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Finkelstein Would Kick Up a Stink Online

Bloggers of even middle of the road status beware, Ray Finkelstein QC and his media inquiry believe that we as a collective society are a flock of sheep who will follow opinion we read in a sheep like manner. The inquiry also assumes that what bloggers do is provide a news service. It seems, if the recommendation gets implemented by the Gillard Government, that bloggers will be subjected to the same purview as print and other media.

First it must be said just how incredibly stupid it is to classify what is written in any blog as a news service of any sort, no matter how factual the content. A blog is always formed of opinion which is gleaned from facts which are broadcast in different forms. It can too be the case, that blogs do not base arguments on facts in purveying arguments, but they can be easily found out.

The media inquiry headed by Ray Finkelstein QC recommended that bloggers whose site has more than 15 000 hits per annum be subjected to the News Media Council which would police all forms of information media, including television, print and online media. Aside from the fact that blogs are not utilised as a news service, 15000 hits would undoubtedly take in a wide array of political blogs, both amateur and professional.

One obvious question arises immediately and that is, how on earth will a media regulator know when a particular website reaches the threshold for monitoring of balanced commentary? Will they have the power to contact site administrators to determine when a blogger meets the policing requirements? Or will it be up to the individual author or site manager to self nominate? Either way, how stupid.

The onus would be on these bloggers, likely too this very website, to break from their respective market niche  or ideological bent and provide “fair and balanced” commentary, again deviating back to providing basically a news service when all a blogger does and does best is become a polemicist.

Not only this but it would likely turn some bloggers into more bland and harder to read communicators if they were forced by some sort of but not really independent body to report rather than rant. Every blogger knows that it is much easier to communicate your point when you feel strongly about it.

I have little problem with the actual news provided by television, print and online news media being of a “fair and balanced” nature, based on reporting fact rather than opinion, but then, who is it that determines just what is fact and what is complete nonsense? Some part government, part privately appointed body? I think not.

It would be a very dangerous move for an already on the nose Gillard Government to act not just on the recommendation for a News Media Council but to couple that with the body being given the power to strip people of their opinion because their blog has a mid-range level of popularity. It is frightfully clear that those on the left do not believe the individual has the power to think for themselves and that goes along with their ideology but to tell people who may have a a somewhat popular blog that they cannot have an online opinion, well that just stinks.

Why Oh Why a Media Inquiry?

As you may well be aware, the Independent Inquiry into Media and Media Regulation chaired by Ray Finkelstein QC and supported by Doctor Matthew Ricketson begins hearings tomorrow in Melbourne. The inquiry will chiefly look into the issue of ownership and privacy, in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal in the United Kingdom. However, there is also the scope for the inquiry to look into the issue of content, particularly as it applies in relation to the regulations of the Australian Press Council. The question becomes: Is all this inquiry necessary in Australia?Approximately 70% of the Australian print media is said to be controlled by one media outlet, News Limited, owned by Rupert Murdoch, for some raising the question: Should there be more balanced ownership of the media in Australia?

The answer to this question is quite simple and lies embedded in the ideology of choice. In other words, any company, large or small are welcome to seek capital and enter the newspaper market. There are no stumbling blocks to entry in the market for print media, nor should there be. Any individual or company should and must have the opportunity and choice in a free society to print a newspaper.

In response to this fact about ownership percentage, a quota must not and should never be the answer. Freedom of speech and opinion and free market ideology should prevail when it comes to the ‘Fourth Estate’. A quota would mean an artificial cut-back in already existing business for existing outlets. The market should have the ability to decide what share any individual outlet has. A quota would in some way stifle the individual’s right to what he or she produces and/or reads.

There is also in Australia a contest between what should be labelled ‘news’ and ‘opinion’ from all media outlets, print and otherwise. It would be ideal if ‘news’ and ‘opinion’ were made more distinct in any individual newspaper. This is perhaps the only area of media in which stronger regulation is required, as long as it does not put the media on the ‘slippery slope’ where newspapers do not feel able have an opinion of their own. Surely there is nothing wrong with different op-ed’s in a free press stating a clearly distinguished from fact and opinion?

The next thing to say is that newspapers follow public opinion in regards to the opinions they express in their writing. Media outlets like all businesses are appealing to a specific market which has been pre-identified. It really is that simple, if there was not a market for a certain angle in opinion pieces then respective leadership levels would not exist.

The media inquiry will begin in earnest tomorrow with public hearings commencing in Melbourne and it will be interesting to see as the inquiry begins to progress and then goes beyond recommendations, just how much the media landscape will evolve. At the moment it looks as if we may be headed towards broader and greater regulation of our reporting institutions. The answer to my initial question is self-evident, much of what I argue can be achieved without the need for a media inquiry as it requires little or no government action, but the blinkers are on.

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