Journalists’ union says it will quit ineffectual Australian Press Council

The journalists’ union will withdraw from the Australian Press Council over concerns it is ineffectual and too slow to rule on unethical journalism, sparking a fresh debate about media regulation.

Guardian Australia revealed last month the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance was considering leaving the watchdog to which it has contributed $1m in membership fees over the past decade. On Tuesday night, members voted to give the required four years’ notice to leave the organisation in 2025.

Frustration has been growing over the self-regulatory body’s adjudications, which have been openly mocked by the journalists and publications that were found to have breached standards. News Corp, which is the biggest funder of the press council, has allowed its journalists to call the body “foolish” and “idiots”.

Newspapers have been regulated by the industry-funded Australian Press Council since 1976 while the broadcast media has been regulated by a succession of government-created and funded bodies, most recently the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

In 2012, the Finkelstein inquiry recommended setting up the News Media Council, a joint press and broadcast body to set journalistic standards, but it was vigorously rejected by News Corp, which labelled it “step one to fascism”.

The News Media Council would have differed from the press council in that it would have been government-funded and its decisions would have been binding.

The Murdoch press campaigned against the idea and instead agreed to boost the funding of the existing press council and introduce a four-year notice period for publishers who wanted to withdraw.

The MEAA media federal president, Marcus Strom, said media regulation had failed to keep up to date with a convergent media.

“We want our notice to leave the press council to spark a serious discussion about media regulation,” Strom said.

“Currently our members are more concerned being hauled over the coals on Media Watch than being called before the press council. That’s obviously not an acceptable situation.”

The Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has undermined the council, calling a finding against him “foolish” and accusing the council of “sabotaging honest debate”.

The Australian Press Council ruled that the language in Bolt’s August 2019 article breached standards because it attempted to “diminish the credibility of Greta Thunberg’s opinions on the basis of her disabilities and by pillorying her supporters on the basis of her disabilities”.

But he immediately doubled down and repeated the slurs, referring to the 17-year-old as a “freakishly influential goddess of global warming” and a “holy fool”, and accused the press council of sabotaging debate.

When the council ruled against a Tim Blair blog post and video on the Daily Telegraph website last year, the author wrote, “Excuse me, but these people are idiots. They can’t even accurately describe a simple 19-second video” next to the adjudication and left the offensive video – which included the words “Look out faggot!” – live on the site.

The union wants a simpler system of self-regulation that is consistent across all platforms and organisations, upholds the standards of public interest journalism, and serves the needs of members and the public who want ethical practices and accountability.


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