, or on indirect reforms
to the tax system or relevant regulatory frameworks. It was apparent that a
great deal of care should be applied in considering these options, not only to
ensure the sector is effective and diverse, but also that any Commonwealth
policy adjustments serve to maintain the freedom of the press from political
interference or censorship.
Lastly, this inquiry has been guided by a consideration of how the cost
of any potential policy measures could be offset in the Commonwealth Budget.
Definitions, role and importance of public interest journalism
The evidence received by the committee overwhelmingly noted that, even
if there is no unanimously accepted single definition of public interest
journalism, there are certain behaviours, institutions and principles that have
been commonly cited when discussing its role and importance in healthy
The Civic Impact of Journalism Project summed up a number of roles and
functions that public interest journalism plays, noting these had been widely
recognised as features of good journalistic practice for 'at least 70 years':
to keep the public up to date with what is going on in the world
to provide the public with reliable information on which they may
base choices as participants in political, economic and social life
to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions
to be a watchdog on those in power
to help societies understand themselves
to provide the material upon which members of a society can base a
common conversation (and that)
These functions all contribute to the working of capitalist
Dr Denis Muller, a fellow at the University of Melbourne's Centre for
Advancing Journalism, agreed that the foundational principles of good
journalism had remained unchanged since the post-war period. In particular, he
noted that the principles expressed by the 1947 United States Commission on the
Freedom of the Press (Hutchins Commission) still held true, namely that the
press had a social responsibility to provide five basic services:
A truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day's
events in a context which gives them meaning;
A forum for the exchange of comment and criticism;
The projection of a representative picture of the constituent
groups in the society;
The presentation and clarification of the goals and values of
Full access to the day's intelligence.
The submission made by the ABC noted that the term 'public interest
journalism' is regularly used synonymously with the terms 'quality journalism',
'investigative journalism' and 'accountability journalism'. It noted that these
terms implicitly recognise that there is a crucial difference between
journalism that serves the public good, and journalism that seeks solely to
...not all journalism is designed to provide a community
benefit. Certainly, it is commonly understood that what is in the public
interest does not always correlate with that in which the public is interested.
Defining the public interest can be challenging, much less determining the best
means of its delivery.
It was frequently noted in evidence received by the committee that
public interest journalism should work to ensure the accountability of powerful
individuals or governments. As Professor Bill Birnbauer submitted:
Definitions of investigative and public interest journalism
vary but there is general consensus among journalists and media academics that
such journalism provides new information on issues of public importance that
governments, companies and powerful interests may want to keep secret.
Several submissions highlighted Mr Steve Harris' 1994 articulation of
the purpose and value of public interest journalism to society, which
emphasises that good journalism should be independent from vested interests,
and seek to build 'good faith with the reader':
The primary purpose of gathering and distributing news and
opinion is to serve society by informing citizens and enabling them to make
informed judgements on the issues of the time. The freedom of the press to
bring an independent scrutiny to bear on the forces that shape society is a
freedom exercised on behalf of the public. Journalists are committed to
ensuring that the public's business is conducted in public, and must be
vigilant against anyone who would seek to exploit the press for selfish
purposes or seek to restrict the paper's role and responsibilities. Good faith
with the reader is the foundation of good journalism.
The ABC noted Mr Eric Beecher's description of quality journalism, as:
...journalism that reports and analyses the institutions of
parliaments, the public service, courts, police and army, academia, business,
science, education, media and other key institutions. It is the journalism that
fertilises society with ideas, commentary and analysis. And it is journalism
that needs to be conducted responsibly because it operates under a tacit public
A number of perspectives heard by the committee indicated that
journalism had at its core a set of professional practices and ethical
standards committed to handling information responsibly and responding to
complaints diligently. For example, Mr Misha Ketchell, the Editor of The
My view would be that if you want to draw a boundary around
what qualifies as journalism, part of what qualifies as journalism is a set of
practices, which are around ethical conduct, reliable handling of information
and having complaints procedures. That would be how I distinguish what we think
of as journalism and what we don't.
