Page 28 Senate Tuesday, 19 March 2013ENVIRONMENT AND COMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION COMMITTEEhow well we are going. So I think it is very important to build on what we have done and ensure that we keepgetting better. I will perhaps stop there and I will weave in any comments I have about the bill going beyond that.
Thank you very much for that very detailed overview. Normally we do not like long introductions but you have taken us to a lot of important issues. I thank you for that.Can I just deal with a procedural matter before we go any further. The
has sought copies of Mr Finkelstein's opening address and Professor Ricketson's. I do not have any problem with that. We always try tohelp the
wherever we can. So we need them tabled.
I move that they be tabled.
There being no objection, I declare it carried. These can be made available to any journalist whowants a copy. I might go to Senator Ludlam first and then come to you, Senator Birmingham.
Thanks, Professor, for your evidence. Maybe you can take us through the background of how it has come to be that Seven West Media have established an independent media council. We heard directlyfrom Mr McGinty this morning on this. Can you talk us back through how that occurred and maybe just give usyour view on whether you believe the Australian Press Council should be the only entity of its type or whether you are comfortable with more than one?
Firstly as to how it occurred, really, Seven West Media are the authorities on that. I wasnegotiating at the time to get strengthening of the council, particularly as a result of the Finkelstein findings. I wasnegotiating with a group of four publishers. They were then conferring amongst themselves as to their attitude.The lead people with whom I was negotiating were from News and Fairfax. It was believed that agreement had been reached. We had a teleconference to confirm that agreement. Seven West Media, about five minutes before,indicated they would not be taking part. It was a surprise to the publishers and to me.The only reason that has been given, so far as I am aware, was the belief that we were not sufficientlycommitted to refusing any form of government funding. The situation was, before any of this happened, beforethe Finkelstein inquiry, we had already agreed that very limited project funding from government sources could be obtained if the council felt it was appropriate.It would usually have been obtained in a mixture of sources for a particular project. We did obtain money, for example, from the Myer Foundation to assist with our work on standards. But there was never any commitmentfrom anyone that we would get government funding, let alone government core funding, let alone funding thatwould exceed 50 per cent. In fact it was the reverse.So far as one knows, that is the reason that has been given. It is possible, of course, that the reason was that thecouncil was strengthening itself and it was believed that they did not want to be part of a stronger council. I do notknow.As to the question of whether there should be more than one regulator, I just say I do not know of any part of the world where it has been canvassed that there should be more than one, with the exception of the UnitedKingdom, although Lord Justice Leveson said it would be a major failure of the industry if they did not all cometogether in one. But there was a suggestion that there might be one for regional newspapers and one for nationalnewspapers which, of course, is more manageable in the UK.I do not think there can really be any question, both from any understanding of regulatory practice in other areas or in this area, that in general this leads to confusion, inconsistency and over time an erosion of standards, acompetitive race to the bottom as publishers seek to be with the less rigorous regulator. It is a major issue. It is particularly a major issue if you have regulators that are in fact one-publisher regulators. How any requirement of independence
and independence of course must be judged over the longer term, not over initial appointments.They must be judged over the longer term, bearing in mind what pressures will come to bear if one is subject to just one publisher. The pressures are substantial when you are subject to lots of publishers but at least they are notusually pushing all in the same direction and they also do not have the ability to cut off your funding and pull outat no notice. We, of course, got an agreement at as part of the negotiation, and this may have been a big factor inthe decision to move away from us by Seven West Media, that you could not get out in less than four years.So unless they got out on the date they got out, they would not have been able to get out without four yearsnotice in future. We now have that. That is unique around the world. And we have three years advance funding,specific dollars from each publisher.
Technically one of the other big publishers could still leave the Press Council but thereare now those very long lead times involved in that occurring.