13 Mar 2013

Newspaper chief criticises new rules for media

7:05 pm on 13 March 2013

News Ltd chief executive Kim Williams has launched a stinging attack on the Austtralian Government's proposed changes to media laws, accusing it of using "Soviet-style" tactics.

The Australian Government has announced a suite of changes to media laws, including appointing a new media watchdog and enforcing a new public interest test for significant media takeovers and mergers.

But Mr Williams says the Government is "hell-bent on imposing last-century regulation to control a media it doesn't like".

"We are on the precipice of a ham-fisted attempt to restrain, contain and at its worse punish, in a way which is totally out of step with the energy and character of modern media and technology," he said.

One of the main News Ltd newspapers in Sydney, The Daily Telegraph sported front page coverage of the changes, comparing Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to despots and dictators including Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.

Inside the paper Senator Conroy was depicted dressed as Stalin - the Soviet dictator blamed for the deaths of millions of Russians.

Deadline also irks executive

In a speech that smacks of a declaration of war, Mr Williams is particularly scathing of the deadline set by Senator Conroy that Parliament pass the changes by the end of next week.

Mr Williams says Senator Conroy has "put a gun to the head of the Parliament, our industry and the Australian public".

"This is Soviet-style argument," he says.

He is also critical of the Government's proposal to appoint a new media watchdog, called a Public Interest Media Advocate, to be the final arbiter of major media mergers and to authorise independent bodies that deal with media standards and complaints.

Senator Conroy says the "hysterical" reaction proves his case for stronger regulation and greater media diversity.

"If we had announced nationalising the media, it could not have been more hysterical.

"At no time has this Government threatened the media, intimidated the media."

Proposed reforms

  • The appointment of a Public Interest Media Advocate (PIMA) to oversee self-regulatory bodies such as the Press Council.
  • The PIMA, who will be appointed by the minister, will decree whether a media complaints handling body is "authorised". Only media organisations that are members of an authorised body are able to maintain their exemptions to privacy laws.
  • The PIMA will also use a new public interest test to allow or prevent nationally significant media mergers.
  • An extension of the Government's commercial television licence fee rebate - saving free-to-air television networks an estimated $134 million this financial year.
  • A removal of the 75 per cent audience reach rule that prevents metropolitan television stations from owning partners in regional areas.
  • An update to the charters governing the ethics and behaviour of the ABC and SBS to reflect online and digital activities.