The submission made by Deakin University drew out some more specific
examples of what journalistic activities could be considered as 'in the public
detecting or exposing crime or serious misdemeanour
detecting or exposing seriously anti-social conduct
protecting public health and safety
preventing the public from being misled by a statement or action
of an individual/body [and]
detecting or exposing hypocrisy, falsehoods or double standards
of behaviour on the part of public figures or public institutions and in public
Some evidence observed that although it was expensive to produce, there
were clear economic benefits to public interest journalism. Dr Birnbauer submitted that:
Investigative journalism is much talked about by media
organisations but is limited to a handful of reporters within media
organisations because it cannot readily be monetised. It is expensive to do,
takes a long time, sparks legal action and upsets powerful interests. It takes
a big commitment by media organisations; just five major US media organisations
provide about 50 per cent of all the investigative journalism. The societal
benefits can be huge: lives saved, corruption exposed, environments improved,
governments and corporate interests held accountable. A study by a media
economist found that for each $1 spent on a specified investigative story, $287
in policy benefits resulted.
The Civic Impact of Journalism research project reflected that, even if
there was a small audience for journalism working in the public interest, it
often had a disproportionate effect:
It is possible to measure how many people saw a piece of news
content, but this is not all we mean by impact. If the item is a piece of light
entertainment, quickly forgotten, then the fact that it was seen by many hardly
On the other hand, a long-form piece of investigative
journalism might be read by very few people, but if they have the power to make
decisions and changes, then the impact may be very great–for example, a royal
Associate Professor Simons suggested that, while definitions of the
practice of journalism have remained consistent over time, the nature of the
institutions has changed a great deal in recent years:
The functions [of journalism] have not changed a great deal,
but the ways in which it is practised have changed. Previously, you might have
defined journalism by the institution in which it occurred...While journalism is
still taking place often within institutional frameworks, there are also
citizens who meaningfully participate in journalism. For example, somebody like
Greg Jericho was making a real contribution to political commentary and now has
a job at The Guardian in Australia, but for some time he was operating
as an individual blogger. That's unusual, but I think it's really important to
recognise. Indigenous X was founded by a single person. It now might have some
sort of institutional framework around it, but I think it's important to
recognise that journalism is about the function performed rather than
necessarily where it's performed.
Dr Muller agreed with this perspective. He argued that, while public
interest media should always be underpinned by the ambition to inform a vibrant
public sphere of debate, this is increasingly difficult in an online media
environment where media sources and patterns of consumption are fragmented:
...[public interest journalism] keeps the public up-to-date
with what's going on; gives them reliable information upon which they may base
choices as citizens and participants in social life; provides a forum for the
exchange of ideas and opinions; holds a mirror up to societies; and provides
the material upon which members of a society could have a common conversation,
which is a very important function now that we have the fragmentation of the
Further to this, Dr Glenn Fuller, an Assistant Professor at the
University of Canberra's News and Media Research Centre, noted that the idea of
a singular 'public' had also become fragmented over time:
The way we talk about the public has changed. What's
interesting is that we don't have a singular, mainstream conception of the
public anymore. News producers are keenly aware of their audiences as a market
and they service those markets. In doing so, they actually produce a new kind
of public. So a newspaper in Sydney is very aware of its Sydney audience, and
it will service that Sydney audience. In doing so, it actually produces a
Sydney public. That may not be in the public interest, if we think about it in
a national context.
Oversight of media in Australia
Media content in Australia is predominantly regulated by platform rather
than content. The 2012 Convergence Review set out what this means in practice:
Radio and television broadcasters are regulated by the
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA makes regulatory
standards for Australian content...and children's television content. The current
legislation also provides for radio and television broadcasters to develop and
maintain codes of practice that reflect community standards. These
co-regulatory codes cover matters such as inappropriate or offensive content,
fairness and accuracy in news and current affairs programs and complaints
procedures. Internet content is only subject to the prohibited content scheme
in schedules 5 and 7 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA), which
also provides for a co-regulatory code to include measures aimed at preventing
the provision of prohibited content. Newspapers have self-regulatory standards
of practice administered by the Australian Press Council (APC).
In effect, Australian media standards regulation is provided for as
Broadcast media is subject to statutory regulation through the ACMA,
although online streaming is not, even if a provider voluntarily adheres to
regulatory standards in their online activities.
Print media (and associated online activities) is self-regulated,
either through the APC or other industry regulator on one hand, or
self-application of codes of conduct on the other.
