Rumblings in Labor Caucus over Media Regulation

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has foreshadowed a legislative package that includes a public interest test on media concentration, influenced by findings of the Finkelstein and Convergence reviews.

In an interview recorded on Sky News yesterday, Conroy was asked whether the government was going to introduce a fit and proper person test for media owners, in the light of Gina Reinhart’s demand for Fairfax board seats.

Conroy replied:  “What you will see is that we will bring forward a package in the relatively near future that deals with some of the issues around the public interest test, some of the issues around the ­Finkelstein and Convergence review reports.”

“We used to have a fit and proper person test, but Alan Bond passed it once, so we actually changed the definition after that. What I think we do have to be concerned about is a public interest test on concentration and diversity.


This is the strongest indication yet that the government will act on the recommendations of the two media reviews that media ownership and conduct should be regulated, including for the Radio industry.


These laws are unlikely to be retrospective, so would not affect Ms Reinhart’s dealings with Fairfax.


Yesterday, Chief Government Whip Joel Fitzgibbon published a piece on his webpage titled, ‘Finkelstein’s Media Proposals are Modest and Sensible’.


Here, he labeled the proposed News Media Council as ‘not revolutionary’, and approved of Colin Sumner’s comments that the press has become part of the legislative function and a powerful policer and enforcer of morals and laws, so it has to be regulated and democratised’.


It is reported by the Financial Review that some Labor MPs are calling for an investigation into the Australian media, similar to the Leveson inquiry into media ownership and ethics.


The Australian reports that Labor MP Steve Gibbons drafted a motion to debate the need for tougher legislation on media ownership and standards, but this did not gain the required approval from the minister in time.


In an interview with the ABC, Joel Fitzgibbon commented that Steve Gibbons’ views are consistent with the majority of caucus members:

“The Steve Gibbons motion does reflect a general view in the caucus that there is a falling standard in journalism.”


Gina Reinhart’s buying of %18.7 of Fairfax shares, and her demanding of three board seats and the right to hire and fire editors, prompted these movements, as well as News Ltd’s recent bid for Consolidated Media Holdings.


At a doorstop yesterday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott rejected calls for government intervention in the media, and attempted to allay concerns that these events concentrated media ownership in too little hands.


“[I’m not] going to get into the business of telling the different news organisations how they should run themselves”

“As a former journalist you won’t be surprised to hear me say that I think that Australia has had a pretty good journalistic culture.”