September 15, 2012

Independent Media Inquiry

Green Army: Research and Development

Joseph Pulitzer:
Nothing less than the highest ideals, the most scrupulous anxiety to do right, the most accurate knowledge of the problems it has to meet, and a sincere sense of moral responsibility will save journalism from a subservience to business interests, seeking selfish ends, antagonistic to public welfare. …
(The College of Journalism, North American Review, 1904)

A former publisher of The Wall Street Journal:
A newspaper is a private enterprise owing nothing whatever to the public, which grants it no franchise.
It is therefore affected with no public interest.
It is emphatically the property of the owner, who is selling a manufactured product at his own risk.
(p 47)

John Hartigan [Former Chairman and CEO of News Limited]:
Great press campaigns shape new laws and change history.
They build [(and demolish) bridges] between public opinion and public policy.
(p 40)

Greg Hywood [CEO, Fairfax Media]:
Fairfax does not believe there are problems with the integrity, accuracy, bias or conduct of the media which warrant further regulation.

Bob Cronin [West Australian Newspapers]:
[There is not a] scintilla of evidence … that journalists [(and editors) are] inaccurate and biased … lack integrity [or] ignore accepted press principles.
(p 103)

Editorial Policy [West Australian Newspapers]:
[T]he rights and privileges extended to the newspapers’ journalists by the nation’s political and judicial institutions bring with them a duty to report the workings of those institutions fairly and accurately in the public interest.
(p 128)

Editorial [The Australian]:
We believe
  • that [Bob Brown] and his Green colleagues are hypocrites;
  • that they are bad for the nation; and
  • that they should be destroyed at the ballot box.
(7 September 2010)

[In 2012, according to Ray Morgan Research, journalism was rated fourth-last in a list of 30 [occupations for honesty and ethical standards ahead] of real estate agents, advertising people and car salesmen. …

[The Australian Broadcasting Commission] is consistently identified in surveys as the most trusted [and] least biased media organisation in Australia …
(p 106 & 111)


Contents


Vulnerable People

Summary

Introduction

Democracy, Industry Structure and Performance

Standards and Laws

Broadcasting

Self-Regulation

Rights and Regulation

Reform and Support

Would you like to know more?

INDEPENDENT MEDIA INQUIRY

  • Independent Media Inquiry, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Commonwealth of Australia, 28 February 2012.
    Ray Finkelstein: former Federal Court judge; former President, Australian Competition Tribunal.
    Matthew Ricketson: Professor of Journalism, University of Canberra.

    MEDIA COVERAGE OF VULNERABLE PEOPLE


    The [Australian Research Council]-funded research project ‘Vulnerability and the News Media’ was conducted by
    • a group of academic researchers
      • Professor Kerry Green,
      • Professor Michael Meadows,
      • Professor Stephen Tanner,
      • Dr Angela Romano and
      • Professor Mark Pearson
    • in association with
      • the Hunter Institute of Mental Health,
      • the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma-Asia Pacific,
      • the Australian Press Council,
      • the Australian Multicultural Foundation,
      • the Journalism Education Association Australia,
      • Special Olympics Australia and
      • the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
    The researchers made available to the Inquiry edited transcripts of the focus groups with vulnerable people whose circumstances brought them into contact with the news media. …

    Event that brought participant in contact with the news media

    Issues arising for participants from the news media coverage Impact on participants — in their own words
    Survivor of rape
    Hounding [with constant requests] for an interview. I did have someone from the media call me but she was just a hungry animal.
    I found her quite a lovely, person but eager to get a story.
    I was in tears but she didn’t care.
    She was happy to throw my case all over the TV and magazines and I kept saying
    No, no, no, you don’t understand, you know nothing about me, don’t do this.
    Murder of daughter
    Generally positive experience; participant learnt to work with the news media.

    Positive impact of reporting victim impact statements. …
    Participant valued building a trusting relationship with a journalist, and welcomed the reporting of a victim impact statement.
    [N]ow I find the media pretty good.
    I do a lot of media work and TV work with them.
    I know who I speak to and who I don’t speak to, who is good and bad’.

    A bloke from The Age rang me up.
    He was a very good reporter; he came out and said
    You can have a chance of an impact statement, what would you like to say?
    So both my wife and I put our victim impact statement in and he put them on page three of The Age the next day.
    Very positive stories and we said to him he had the truth.
    Police officer working with victims of crime
    Ordinary people become victims/survivors and have no idea how to deal with the news media. The problem is that victims don’t understand [the news media] until they are a victim
    Suffered sexual abuse in childhood
    The news media dismissed the participant’s experience and passed judgement rather than report the issue impartially. I went to the media after the military and told them of what was happening internally there and the media just turned around and said,
    Well she just has post-traumatic stress disorder.
    It was all focused on my mental illness rather than dealing with the situations.
    Murder of brother
    Unsubstantiated reporting. …
    Factual errors and innuendo in reporting of the case.
    One media outlet apologised but another did not.
    Participant not informed when daily media coverage is used in a book.
    They said my brother [name] was a heavy gambler and gambled with [name] at Crown Casino, that wasn’t correct.
    He had misheard in court …
    I got an apology after making a complaint to the ABC.

    Recently, that same comment appeared in The Geelong Advertiser and I’ve made a number of phone calls and he won’t answer the phone, he won’t return calls to me.

