News chief slams media regulations
Kim Williams: journalists and media executives could face fines and jail. Photo: Josh Robenstone
NEWS Ltd chief Kim Williams has criticised the proposed tougher media regulations in advance of their release in a few weeks, saying the industry does not need further regulation when it is under so much pressure already.
Mr William used the Press Club lunch in Melbourne to air his strong opposition to the idea of creating a government-funded media council overseeing the industry - a key recommendation of the recent Finkelstein review of the print media and to a new public interest test to regulate media mergers.
He warned the new government body could be subject to political interference from Canberra. ''It is government funded,'' he said, ''therefore open to government control.''
The News chief warned that journalists and media executives could face fines and jail sentences for non-compliance with the government body's rulings. The secrecy and the non-reviewable power of the body could diminish the ''freedom of press'', he warned.
''It does not have to publish reason for its decisions,'' he said, '' decisions cannot be appealed to bodies like AAT [Administrative Appeals Tribunal].''
Mr Williams said the public interest test to regulate media ownership for ostensible reason of diversity was ''bollocks''. He said the test was ''vague'' and ''subjective'' and would be subject to ''inevitable'' political interference from Canberra.
''History is our guarantor.''
He contended technology was delivering diversity. Regulation was not the answer.
''It is unnecessary as market is delivering unprecedented level of media diversity,'' he said. ''With smartphones you literally have the world's news and opinion diversity in the palm of your hand.''
The Gillard government has floated the concept of the public interest test, but it is not clear yet how the test would be administered and whether the Communications Minister Stephen Conroy would reserve powers to be the final decider.
Mr Williams strongly criticised Canberra's decision to place the struggling industry under more regulatory burden when it needed more flexibility to adapt to the new digital age.
''The market must not be limited by unnecessary regulation,'' he said.
''The federal government should be orchestrating a regulatory environment that provides more, not less flexibility. So it gives the media sector the best opportunity to remain viable.''
Mr Williams, who runs the most powerful media company in the country, said the recent government reviews amount to ''unprecedented level of censorship and control'' by the government.
''Both of these reviews threaten to diminish the freedom of press,'' he said, ''because they would limit the capacity of journalists to stand up to the abuse of powers of politicians, bureaucrats and business people.''