On 14 September 2011 the Australian Government announced the establishment of an independent inquiry into Media and Media Regulation.  The inquiry is led by former Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, Ray Finkelstein QC (pictured), with the assistance of Dr Matthew Ricketson, Professor of Journalism at Canberra University and a former practising journalist.

The panel was established to inquire into and report on the following issues:

a) The effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological change that is leading to the migration of print media to digital and online platforms;

b) The impact of this technological change on the business model that has supported the investment by traditional media organisations in quality journalism and the production of news, and how such activities can be supported, and diversity enhanced, in the changed media environment;

c) Ways of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including in relation to on-line publications, and with particular reference to the handling of complaints;

d) Any related issues pertaining to the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the public interest.

The Inquiry, which is due to report by 28 February 2012, has now published an “Issues Paper” which sets out some of the more important matters to be considered.   Under the heading “Regulation”, the issues include the following:

“10        If self-regulation is not an effective means of regulation, what alternative models of regulation could be adopted that would appropriately maintain freedom of the media?  …

12        If an alternative model was to be a statutory complaints tribunal, is it appropriate for that tribunal to have power to:

(a)               obtain information necessary to resolve a complaint

(b)               require a publisher to do an act (for example, publish a correction of unfair or misleading reporting)

(c)               impose sanctions for a failure to do that act?

The raising of the possibility of a “Media Tribunal” has been widely discussed in the Australian press.  The headline in the “Australian” was “Super-regulator plan floated by media inquiry issues paper”. It drew attention to the fact that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy called a super-regulator “a really legitimate area of debate” when announcing the inquiry earlier this month, saying it “could be an outcome”, going on to say

” The issues paper floats the idea of a new authority with statutory powers to replace the existing industry-funded complaints body, the Australian Press Council, which Senator Conroy has branded a “toothless tiger”

The Journlaw blog points out that Australia now has no less than five media inquiries going on at once.  In addition, to the Independent Media Inquiry, there is the Convergence Review,  the National Classification Scheme Review, Commonwealth Government’s Privacy Issues Paper and The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Review of privacy guidelines for broadcasters.