Open letter to the Australian

The Australian published an article based on the letter, March, 14.

The Drum, ABC online, published it in full.

The letter is published in full below.

Open letter in response to the article: ‘Finkelstein report: Media’s great divide’ and editorial: ‘It depends who you talk to’ in the Weekend Australian, March 9–11.

Your coverage of the Finkelstein media inquiry report is a classic case of ‘shooting the messenger’. Instead of engaging with the message in chapter four of the report, which clearly outlines the emergency of public trust facing newspapers in Australia, you instead chose to focus on only one aspect of the report.

If the Australian public believe the current accountability system for the press in Australia to be satisfactory (self-regulation via the Australian Press Council), this inquiry would never have happened.

Judging from their submissions to the independent media inquiry, the newspaper owners and their associations believe there is nothing wrong with the status quo. Indeed, the vast majority of their submissions avoided any serious discussion of trust and accountability issues. This is remarkable for an industry with trust at the heart of its contract with the public.

The Finkelstein report is the first stage of a discussion we need to have about the future of media accountability in Australia. The ground is shifting fast in an environment where news media are expanding beyond their traditional markets into online broadcasting. The concept of different accountability systems for press and broadcast is outdated, as well as confusing for both the industry and the public. This is why we need an engaged conversation about the Finkelstein report and its recommendations, rather than the attack-style reporting displayed by the coverage in the Weekend Australian.

A statutory media regulator would be problematic, and this is acknowledged by many of those cited in your article. If you had contacted for comment all of those named in the story, a richer, more complex and hence truer picture would have emerged. The discussion is far from finished; the report from the convergence review is yet to come. We suggest that the most constructive way for News Limited and the other major newspaper owners in Australia to influence the outcome would be to engage in serious, constructive discussion about how to strengthen the independence and authority of the Australian Press Council. Had the media companies done this in their submissions, Ray Finkelstein QC might not have perceived such a pressing need to recommend a statutory News Media Council.

Journalism academics have been, and always will be, supporters of freedom of speech—the foundation for an independent and free media. To accuse journalism educators of anything less is an insult to an entire profession. However, we will not remain silent when unethical behaviour in certain sectors of the news media threatens the integrity of the whole. Part of our brief as both practitioners and researchers is to engage in public debate beyond the confines of industry and our universities. This is what we have done in our discussions about the Finkelstein report, and we will continue to do so.

Anne Dunn, University of Sydney

Alex Wake, RMIT University

Maree Curtis, RMIT University

Mandy Oakham, RMIT University

Margaret Simons, Melbourne University

Chris Nash, Monash University

Johan Lidberg, Monash University

Fay Anderson, Monash University

Mia Lindgren, Monash University

Alan Knight, UTS

Martin Hirst, Deakin University

Trevor Cullen, Edith Cowan University

Beate Josephi, Edith Cowan University

Rhonda Breit, University of Queensland

Michael Meadows, Griffith University

Lawrie Zion, La Trobe University

Julie Posetti, University of Canberra

Willa McDonald, Macquarie University

Roger Patching, Bond University

Gail Phillips, Murdoch University

Marcus O’Donnell, University of Wollongong

David Robie, Auckland University of Technology

Chris Scanlon, La Trobe University

Erdem Koç, La Trobe University

Rob Burgess, La Trobe University

David Lowden, La Trobe University

Steinar Ellingsen, La Trobe University

John Tebbutt, La Trobe University

Lee Duffield, Queensland University of Technology

Colleen Murrell, Deakin University

Tracy Sorensen, Charles Sturt University

Fiona Martin, University of Sydney

Ian Richards, University of South Australia

Amy Forbes, James Cook University

Andrew Dodd, Swinburne University