Proposed media regulations could hit thousands of blogs and news sites, but bloggers are relaxed

We know traditional media aren’t happy with recommendations to replace self-regulation with a taxpayer-funded media complaints body, but what about blogs and smaller media outlets that would fall under its umbrella?

A report into media regulation, released on Friday by former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein and academic and journalist Matthew Ricketson, calls for the establishment of a new body that would cover broadcast, print and online, including sites with as few as 15,000 hits per year – or less than 300 per week.

The report, handed to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, says the proposed News Media Council should have the power to force the media to issue corrections, apologies and rights of reply.

The Australian Press Council and the government-funded Australian Communications and Media Authority currently oversee the media.

Tim Burrowes, editor-in-chief of media and marketing site Mumbrella, says he doesn’t believe the proposals would greatly impact his site. He says he believes in self-regulation and would accept any overture by the Australian Press Council to include online-only sites within its remit.

But Burrowes says beyond the limited expected impact on Mumbrella – and scepticism that the Government will even enact the proposal – there are legitimate concerns about the principle of a government body taking over media regulation.

Andrea Carson, lecturer in media, politics and society at the University of Melbourne, has noted that the taxpayer-funded model is attractive for smaller sites.

“The new super-regulator will be taxpayer-funded, and at arms’ length from Government. This is better than a compulsory media-levy option because it will not disadvantage start-ups or small outlets,” Carson writes on the Conversation website.

But Burrowes says he doesn’t believe the “saving on the cost of self-regulation is enough to give up the principle of self-regulation.”

He also questions the 15,000 hit cut-off mentioned in the report, saying there are no perfect ways of measuring readership numbers. He also questioned whether bloggers would be compelled to disclose their readership numbers.

Burrowes adds that after spending a long time working through issues in the media, Finkelstein and Ricketson seemed not to have adequately tested the solutions they proposed.

But Toby Jenkins, general manager of web design and strategy agency Bluewire Media – which has a popular blog whose readership would exceed the proposed threshold – is nonplussed at the prospect of a new complaints handling body.

“It’d be interesting. Hopefully it would just be holding us to standards we already uphold,” Jenkins says.

“My initial thoughts are that it’s good. We stand by the writing we publish, so I can’t imagine an oversight body would really impact on us.”

But News Limited chief executive Kim Williams says the “spectre of a Government-funded overseer of a free press in an open and forward-looking democracy like ours cannot be justified.”

His predecessor, John Hartigan, has gone further. Hartigan was quoted today saying that the Government had the inquiry as “a sort of jihad against News. And they’ve got an outcome that will give people outside the industry a level of comfort. But I think it is a total outrage.”

Major rival Fairfax Media has similar views, with chief executive Greg Hywood saying the report had not made a compelling case for regulatory change.

“So as far as I can see the recommendations in his report around the foundation of a statutory body are not warranted,” Hywood told the Australian Financial Review.


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