Australian online providers are not subject to any oversight mechanisms,
although some choose to be members of the APC or develop internally-driven
codes of conduct. It should be noted that these providers are still subject to
general Commonwealth and state legislation, including regarding libel and other
offences under Australian law; and
Overseas publishers are not subject to any Australian regulation
or laws or, if they are, these laws are difficult to enforce.
The print media and associated online outlets
Regarding the oversight of media standards in the print media, the APC is
the national industry-funded body that is responsible:
...for promoting good standards of media practice, community
access to information of public interest, and freedom of expression through the
media. The Council is the principal body with responsibility for responding to
complaints about Australian newspapers, magazines and associated digital
The APC's website outlines its key roles:
developing standards that constitute good media practice and are
applied by the Council when considering complaints;
responding to complaints from the public about material in
Australian newspapers, magazines and associated digital outlets;
issuing statements on policy matters within its areas of
interest, including through submissions to parliamentary committees,
commissions and other public bodies.
The Finkelstein Report asserted that 'it is not easy to assess the
effectiveness of the APC' as there are 'several difficulties with its structure'.
Although it acknowledged that the body had its supporters, the Finkelstein
Report noted significant criticisms of the APC. Many of these stemmed from the
APC's reliance on industry funding from only a few large media groups, who were
able to 'exert both formal and informal pressure' including threats to withdraw
funding, which impeded the APC in exercising its functions.
Other criticisms that the APC was perceived to have included:
An inability to properly investigate a complaint for lack of
A lack of resources to properly discharge its duties due to lack
Insufficient powers of enforcement of decisions;
The appearance of a lack of independence from its publisher
Insufficient streamlining of complaints procedures.
Some evidence received by the committee agreed that there were
shortcomings with the APC model. As well as the issues noted by Finkelstein, it
was observed that although membership of the APC covered established media
effectively, it did not fully cover new media, where membership was optional
for each organisation.
In Australia there are several other mechanisms by which sections of the
print media and their online outlets are self-regulated outside the APC, as
outlined by the Finkelstein Review, including:
the independent adoption of ethical codes or standards by media
outlets, which at a minimum impose obligations of fairness and accuracy. This
can include the appointment by some newspapers of an ombudsman or readers'
representative/editor to handle complaints from the public independently of the
the establishment of other voluntary regulatory bodies to handle
complaints, such as the Independent Media Council, which was set up for some
media organisations in Western Australia following the Finkelstein Inquiry.
A further note on the Australian
Press Council (APC)
The committee notes that, despite early indications that it would inform
this committee's work, and following numerous approaches from the committee
seeking cooperation, the APC chose not to make a submission or give evidence at
a hearing, and so did not address the matters raised above.
The committee considers it profoundly disappointing that the APC chose
not to participate in a significant discussion about the challenges and
opportunities its members face in the digital age.
The Australian Communications and
Media Authority (ACMA)
The ACMA's role in regulating media services and content, including
news, is primarily concerned with television and radio broadcasting. Its
submission outlined its role and powers:
The ACMA is the independent statutory authority responsible
for the regulation of broadcasting, radiocommunications, telecommunications and
some online activities. Its functions as a media regulator are set out in
legislation–principally the Australian Communications and Media Act 2005 and
the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA).
To better perform its legislated functions, the ACMA seeks to inform
itself about issues facing the media industry including by undertaking its own
research from time to time.
The ACMA submitted that, in respect of public interest journalism, its
role and responsibilities under the BSA were 'principally concerned with the
conduct of radio and television broadcasters' and, to a much lesser degree,
with those newspapers with a commercial television or radio broadcasting licence
The ACMA told the committee that a specific Object of the BSA is:
...to encourage providers of commercial and community
broadcasting services to be responsive to the need for a fair and accurate
coverage of matters of public interest and for an appropriate coverage of
matters of local significance.
ACMA further outlined that:
...A number of other BSA Objects1 relate in part to the provision
and diversity of news over broadcasting services. These are less directly
relevant to public interest journalism but serve to emphasise the importance of
a diverse, efficient and competitive broadcasting sector and the value of high
quality programming that is consistent with
The BSA provides for a co-regulatory regime for television and radio
broadcasters to advance Object (g), in which broadcasters develop codes of
practice and for addressing and redressing complaints about breaches of these
codes, which are then registered with ACMA. These co-regulatory codes all have
provisions requiring broadcasters to meet public interest standards in news
coverage, including impartiality, fairness and accuracy. The ACMA has the
ability to deal with complaints not adequately addressed by broadcasters implementing
their own codes of practice themselves.
