Hard News by Russell Brown


How long the leash on the Fourth Estate?

When Steven Joyce and John Key recently compared the actions of the Herald on Sunday to those of the News of the World they were making an absurd and implausible claim -- one that may yet result in defamation action against the pair of them.

They were also saying all that needed to be said: the NOTW masthead is a public byword for filth. Such is the depth of Rupert Murdoch's image problem in newspapers.

Murdoch papers are currently at the heart of two major inquiries into the need for further regulation of the press: the Finkelstein inquiry in Australia and the spectacular Leveson inquiry in Britain.

In this week's Media7, I speak to The Guardian's media reporter James Robinson, who is turning out a flood of stories from Leveson - and live-tweeting proceedings.

And to Martin Hirst, formerly of AUT, who turned up before Judge Ray Finkelstein as a supporter of another submitter and wound up talking to the judge for an hour. His experience afterwards was a fairly stark demonstration of what happens to anyone who gets in the road of the Murdoch papers.

I'll also talk to Tim Pankhurst, the secretary of the Commonwealth Press Union's Media Freedom Committee, who expressed concern at the National Party's attack on the papers that -- it's worth remembering this -- didn't actually publish the contents of the so-called Teapot Tapes.

There's no doubt that newspapers are in bad odour with the public at the moment. I've had several people tell me that the NOTW justifes a belief that journalism is corrupt and not to be trusted. I patiently explain to them that the only reason they know about what the News of the World did is through the work of journalists -- brave, persistent journalists who faced down police, politicians and their own Press Complaints Commission (sometimes, the regulator is plain wrong) to tell the shattering story.

Labour also had a poorly thought-through policy proposal to make the regulation of print content standards statutory:  "It may be that the functions of the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Press Council and the Advertising Standards Authority could be brought together," said the policy.

There is no obvious case for state regulation of advertising standards (the ASA is actually quite well run) and the Press Council has raised its game in recent times. Abolishing both in favour of a single government regulator would be an extreme step. In Clare Curran's defence, the Law Commission has made similar mutterings as it pursues a review that may wind up roping in bloggers too.

On the other hand, Britain's independent PCC was so throughly in thrall to the papers it was supposed to keep in line that it wound up on the wrong side of the worst newspaper scandal in Britain's history.  A regulator that cannot see right is in some ways worse than none. So where do we draw the line?


If you'd like to come to this evening's Media7 recording at the AUT television studio, drop me an email and I'll explain how to get there.

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