Free Press

Press Freedom Under Threat in Australia


Senator Stephen Conroy
Dr. Ron

When last I wrote about the move toward government control of the press in countries that traditionally tolerated relative media freedom, Australia was flirting with a document coughed up by the Finkelstein Inquiry which, as with Britain's Leveson Inquiry and the European Commission's High-Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism report, created justifications for a state grab for control of the press. Now the Australian government's flirtation has turned into a whole-hearted embrace with a sloppy kiss, as officials put forward an explicit proposal for reining-in the media under government control. What makes the situation even more interesting is that, of all the press reports, the Finkelstein Inquiry is the most overtly politicized.

Detailed legislation is still a day or two away, but the Labor government's broad proposals are available for the world to see on the Website of Senator Stephen Conroy (the smug-looking seat warmer in the photo above), the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. The proposals include:

  • A press standards model which ensures strong self-regulation of the print and online news media.
  • The introduction of a Public Interest Test to ensure diversity considerations are taken into account for nationally significant media mergers and acquisitions.
  • Modernising the ABC and SBS charters to reflect their online and digital activities.
  • Supporting community television services following digital switchover by providing them a permanent allocation of a portion of Channel A.
  • Making permanent the 50% reduction in the licence fees paid by commercial television broadcasters, conditional on the broadcast of an additional 1460 hours of Australian content by 2015.

The key points here are the "press standards model" and the "Public Interest Test" for media ownership.The proposals go on to specify that "the Government will bring forward a press standards model which ensures strong self-regulation by print and online media organisations" and "Membership to such a body will ensure exemptions from privacy legislation for its member organisations." So, press organization won't be forced to submit to regulation, but they'll be subject to special legal burdens if they don't.

Writing for Australia's Institute of Public Affairs, James Paterson warns:

Placing this power in the hands of a government regulator inevitably will insert political considerations into what should purely be a commercial decision-making process. This delivers on the Greens' hopes that some individuals could be prevented from owning a media outlet.

Australia now also effectively will have a press licensing system. Any media outlet not signed up to a government-endorsed media regulator will lose journalistic privileges such as exemptions from privacy laws.

This will force media groups that are not presently members of bodies such as the press council to join, and is a powerful threat to existing members that they must not leave. It will be virtually impossible to run a media outlet in Australia without being under the supervision of government-appointed bureaucrats.

As for what drives the government in its quest for power over the press, note that the Finkelstein Inquiry admitted:

Concern was also expressed by several politicians and others that certain of News Limited's papers (The Australian and the Daily Telegraph) were biased in their reporting on particular issues. Climate change and the National Broadband Network were given as examples.

Need I mention that The Australian and the Daily Telegraph are often at odds with the ruling party's policies? "Bias," as is often the case, translates as "criticism" and "opinions we don't like."

Unlike its British counterpart, the Australian press scheme seems to encompass online media, too, closing off the channel that some U.K. newspaper have considered of going purely digital. Still, it seems likely that enterprising Australian journalists, given backing, could base a digital news operation, along with its servers, in New Zealand or the United States so that its reporters could act as correspondents for a foreign news organization with the protection that implies. If the media legislation passes, that might be the last, best hope for a free press in Australia.

(H/T invisible furry hand)

NEXT: Group Wants Impartial Military Justice System

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  1. Gosh, I hope they don’t get placed in the disposition matrix for doing this.

    1. The Labor Party won’t get placed in the disposition matrix for this. In fact, they’ll probably be invited to DC by Obama and congressional Democrats so they can figure out how to implement this innovative new system right here in the USA.

      1. You don’t know that. The disposition matrix is mostly classified. It could be based on anything.

        1. Double Secret disposition matrix.

          1. Now you have achieved true understanding.

    2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”

      Doesn’t the R2P doctrine require the US to intervene with military force when a state usurps fundamental human rights?

      1. Yeah but Australia isn’t in the Middle East or Africa, so no.

      2. I fully support an invasion of Australia. They would welcome us with open arms!

        1. I think we call it “liberating” then don’t we?

  2. This is just fucking depressing.

  3. Heritage still ranks Australia at the top of its Freedom Index despite its national health care, strict gun control, and cap/trade.

    1. If you read the actual report you would also see that the US has higher levels of cronyism. Higher corporate tax levels and out of control spending.

      Gun control, NHS, and cap/trade have little to do with it. Carbon taxing is bringing down Australia’s score.

      Yes Australia has a higher score, but mainly because they’ve decided to stay out of the way rather than get involved.

    2. Heritage still ranks Australia at the top of its Economic Freedom Index despite its national health care, strict gun control, and cap/trade.

      Missed something there.

      Q.3. How do you measure economic freedom?
      We measure ten components of economic freedom, assigning a grade in each using a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 represents the maximum freedom. The 10 economic freedoms are grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom:

      1 Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption);
      2 Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending);
      3 Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom); and
      4 Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom).

      Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms. Detailed information about the methodology used to score each component is contained in the appendix.

      And Australia only scored an 82.6 out of 100 and the “information considered for each factor was current as of June 30, 2012.”