The ACMA noted that although there is no general requirement under the
BSA for broadcasters to provide minimum news services, there are provisions designed
to require commercial regional broadcasters in both radio and television to
The ACMA submitted that it also has some responsibility for broadcast
political matter and election advertisements. This is designed to:
...facilitate reasonably balanced access to licensed television
and radio broadcasting services by different political opinion holders, whilst
informing audiences about who is trying to persuade them to think or to act in
response to broadcast election or political matter.
More specifically, the ACMA's responsibilities include setting out the
required standards for broadcasters:
During an election period, if a broadcaster broadcasts 'election
matter', the broadcaster must give reasonable opportunities for the broadcast
of election matter to all previously elected political parties contesting the
Where a television or radio licensee broadcasts 'political
matter' at the request of another party (such as a political party or other
political campaigner), a licence condition
in Schedule 2 to the BSA requires the licensee to immediately broadcast the 'required
particulars' of that political matter. The required particulars must identify
the source of the political matter (such as the political party) and the name
of the person who authorised it.
The ACMA also has some responsibility for oversight of control and
diversity rules under Part 5 of the BSA, which sets out 'rules intended to
limit the number of media operations that may be controlled by individual entities'.
The ACMA suggested these rules were to encourage competition and innovation in
the media, as well as a plurality of views expressed, but noted this did not
target news specifically:
The ACMA understands that the original intention of the media
control and diversity rules was to maximise the number of opinions expressed via commercial media...
However, the ACMA notes that
the media control and diversity rules are not directed specifically at the
promotion or preservation of news services provided by media organisations. While the ACMA has
consistently and effectively enforced the media control and diversity rules in
the BSA, its
remit does not extend to specific consideration of the diversity or viability
of public interest journalism when considering matters of media control and diversity.
The ACMA also plans and licences community broadcasting services under
the BSA. Although the ACMA cannot mandate that the provision of news services
be a condition of a broadcasting licence being granted, it 'encourages...community
broadcasting licensees to provide local news services'. It noted:
...that many community broadcasting services do not provide
their own news but rather provide networked news sourced from centralised
providers such as the Community Radio Network or Australian Independent Radio
News. Where news and current affairs are
provided they are subject to the applicable requirements of the CBAA code.
In the ACMA's opinion, while community broadcasters can and
do play an important role in supplementing the news services provided by
commercial and national services in their communities, many if not most
community broadcasting licensees lack the resources to provide comprehensive
and sustainable local news services.
The ACMA also conducts research on a range of issues regarding the
Australian media landscape. In particular, the ACMA highlighted the findings of
its research into local content in regional Australia (2017), and its inquiry
into contemporary community safeguards (2014).
Media Entertainment and Arts
Alliance Journalist Code of Ethics
The Media, Entertainment & Arts
Alliance (MEAA) is the largest union and industry advocate for Australia's
creative professionals on any platform (print, broadcast and digital),
including journalists, editors, photographers, designers, producers, artists,
cartoonists, and sub-editors. It
administers a Journalist Code of Ethics that binds all members of MEAA Media,
and which is registered with the Fair Work Commission. The aspirations
of the code are stated as follows:
Respect for truth and the
public's right to information are fundamental principles of journalism.
Journalists search, disclose, record, question, entertain, comment and
remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They scrutinise power,
but also exercise it, and should be responsible and accountable.
Members commit to four principles: honesty; fairness; independence; and
respect for the rights of others. They also commit to educate themselves about
the following standards:
Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy,
fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant
available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair
opportunity for reply.
Do not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics,
including race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation, family
relationships, religious belief, or physical or intellectual disability.
Aim to attribute information to its source. Where a source
seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source's motives
and any alternative attributable source. Where confidences are accepted,
respect them in all circumstances.
Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment,
payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.
Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen
to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism. Do not
improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.
Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations
to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.
Do your utmost to ensure disclosure of any direct or indirect
payment made for interviews, pictures, information or stories.
Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material.
Identify yourself and your employer before obtaining any interview for
publication or broadcast. Never exploit a person's vulnerability or ignorance
of media practice.
Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate. Any
manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed.
Do not plagiarise.
Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have
the right to resist compulsion to intrude.
Do your utmost to achieve fair correction of errors.
Under the code, anyone can make a complaint if they believe a journalist
has breached the standards. However, as the code is self-administered, MEAA is
unable to investigate or take action against individuals who are not MEAA
Reviews of the media sector in Australia
This section outlines some recent reviews of the media sector in
Australia that have shaped Commonwealth policy and provided a context for this
The Convergence Review
The Convergence Review was established in March 2011, to consider the
effects of, and possible Commonwealth responses to, the convergence of media–i.e.
media being increasingly delivered online rather than in traditional ways.
The Review arose after it became apparent that many aspects of the existing
regulatory regime were outdated, unnecessary or ineffective in taking into
account these changes.
It set out to:
...examine the operation of media and communications regulation
in Australia and assess its effectiveness in achieving appropriate policy
objectives for the convergent era. The terms of reference for the Review
covered a broad range of issues, including media ownership laws, media content
standards, the ongoing production and distribution of Australian and local
content, and the allocation of radiocommunications spectrum.
In specific relation to news, the Convergence Review report noted:
News and commentary play a vital role in any democracy.
Content service enterprises that provide news and commentary should meet
appropriate journalistic standards in fairness, accuracy and transparency
regardless of the delivery platform. The Review has taken into account the
findings of the Independent Media Inquiry. While agreeing with much of the
analysis and some of the findings of the Independent Media Inquiry, the
Convergence Review recommends an approach based on an industry-led body for
news standards rather than a statutory body.
The Review looked at the future of media and communications in
Australia, and advocated for wholescale reform of our national oversight and
regulatory system. It was guided by a number of principles, including that:
[C]itizens and organisations should be able to communicate
freely and, where regulation is required, it should be the minimum necessary to
achieve a clear public purpose.
The Convergence Review found that there was a need for regulation in a
number of areas: media ownership; content standards, including news content
standards; and quotas for Australian and local content.
The review found that 'content service enterprises' (CSEs) should be
subject to a common classification scheme, regardless of the platform they used
to deliver their services. Additionally, CSEs would be subject to certain
ownership rules, and would be expected to meet certain community standards
regarding the content they provide, as well as to contribute to the
availability of Australian content.
It proposed that certain criteria would apply in defining CSEs,
including revenue thresholds set at a high level to exclude small or developing
enterprises, although it noted that this threshold should be regularly
reviewed. Under the thresholds proposed by the Convergence Review, around 15 media
organisations would have been considered CSEs, including some broadcasters and
larger newspaper companies. However, at that time, Telstra, Apple and Google
would not have been considered CSEs under the proposed thresholds.
One of the key recommendations made by the report was the proposed
establishment of two bodies: a statutory regulator to replace the ACMA; and an
industry-led body to deal with journalistic standards for news and commentary.
The Convergence Review recommended that the new communications regulator
would take responsibility for implementing the recommendation made by the
Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) on classification in 2012 that there
should be a new national classification scheme.
It was proposed that the industry-led body covering news standards would
absorb the news and commentary-related functions of the APC and the ACMA, and
cover all platforms. It would enforce a media code aimed at promoting fairness,
accuracy and transparency in news and commentary, and be able to adjudicate and
provide remedies for complaints. It could also refer serious or persistent
breaches to the communications regulator.
CSEs would be required to hold membership of this body, and would
provide most of its funding, with government contributing to certain aspects of
its functions or projects. Bodies not considered CSEs could elect to hold
It would have jurisdiction only over CSEs and opt-in members, and so there
would be no regulation covering social media.
The Finkelstein Review
The Finkelstein Review was established in 2012 to assess whether
Australia's media codes of practice were effective, and to gauge the impact of
new technologies on traditional media. It focussed almost exclusively on the
traditional print media sector.
Having regard to the effectiveness of media codes of practice,
Finkelstein recommended that there were clear deficiencies that should be addressed.
Most significantly, he recommended the Commonwealth establish a 'News Media
Council', a new statutory body funded by government–though kept at arms-length,
which would take over the media accountability functions of the APC and the
ACMA across all platforms. In this report, Finkelstein wrote:
I therefore recommend that a new body, a News Media Council,
be established to set journalistic standards for the news media in consultation
with the industry, and handle complaints made by the public when those
standards are breached. Those standards will likely be substantially the same
as those that presently apply and which all profess to embrace.
