News Limited CEO Kim Williams has vowed to challenge any further media regulation as far as the High Court if necessary, in an address to the South Australian Press Club on the 13th of July.
This follows recent representations by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy that he may move to implement aspects of the Convergence Report and the Finkelstein Review, including a ‘public interest’ test on media ownership.
Williams put forward similar arguments to those contained in a draft letter to the Prime Minister last week, signed by nine media CEOs, and reported on here by radioinfo.
“We will take [any implementation of the Convergence Report or Finkelstein Review] as far as we can. We’ll take it to the High Court. I mean if people intend to have this stouch, one that is wholly avoidable, lets have it,” Mr Williams said when fielding a question from a journalist.
In regards to the most controversial Finkelstein proposal, the Press Council, Wiliams said “Reporters should not feel under pressure to turn a blind eye to potential scandal, yet that is what having a press complaints body answerable to the government would run the risk of leading to.”
Turning to the proposed public interest test on media ownership, Williams argued that, “it would effectively give governments ultimate control over who was and was not fit to own a media outlet, and would be bound to produce unintended consequences that would likely limit the diversity of major press outlets in Australia – as Government’s would seek to stop people who they don’t agree with acquiring media assets.”
“Frankly, it is, in effect, a “political interest test” or perhaps a “government interest test” not a “public interest test”.”
Williams believes that interest in media regulation is not necessarily symptomatic of the Labor Party’s ideology, but could also be taken up by a future conservative government.
“When it confronts a changing situation caused by technological or other change, the default reaction of the bureaucratic mind appears to be to reach for more regulation. It is positively Pavlovian.”
A spokesperson for the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says Williams’ threat of legal action is strange, as both reviews are still under consideration with no policies yet outlined. Conroy says that a decision will be made on the reviews in due course.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has indicated that he would like the proposals in both the reviews to be acted upon.
Interviewed by Sky News, Media Academic Dr Margaret Simons commented on Williams’ comments:
“The industry would be in much better shape to argue against the Finkelstein report if it had been more serious about its own self-regulation, and one of the consistent themes in evidence to the Finkelstein inquiry was that self-regulation by the industry has been a joke.”