Australian government to hold media inquiry

  • World
  • Wednesday, 14 Sep 2011

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia launched an inquiry into media regulations on Wednesday in a move seen as a veiled attack on some of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp newspapers following the British phone-hacking scandal.

The government, critical of News Corp's Australian dailies over their local political coverage, announced the inquiry in response to pressure from left-leaning lawmakers and the Greens over alleged media bias.

But the inquiry will not examine media ownership or the concentration of Murdoch's Australia arm News Limited, which owns 70 percent of Australia's newspapers and controls 48 percent of national print advertising revenue.

"I don't need an inquiry to establish that some organs in the Murdoch press are clearly running a campaign against this government," Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told reporters.

Some Murdoch-owned papers in Australia have criticised government policy on a range of issues including a new carbon tax.

The media inquiry comes after a phone-hacking scandal in Britain prompted News Corp to close its News of the World weekly. Britain's parliament said it would recall Murdoch's son, James Murdoch, to answer more questions over the scandal.

The company's Australian arm has denied the use of phone hacking in Australia and rejected accusations of a campaign against Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her government.


Murdoch's News Ltd owns the national daily broadsheet The Australian, tabloid dailies in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart and suburban newspapers across the country.

News Ltd's main rival in Australia is the Fairfax Media group, which publishes daily broadsheets in Sydney and Melbourne, and the national Australian Financial Review.

Luke Sinclair, investment manager at Karara Capital, said he did not see the inquiry having much market impact, but would examine any new regulations stemming from the probe.

"I expect it's mainly a political discussion rather than anything that would be acted on substantially," he said.

Conroy said the inquiry would be headed by a retired judge, and would examine print media regulations, including online publications, and the role of industry watchdogs to deal with complaints. It will report by the end of February, 2012.

The Australian Greens, who support the minority Labor Party government, had wanted a parliamentary inquiry to look at media ownership and bias after labelling News Ltd's newspapers as "hate media" with an agenda to change the government.

But Conroy said the government did not intend to target the Murdoch media or force any change of newspaper ownership.

"Let me be clear. The government is not interested in attacking any one media organisation, or in seeking to reduce the necessary scrutiny of the political process," he said.

"In terms of a witch hunt to demand that we break up News Ltd, the fact is we are not interested."

The inquiry, he said, would complement a separate review of media convergence, covering regulations across the broadcasting, telecommunications and radio communications sectors.

The minister said the probe would look at what legislative and regulatory changes might be needed to improve accountability, particularly for new online media.

At present, the government's Australian Communications and Media Authority regulates broadcasting and telecommunications licences and broadcasting spectrum and rules on complaints, including those about bias in news reports.

Complaints about print media standards and reporting are handled by the industry-funded Australian Press Council. But current rules are unclear about which body handles complaints about online reports, particularly on newspaper Internet sites.

(Additional reporting by Miranda Maxwell in Melbourne; Editing by Ed Davies and Ron Popeski)

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