Moreover, I recommend that the News Media Council have those
roles in respect of news and current affairs coverage on all platforms, that
is, print, online, radio and television. It will thus explicitly cover online
news for the first time, and will involve transferring ACMA functions for
standards and complaints concerning news and current affairs. It will replace
the voluntary APC with a statutory entity. In an era of media convergence, the
mandate of regulatory agencies should be defined by function rather than by
medium. Where many publishers transmit the same story on different platforms it
is logical that there be one regulatory regime covering them all.
The News Media Council should have secure funding from
government and its decisions made binding, but beyond that government should
have no role. The establishment of a council is not about increasing the power
of government or about imposing some form of censorship. It is about making the
news media more accountable to those covered in the news, and to the public
Regarding more direct assistance for the sector, Finkelstein Report concluded
that government intervention was not necessary at that time.
However, it did reach a number of potential options for future actions the
government 'may be able to draw upon should action be needed'.
This included directing the Productivity Commission (PC) to conduct an
inquiry considering the health of the news industry, what the Commonwealth's
role should be in supporting the media sector, and 'the
policy principles by which any government support should be given to ensure
effectiveness, as well as eliminating any chance of political patronage or
The Finkelstein Report suggested the following areas should be considered by a
Local and regional needs, especially where service gaps in news
exist. This should take into account the merits of increasing government
assistance to the Community Broadcasting Foundation to bolster local news and
community reporting services, particularly where local newspapers do not exist;
Strengthening the news capacity of the ABC, as 'In the multichannel
TV environment, further fragmented by the internet, national broadcasters have
become more rather than less central. This has clearly been the case with the
Incentives for private/ philanthropic investment in news,
particularly by offering tax deductions for 'a portion' of donations for the
establishment of new non-profit news ventures or ongoing operational funding;
Subsidies to offset the cost of producing 'investigative and
public interest journalism', including considering the models offered by film
production tax rebates for producing Australian films; and
Subsidising the professional development of journalists through
the Australian education system, or through the establishment of a Centre for
Investigative Journalism at a university or through a network of universities.
ACCC inquiry into digital platform
On 4 December 2017, the Federal Government announced that the Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission would conduct an inquiry into digital
platform providers such as Facebook and Google. According to the ACCC, this
inquiry 'will look at the effect that digital search engines, social media
platforms and other digital content aggregation platforms are having on
competition in media and advertising services markets'.
When announcing this inquiry, Mr Rod Sims, the ACCC's Chairman, stated:
We will examine whether platforms are exercising market power
in commercial dealings to the detriment of consumers, media content creators
and advertisers. The ACCC will look closely at longer-term trends and the
effect of technological change on competition in media and advertising... We will
also consider the impact of information asymmetry between digital platform
providers and advertisers and consumers.
The ACCC is expected to produce a preliminary report in December 2018,
with a final report in June 2019.
Recent changes to Australian media laws and other relevant legislation
Over the course of this committee's work some relevant pieces of
legislation have come before Parliament, which will be discussed in turn.
First, this section outlines the provisions of the highly contested
Broadcasting Legislation Amendment (Broadcasting Reform) Bill 2017 (Broadcasting
Bill), which was passed by Parliament on 14 September 2017, as well as subsequent
bills introduced into Parliament to give this legislation effect.
Secondly, it briefly discusses the bill recently introduced by the
government that looks to set up a Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FIT
Scheme) to curb foreign influence on Australia's political system, including 'fake
Broadcasting Legislation Amendment
(Broadcasting Reform) Bill 2017
The Broadcasting Bill made the following changes to the Australian media
The abolition of the '75 per cent audience reach rule', which
prohibited commercial television broadcasting licensees from controlling
licences whose combined licence area populations exceeded 75 per cent of the
The abolition of the '2 out of 3 cross-media control rule', which
prohibited control over more than two out of three regulated media platforms in
any one commercial radio licence area;
Provision of additional local programming obligations for
regional commercial television broadcasting licensees;
Amendments to measures relating to the anti-siphoning scheme and
the anti-siphoning notice, including extending the automatic delisting period
and removing the multi-channelling rule;
The abolition of broadcast licence fees and replacement with a
more modest spectrum charge paid by commercial broadcasters.
