SWEEPING changes to the media and the federal government’s power to define public interest has been labelled “incredibly concerning” by Wannon MP Dan Tehan.
Parliament has less than two weeks to debate the reforms that would see a government appointee rule on issues of public interest, journalist accuracy and media mergers.
The reforms have come about from the Commonwealth’s Finklestien inquiry brought on by the phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom.
Mr Tehan joined his Coalition colleagues in accusing Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy of trying to influence public debate and bullying the media into reporting favourably.
“We don’t like the idea of a government appointee to oversee standards in the media,” Mr Tehan said. “From what we know, there will be a public interest test but it’s not specifically defined.”
Complaints over misreporting or inaccuracy are currently handled by the industry-backed Australian Press Council.
News Limited and Fairfax Media, owner of The Standard, have voiced concern over the changes. News Limited’s Daily Telegraph this week controversially photoshoped an image of Senator Conroy onto the body of former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
The Standard asked Corangamite Labor MP Darren Cheeseman if the newspaper would be able to reprint the front page article comparing Senator Conroy to the dictator under the proposed new laws.
“There would be nothing to prevent the Daily Telegraph from printing that,” Mr Cheeseman said. “I think we should be able to make sure journalists don’t publish mistruths — I think that’s quite reasonable.
“Journalists should be accountable for what they print.” He said he had not personally been misreported in the press, but colleagues on both sides of Parliament had.
The changes would breathe new credibility into the media under pressure from online advertising and restore public faith, he said.
Smaller online media sites and blogs would also fall under the news laws. “I think a lot of media organisations are struggling ... we really need to get our media onto a sustainable footing,” he said.
Media would have to sign up to the press standards model or risk losing exemptions from privacy legislation.
The government will need the support of independents to pass the legislation through the lower house on Thursday.