      Context matters dipshit.

    3. Current price of rice in china is about 1820 yuan per ton.

  4. a Public Interest Test to ensure diversity considerations are taken into account

    This is total bullshit that can “mean” only “anything the state deems proper”.

    At least it’s not a “Total Interest Test”.

    1. “At least it’s not a “Total Interest Test”.”
      Yeah? Wait’ll next year.

      1. Those PITs are the TITs!

  5. conditional on the broadcast of an additional 1460 hours of Australian content by 2015.

    At least the Australians produce some funny television. I wonder if they’ll count shows like Wilfred: made by Australians in foreign countries.

    1. The French wouldn’t watch the French movies, so the French (and other Euro gov’ts) required ‘local content’.
      Pretty sure the limits were the reason for Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. The money went to American actors on vacation.

      1. Currency controls are also sometimes the reason for such things. I know Merchant/Ivory’s first film, The Householder, was made because they had “blocked” funds they couldn’t take out of India.

  6. It’s lucky for Australians that they don’t have a smelly old Constitution to get in the way of their legislators enlightened proclamations.

  7. I am holding out hope that ifh can unleash a pack of dingos, a drop bear or a flock of assault kookaburras on Stephen Conroy.

    1. Don’t forget the spider bats.

      1. And the spider spiders!

  8. Pretty soon we’re gonna see “hate speech” laws. Think it can’t happen here? Look at colleges. Last year one college went batshit crazy after someone wrote “fag” on a stall in the bathroom. Seriously. Imagine if they saw my blog….

    1. “Imagine if they saw my blog….”

      No worries there! Well, for anyone seeing it, actually.

    2. And no link to said blog? Worst self-promoter ever.

      1. I promote my blog all the time, and none of you ever visit. 😐

  9. Libertarianism is nothing but a head-in-the-clouds denail of reality. Libertarians thik that more unskiled, low IQ labor would lead to a HIGHER per-capita GDP. Increasing the supply of labor would make its price(people’s wages) go UP. And people ALWAYS “create” wealth. Ecologiocal resources have nothing to with it

    1. You might want to invest in spell-check, dude.

      1. Maybe it is Tiggy Foo or some other anonybot blogging from the spammer ID retirement home?

        1. He posted the same thing (including spelling errors) elsewhere and hooked more people into arguing with him.

        2. It’s the White Power A3P fuckhole, again. Ignore it until it gets banned is a good idea.

          1. Not the A3P strawman again. I could never support an antisemitic political party like A3P. My views are essentially the views of a majority of White Americans. I want to live in a White country.

            1. Fuck off, Nazi shitbag.

            2. I want to live in a White country.

              Then I suggest moving to one and getting the fuck out of the U.S.

              1. What’s the point? Liberals will fill it up with diversity. Suppose the rich white man’slibertarian paradise of the “Free State Project” succeeds. How soon will it be filled up with NAMs, to do the work we “won’t do.”

                1. You’re missing my point… just go away.

            3. Wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which one fills up fastest.

            4. Then move to Greenland, dickhead. Preferably right in the middle. The whitest country there is.

              1. Not necessarily:


                1. *barf*

      2. He’s making a point you guys. He’s demonstrating that idiots who have no grasp of reality or grammar add no value to these comments.

        1. But we’ve had that lesson from Shriek and Tony before….I am bored teacher, can’t we learn anything fun?!

          1. Sit down and shut up! I only have a few more years of babysitting you little nosepickers before I can collect my pension.

            1. Ha, ha – the jokes on you I am in Illinois…good luck collecting!

      3. Fucking reason, won’t let me preview comments, use spell check, or even post half the time because they keep banning my account. This is my third account!

        1. Decouple your email address from your ID and you can have your preview back. You were in that thread. Spell check is an internal function of most modern browsers, not something Reason provides.

          1. I prefer to use the spell-check in my head. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work so well for German. 🙁

        2. Looking forward to number four.

          1. Not, I think, many others.

        3. And yet you still don’t get the message that, while we think you have a right to spout your racist drivel, no one here wants you around. Fuck off, already.

          1. It could at least spell it’s racist drivel correctly. It’s just common courtesy.

            1. Oh fuck off. Like you’ve never misspelled something in your life….. This is Tony behavior.

              1. No, Tony behavior is continuing to comment in a forum where you have repeatedly been told by both commenters and admins that you are not welcome.

              2. Meh, even when I misspell things my text is like the gentle patter of rain on a rooftop in the evening. You bray for an ahistorical “white America” where things were good and people who were different were kept in their place to a bunch of people whose motto is “fuck off, slaver,” the misspelling and the tone deaf comments make your statements double eye-rapey.

                1. “Ahistorical” to you probably means “your history professor would not like it”

                  1. I will gladly retract my statement if you can give me a date range where the ?bermenschen ruled over America justly and wisely. I know this is going to narrow the field a bit, but you cannot include periods of time while they were exterminating or forcibly relocating native Americans, slavery was in force, women were considered legal children for their adult lives, or the color of your skin was considered a justification for intimidation by people in conical hoods.