In order to pass this legislation, the government made a series of
concessions to crossbench senators. The Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) negotiated a
Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation package, which includes a $50 million
innovation fund for small and/or regional publishers with a turnover of between
$300,000 and $30 million a year. These grants are capped at $1
million for each publisher and open from mid-2018, and are contingent on APC
The government also provided for a cadetship program for up to 200
places with small or regional publishers of up to $40,000 each, as well as
60 regional journalism scholarships.The
Department of Communications and the Arts provided the following information to
the committee on notice:
The Regional and Small Publishers Cadetship Program will
support both on-the-job and formal training for journalism cadets. Of the 100
cadetships that will be offered in 2018-19 and 2019-20, between 80 and 90 will
be for attachments to regional publications. The Regional Journalism
Scholarships will support students from regional areas of Australia to take up
opportunities to study journalism. Guidelines for the measures comprising the
Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package are currently being
developed and more details are expected to be available in 2018.
A further concession made by government was that it would direct the
ACCC to undertake an inquiry into the market dominance of aggregators, their
advertising practices, and the effects these have had on the state of public
interest journalism, as outlined above.
As well as the above concessions, the government also committed to a
number of proposals advanced by Pauline Hanson's One Nation (PHON) party. As
well as a $12 million boost to community radio sector funding, these measures
Undertaking a review of the ABC's competitive neutrality;
Increased financial transparency on the part of the ABC,
particularly disclosing the salaries and conditions of all staff with packages
of over $200,000 a year;
Increasing the ABC's services to regional and rural areas; and
Introducing legislation into Parliament to insert the need to be 'fair
and balanced' into the ABC's charter.
At the time of writing, the Senate Environment and Communications
Legislation Committee is inquiring into the provisions of three bills
subsequent to NXT and PHON negotiations to pass the Broadcasting Bill:
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Fair and Balanced)
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional
Measures) Bill 2017; and
Communications Legislation Amendment (Regional and Small
Publishers Innovation Fund) Bill 2017.
As these bills are under consideration by another Senate committee, this
committee will not be making any substantive comment in this report.
The committee notes that the Government first introduced the
Broadcasting Bill to abolish the 'two out of three cross-media control rule' in
Given public interest concerns about the high level of media concentration in
Australia, the proposed repeal of the two out of three rule was resisted
strongly and it remained on the statute books for over 18 months until various negotiations
with crossbench senators saw its repeal in late 2017.
The committee further notes that none of the concessions or bills
negotiated by crossbench senators in exchange for support for the repeal of the
two out of three rule address the high level of media concentration in
Australia or encourage diversity in control of the more influential
broadcasting services in Australia. Indeed, the bills relating to the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation are clearly a blatant political attack on
the ABC, for no real public policy rationale or public good.
Foreign Influence Transparency
Scheme (FIT Scheme)
On 7 December 2017, the government introduced a tranche of legislation
into Parliament, including a bill to establish the Foreign Influence
Transparency Scheme (FIT Scheme) The committee understands that the legislation
is partly aimed at countering potential foreign interference in Australia,
including the potential effects of 'fake news'. Answers to questions on notice
from the Attorney-General's Department stated that the scope of information or
materials covered under the legislation is broad and:
...could include fake news content,
whether disseminated via hard copy, online
or through other platforms. For example, the
publication of information that is intended to sway the public's vote in a federal election, or persuade the federal government on a policy
matter, if done on behalf of a foreign principal, may give rise to registration
and disclosure obligations under the scheme.
The scheme will require disclosures to be made in any information
or materials communicated on behalf of a foreign
principal. This is intended to provide transparency about the forms and sources
of foreign influence in communications products, to
assist the Australian Government and the public to assess such products, their
provenance, content and the veracity of the
information being communicated.
The committee understands that the scheme defines 'communications
activity' broadly, and so it could capture distribution of fake news content in
hard copy, online or through other platforms. Moreover, some public commentary
on the FIT Scheme has suggested it may capture some Australian organisations
campaigning on political issues that receive donations from overseas.