    I hate it when they go to write a book and they don’t tell you. My friend went out one day and she said
    You know [name] put you in a book.
    Why can’t the media ring you up and have the decency to tell you that you’re in a media book, to prepare you.
    He was a Herald Sun writer, and he wrote 17 mistakes in it.
    Murder of daughter [—] participant’s children had [previously] been sexually abused
    Accuracy in reporting is appreciated but distress over a decision by the news media to treat differently allegations of child sexual abuse. I found the media were very factual, facts were accurate and they were very sympathetic and did all the right things after and before the case.

    But prior to that [the murder] I had children in 1981 who had been abused.
    The media handballed that.
    I don’t suppose they had to cover it in those days.
    The judge wasn’t told that the man had been an abuser for 25 years so the judge just got a completely inaccurate picture to what the man was and the practice he applied with the inappropriate touching.
    None of that came out in the media.
    I felt very, very alone.
    And I found out, murder is popular but paedophilia is a difficult subject.
    Sexually abused by grandfather
    Lack of understanding about potential impact of such reporting on victims [and their] vulnerability in interviews. I had a conversation with a journalist recently about the fact that he had been reporting about abuse by a church.
    He had spoken to a couple of the survivors of that and he told me that they had said to him
    We want you to tell people what this guy did
    so he included some details of the assault in his article which I found incredibly distressing and I felt were completely unnecessary to the story.
    His idea was that
    Yes, we need to tell people about the molesters.
    People don’t need to see child pornography to know how bad it is.
    I don’t see why you need to include these details which are very specific, very distressing details.
    I said
    I don’t think you realise that perhaps people who have been sexually abused or assaulted are very vulnerable and they don’t necessarily have the boundaries, and we don’t perhaps know how to protect ourselves as well as we could.
    I understand that those people wanted it out there but I think on the balance that it’s not necessary.
    Murder of mother
    Participant and her brother were sexually abused in childhood.
    Language used by the news media was hurtful and demeaning.
    The importance of treating participants as survivors rather than reinforcing victimhood.
    One of the biggest things I find about the media when they talk about women is they portray the violence against women as a dispute.
    If it was a male it would be an assault.
    I feel that that’s actually minimising what women endure and what they go though.

    You might have been a victim at the time but at the end of the day you’ve survived it and that would be nice if they highlighted the survival of the whole thing, not the fact that you’ve had the crap bashed out of you.
    Victim of crime
    Feeling that only negative aspects of victims’ stories reported — for sales.
    Victims and survivors of crime treated as commodities.
    They just want that gruesome bit so that they can sell that newspaper or sell that magazine.
    They don’t care about anything else.

    (pp 419-423)


    CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS


    Media codes of ethics and accountability


    [Self-regulation has failed to] to achieve the degree of accountability desirable in a democracy: …
    • [The Australian Press Council] suffers from serious structural constraints.
      [It has neither] the necessary powers [nor] the required funds to carry out its designated functions.
      Publishers can withdraw when they wish and alter their funding as they see fit.
    • [The Australian Communications and Media Authority's] processes are cumbersome and slow.
    • If legal proceedings against the media are called for, they are protracted, expensive and adversarial, and offer redress only for legal wrongs, not for the more frequent complaints about inaccuracy or unfairness. …

    [A News Media Council should] be established to … handle complaints made by the public when [journalistic] standards are breached.
    Those standards [are likely to] be substantially the same as those that presently apply and which all profess to embrace.
    (p 8)

    [The] Council should have secure funding from government and its decisions made binding, but beyond that government should have no role.
    The establishment of a council is not about increasing the power of government or about imposing some form of censorship
    It is about making the news media more accountable to those covered in the news, and to the public generally. …

    [The] Council should have power to require a news media outlet to publish an apology, correction or retraction, or afford a person a right to reply.
    This is in line with the ideals contained in existing ethical codes but in practice often difficult to obtain.
    (p 9)


    INTRODUCTION


    Resources


    [Persons appointed to assist with aspects of the report:]
    • Dr Rodney Tiffen …
      Emeritus Professor in Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney …
    • Dr Francesco (Franco) Papandrea …
      Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Arts and Design, University of Canberra …
      [Former] Professor of Communications and Director Communication and Media Policy Institute at the University of Canberra. …
    • Dr Denis Muller …
      [Lecturer in] media ethics at the University of Melbourne and Swinburne University. …
      [Former editor at the] The Times and The Financial Times …
      [Former editorial executive at the] The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age
    • Kristen Walker …
      [Former] Associate Professor of Law at the University of Melbourne.
      [Former lecturer in] human rights law and legal ethics at Columbia University in New York. …
    • Graeme Hill [studied] free speech theory and media law at Columbia University in New York. …
    (p 14)


    Origins of the Inquiry


    [In setting up the inquiry] it was not suggested that News Limited, the Australian subsidiary of News Corporation, had engaged in similar practices [to those engaged in by the journalists at the News of the World in the UK. …]
    (p 15)


    Overview


    [Problems not addressed by the] current system of media regulation [include:]
    • market failure,
    • general public distrust of the media and the consequences of this for the Australian polity,
    • numerous instances of the media doing unjustified harm to people, and
    • the failure of the existing regulatory systems to hold the media to account for these harms.

    [U]nder the present system, the costs of the harms done by the media are borne not by the media but by other sections of the community, including those who are the subject of unjustified adverse coverage who may be powerless to obtain redress.
    [T]his has created perverse incentives that militate against the likelihood of improvements if these are left to the media to instigate.
    (p 8)

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