Phone hacking scandal prompts media review in Australia

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard
Image: MystifyMe Concert Photography.

Top Australian government politicians will attempt to launch an official media regulation enquiry, following public calls for a better understanding of the relationship between the media and politicians.

Concerns regarding the behaviour of the Australian media follow the exposure of the News of the World tabloid newspaper following the phone hacking of public figures. Rupert Murdoch, owner of British tabloid News of the World before it was shut down, currently owns more than half of the nation's press through News Corporation's Australian subsidiary, News Limited.

News Limited recently announced they would review their expenses to ensure no payments had been made in an unethical manner.

A recent Newsstand poll found 70 percent of Australians agreed that “too few people control the media” within the country.

However, Senator Bob Brown has acknowledged making any changes to media ownership in the country may be impossible. “We don’t have the anti-monopoly laws that the United States has, but no harm in looking at it and what impact that has," he said.

Australian media outlets were recently accused of holding biased agendas towards the government following the phone hacking scandal. Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy accused News Limited tabloid, "The Daily Telegraph", of staging a public campaign calling for a “regime change” in government.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard held frank discussions with News Limited editors late last month. Ms. Gillard refused to reveal what was discussed in the closed-door meeting, but stated it was a “broad ranging discussion…canvassing a number of topics". The meeting followed her statement that “hard questions” needed to be answered by the media company.

The Australian public has welcomed the call to investigate media giants, with a Newsstand petition calling for an examination into the standards of reporting, privacy measures, the diversity of the media and regulations regarding the handling of problems and complaints. However, maintaining the freedom of the press is still of high concern.

Senator Brown believes the calls for media inquiry were a “decent response” in light of the News of the World exposure.

Negotiations for a full enquiry into the Australian media will resume when Parliament recommences next week.

There is no evidence of any unethical behaviour within the Australian media at present.