The committee is encouraged that the Commonwealth has proactively moved
to mitigate the undue influence of fake news in electoral processes. However,
it is yet to be seen whether this bill will be fit for purpose, or whether it
would also unfairly stifle or compromise legitimate commentary on government
As the bill to establish the FIT Scheme is currently before the
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, this committee
makes no substantive comment here, although notes it looks forward to the
scrutiny consideration by Parliament will afford.
Freedoms and responsibilities of the press
The longstanding principle of the freedom of the press as an
indispensable pillar of democracy was discussed comprehensively in the
Finkelstein Report, including the principle that the press should be
independent from government interference and a degree of immunity from
Finkelstein noted that there should only be limited restrictions on the
freedom of the press in some areas, including instances affecting:
the protection of individual interests against false or
the protection of community standards;
protection against violence and disorder;
protection from external aggression;
protection of national security;
the protection of the administration of justice, and
the protection of private property.
This committee has no wish to replicate the work undertaken by the Finkelstein
inquiry, given how comprehensively that report set out the historical,
philosophical and ethical grounds for democracies to have a free press that
operates without compromise or impediments, and noted the role and
responsibilities of the press to provide reliable information to ordinary
citizens, so they are able to participate in society and the democratic
Nonetheless, the committee notes that Finkelstein summarised its central
task as considering:
...how to accommodate the increasing and legitimate demand for
press accountability, but to do so in a way that does not increase state power
or inhibit the vigorous democratic role the press should play or undermine the
key rationales for free speech and a free press.
These words echo the concerns that have informed this committee's work.
The committee explicitly notes its support for a free and robust Fourth Estate,
as outlined above. The committee's deliberations have been closely guided by
Structure of this report
This report consists of seven chapters:
This chapter provides an overview of the administration of the
inquiry; discusses definitions of public interest journalism and the guiding
principles that have informed the committee's work; and provides outlines of
recent reviews of and legislation affecting the Australian media sector.
Chapter 2 sets out the principal issues examined by the committee,
including the shift to digital platforms that has affected traditional media,
the growth of aggregators and online advertising, the loss of journalist jobs,
and the subsequent effects on public interest journalism. This chapter also
includes an overview of the phenomenon of 'fake news' and its effects on
democratic systems globally.
Chapter 3 sets out the opportunities offered by the shift away
from traditional media platforms, and toward digital, including the benefits of
new approaches to journalism and unprecedentedly large online audiences.
Chapter 4 considers the specific relationship between the news
media and aggregators, and discusses the possibility of imposing a levy on
Chapter 5 looks overseas to briefly examine how the policy and
reform issues raised in the report have been addressed in other countries.
Chapter 6 considers ways that the Commonwealth directly supports
public interest journalism, including through its public broadcasters, as well
as potential models for direct support in the future. It outlines the benefits
and pitfalls of offering direct subsidies to media organisations. This chapter
also considers a number of other issues, including whether the Commonwealth
could do more to encourage news literacy in Australia, either through public
awareness campaigns or the education system.
Chapter 7 looks at ways the Commonwealth could indirectly support
a healthy public interest journalism sector through reforms to its tax and
legal systems, as well as a number of other policy adjustments.
Conduct of the inquiry
Details of the inquiry, including links to its terms of reference and
associated documents were placed on the committee website at: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Future_of_Public_Interest_Journalism
The committee directly contacted a number of relevant organisations and
individuals to notify them of the inquiry and invite submissions by 15 June 2017,
but also expressed its willingness to receive submissions after this date on
its website. Submissions received by the committee are listed at Appendix 1.
The committee held seven public hearings: in Sydney on 17 May 2017;
Melbourne on 19 May 2017; Sydney on 11 July 2017; Melbourne on 21 August 2017;
Sydney on 22 August 2017; Canberra on 22 November 2017; and Sydney on 23 November
2017. A list of witnesses who gave evidence at hearings is available at
Appendix 2, and all Hansard transcripts can be accessed through the committee's
The committee would like to thank those individuals, institutions and
organisations that made submissions to the inquiry, as well as all witnesses who
provided evidence at public hearings.
Finally, the committee considers it appropriate to record its sadness at
the death of Mr Michael Gordon, one of this country's most respected
journalists, who died at the time the committee was completing its final
deliberations. The committee would like to formally recognise Mr Gordon’s
immense contribution to Australian public interest journalism over his long and
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