                2. “double eye-rapey”

                  Imm a gonna keep that one for futher use, umm huh.

              3. Slappy, you’re the kind of guy who would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reacharound, aren’t you?

                1. Come on Warty, be honest. You don’t give reacharounds either. You just hire illegal immigrants to do it for you.

                  1. There are some jobs white Americans just won’t do, Hugh.

                  2. Wait, who’s Slappy? What are we talking about? What’s going on?


                    1. I still think they should put in a placeholder comment so we don’t all look more schizo than we already are.

    2. Straw man much?

      1. Libertarians on this board favor mass immigration and think it will bring nothing but happiness to the American worker. Not a strawman.

        1. To be precise, we favor MassiveImmigration because we respect the rights of FilthyBrownPeople.

      2. Way to go Reason. Now noone will have any idea what the hell anyone upthread is even talking about. That’s mighty Orwellian of you, erasing history like that.

        1. That was part of American’s plan all along. Make stupid comments, get us to respond, then get banned so that it looks like we’re all mad at Warty.

          1. I love it when a plan comes together.

  10. Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

    Every time I think enlightened Western Democracy can’t get any worse…

    1. Minister for Broadband, Communications, the Digital Economy, and Funny Walks

    2. Then French have a “Minister for Women’s Rights’.” What a joke…..

  11. It will be virtually impossible to run a media outlet in Australia without being under the supervision of government-appointed bureaucrats.

    Uh, that’s the point.

    Why is it that it’s the Commonwealth countries (and it would be the US too without the Bill of Rights) that go FULL ORWELL first?

    1. Top. Men. Don’t you know, old chap.

    2. Because Orwell was most familiar with Commonwealth societal norms?

    3. The Europeans are already there.

  12. “A press standards model which ensures strong self-regulation of the print and online news media.”

    What Orwellian double-speak!

    How can a press standards model imposed by the government be “self-regulation”?

    That’s like sentencing someone to five years of self-regulation in jail.

    1. Press cronyism. The governing body will be appointed from the Correct Publications (no doubt with a sprinkling of Correct Academics). See? “Self-Regulation”. What could possibly go wrong with giving some industry players regulatory power over their competitors?

      1. I know Australians have internet access to the outside world, though. Maybe that’ll break down over time, too.

        I could see the government throttling sites that aren’t certified by the government. …although there probably aren’t a lot of foreign news services covering Australian news.

        I guess you’re right, though. That’s the time-tested, cross-cultural process by which industries accept regulation. We’ll accept regulation so long as you put up huge market barriers to protect us from competitors. Seems to be the rule of thumb.

  13. Australia is the nanny state to which all other nanny states must aspire to. They are a special kind of stupid.

  14. Of course, we should all damn Mr. Tuccille for posting this at a time not convenient for the Aussies like IFH to comment. :-p

    1. She is too busy preparing to unleash Hell (commonly known as “most Australian plant or animal forms”) on Conroy.

    2. She posted something on it in the morning links.

  15. How long before there’s a push for press licensing here? 20 years? 10?

    1. I dunno, there’s been a big bottom-up push in favor of citizen journalism with the advent of the internet. More people are invested in freedom of the press than ever before. It’d certainly be an interesting fight to watch go down.

    2. I think that ship has sailed, actually. I see the United States going increasingly in the opposite direction, thankfully.

    3. Why license it? Aren’t ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, WaPo, NYT, etc., all fellating power and authority here voluntarily?

      I sure don’t see anything like Reason writ large across the US press, despite occasional rumblings from the WSJ once in a while.

  16. Look here, kiddies. If you are in Russia, you can get a silver or even gold badge to proudly display on your uniform, if you are a good little serfs for Pappy Putin.

    Soviet Style Russia making comeback

    I don’t think this is fair to our own little sheeple snowflakes. Dear leader needs to be stepping it up, we are looking bad, we’re not moving forward!

    1. we cannot allow a gold badge gap

    2. Why did I read the comments? Why?

      1. To warn the rest of us?

      2. This one was good, anyway:

        That bloke can kill you with one finger….. he uses it to tap in the numbers to phone another bloke, who stabs you with poison

      3. I’m gonna go with ‘learning disabled’. You keep doing the same thing and getting the same result…

        I suppose masochism fits, too.

  17. It looks like Canada hasn’t had much of this. Presumably because any such laws could be avoided by going to the US. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if Trudeau or Mulcair are itching to do this.

    1. On the other hand, they’ve already got the CBC to fellate them.

  18. Strange to see this in both Australia and England. What is it they have in common again? Lower rates of gun crime or some such?

    1. What is it they have in common again?

      Neither can speak proper English?

  19. Any media outlet not signed up to a government-endorsed media regulator will lose journalistic privileges such as exemptions from privacy laws.

    Whoa, what’s this about journalistic privileges? Why should they have those? Is this a matter not of loss of liberty overall, but simply of controls on the wielding of privleges?

    Exemptions from privacy laws? Does that mean licensed journalists get to break in and rummage thru your effects? Or maybe plant a keyboard register, or wiretap you?

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