Protection for online media enterprises producing news?

I should be doing an article review for a colleague but want to respond quickly to Nic Christensen of The Australian who has also focused on the concept of having a traffic threshold for a site to be possibly regulated by the porposed News Media Regulator. Nic and I have had a brief exchnage on Twitter. It is better practice for more complex points to shift to a different platform as Twitter is inadequate. On the issue of a traffic threshold see my previous post on the misreading required to see the 15000 hit threshold as a problem using Mumbrella’s example.

Nic asks a slightly different question and rises the example of the UTS student news site Reportage Online. Reportage Online apparently receives more than the proposed traffic per year and Nic asks the question should the site be subject to a regulatory body for the news industry?

First question: Is it producing news? Yes.

Second question: Does it receive enough traffic? Yes (assuming the arbitrary figure the report uses will be implemented).

So, yes, it should be subject to the new regulatory body. I am not sure why anyone would think that a student-run site should be treated differently? Sure the managers of the site would argue they are striving to produce works of quality journalism?

If you run a small online media enterprise that produces news-based content, then how are the proposed changes better? Here is the relevant section (point 11, page 9):

A guiding principle behind the design of the News Media Council is that it will provide redress in ways that are consistent with the nature of journalism and its democratic role. Like the APC, its members should be comprised of community, industry and professional representatives. It should adopt complaint-handling procedures which are timely, efficient and inexpensive. In the first instance it should seek to resolve a complaint by conciliation and do so within two or three days. If a complaint must go to adjudication it should be resolved within weeks, not months.

Conciliation first, then adjudication. The current modes of redress for complainants (and protections for media enterprises) are entirely inconsistent with the “nature of journalism and its democratic role.” The report alludes to this in a following point (point 14, page 9-10):

The process of accountability proposed here recognises the realities and difficulties of journalism, emphasising immediate exchange and correction rather than financial or legal punitiveness. Equally it is consistent with the ideals guiding journalism by emphasising transparency and recognising the public interest in how a major institution of our democracy performs.

In fact, the report’s suggestions indicate a method by which an online news site can demonstrate it values trust and newsworthiness (point 15, page 10):

These proposals are made at a time when polls consistently reveal low levels of trust in the media, when there is declining newspaper circulation, and when there are frequent controversies about media performance. Many of the criticisms are self-interested or expedient; much of the public cynicism is misdirected. Yet a news media visibly living up to its own standards and enforcing its own high ideals is likely to increase rather than undermine public confidence and acceptance.

If a site owner is confident in the quality of the reporting and news-based media content on the site, then it would be a good to sign up to the regulatory body as you would then be subjecting your site to possible adjudication by a community panel. That is why the report suggests that some small sites may desire to ‘opt-in’ (point 11.68, page 268).

The report address the chilling effect of governmental regulation in detail using the experience in the US as a model (pages 183-187). Another kind of chilling effect are frivolous complaints by serial pests. It also addresses this point (point 11.70, page 296):

There should be a filtering process carried out by a senior officer of the News Media Council. The process is to determine whether or not a complaint is frivolous or vexatious. If it is, it need not be pursued. It may be appropriate to allow for an appeal to the chair by a complainant whose complaint is not to be pursued.

8 thoughts on “Protection for online media enterprises producing news?”

  1. You will never censor the internet.

    This inquiry will have a ‘chilling effect’ on the freedom of the press in Australia. You may like that. I personally do not. Guido of order-order.com has the right idea, be a citizen of another country and don’t host your content in Australia.

  2. anon, I don’t think it will have a ‘chilling effect’ at all.

    If you read the report, the authors go to great lengths to identify and engage with the problem of media regulation and the ‘chilling effect’.

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