SWM Dummy Spit and the ‘New Deal’ for the APC

Was the statutory News Media Council recommended by the Finkelstein media inquiry a shot across the bow all along?

Looking at the deal struck between the Australian Press Council and its members it seems likely. After a lot of initial handwringing all but one of the major news paper companies came to the table.

Here’s a summary of the deal:

  • APC’s funding doubled by next year and increased by a further 10 per cent in 2014.
  • A notice period of four years apply if members want to withdraw from the council. They will remain paying members for the first three of the four years and the council will receive and process any complaints against the publication during the notice period.
  • Membership fees and publication of council adjudications will become legally binding via contractual arrangements. This is as much teeth you can get without a statutory base.

The deal goes a long way toward addressing some of the major issues listed by the Finkelstein report. In my submission to the inquiry I argued for a one stop non statutory council that would hear and process complains from all media, regardless of format. This will probably happen at a later point in time. With convergence of media formats where news papers increasingly become on line broadcasters it seems inevitable. Submissions, research, the APC and the convergence review all point in that direction.

Meanwhile – the Finkelstein report may have given Australian ‘old media’ a final chance to clean up its act and prove that it takes journalistic standards and accountability seriously. All might have been hunky dory if Seven West Media (one of the largest media companies in Australia and publisher of the West Australian and owner of Channel 7) had not decided to withdraw from the APC. The media group has now set up its own Independent Media Council headed by a former judge and with two former attorney generals (one from each side of politics) as its members.

Will this mean Communication minister Conroy will go down the statutory News Media Council path? Jonathan Holmes, Media Watch host, says maybe. He was right in his last prediction, that the Fink report would force a beefed up APC. I think he’s wrong this time. The powers that be will accept the ‘new deal’ APC and closely monitor its performance and the SWM creation in Perth (Question: can a body created by the publication that is to be held accountable really be independent? Time will tell).

So, how do we monitor the performance of the APC and the moonshine version in the West? The obvious indicators are the stats such as number of complaints handled. How many were resolved? How many corrections/apologies published when publications got it wrong, etc.

However, the most important research is to survey the public/audience of how they perceive the ‘new’ system. Is it easier to complain? Is the process speedy? Are complainants satisfied with the outcome? And, most important of all, does the revamped press council and SWM’s creation lead to increased media accountability and greater public trust in journalism?

Lots of questions that requires lots of research.

Get ready for the next episode of the media accountability drama in Australia – the final report form the convergence review. Interesting and exciting times indeed.