Conroy charge hits speed bumps
Julia Gillard has launched a strong defence of her government's proposed media law reforms, rejecting claims they would reduce press freedom or place new controls on individual journalists.
Her intervention came in response to fierce objections from media owners. News Limited chief Kim Williams accused Labor of using ''Soviet-style'' tactics and his Daily Telegraph compared Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to Joseph Stalin. Coalition senator Cory Bernardi picked up on the allusion, describing Senator Conroy as the ''propaganda minister''.
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
Causing most controversy is Senator Conroy's central push to appoint an independent regulator to oversee the press councils and judge whether media ownership is ''in the public interest''.
The Coalition said this trampled on free speech and some key crossbenchers agreed.
Speaking at a Canberra school on Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister faced a barrage of questions from reporters, during which she characterised some of the coverage of the changes by news media as ''over-egged''.
Ms Gillard said she was ''passionately committed'' to free speech and to industry self-regulation, arguing the reforms were aimed merely at ensuring the mechanisms for dealing with press complaints were up to scratch.
But more concerning for Senator Conroy was that he appeared to have offended some of the MPs whose votes he will need to pass the legislation.
Announcing the long-awaited reforms on Tuesday, Senator Conroy said he would give Parliament a week to pass the legislation.
Details of the legislation will only be released on Thursday.
He also said key parts of the proposed changes have been deferred, including any decision to relax the rule restricting television companies to 75 per cent audience reach, the so-called ''reach rule'' that he wanted a committee to deliver a verdict on by next week.
However, that aspect of the media reforms has been left in limbo after it emerged that the parliamentary committee given the task of reviewing it will have a report back date of June 27.
The opposition immediately claimed that meant the government was not serious about the measure because it was the last day of Parliament before the election.
''They're not even trying to do anything with these matters during the life of this Parliament but kicking the can down the road,'' said Liberal frontbencher Simon Birmingham.
Rob Oakeshott, who supports the concept of media regulation, did not appreciate the ultimatum.
''That's not the way to do business,'' he said, adding the proposals were too weak. ''If that's it, I'm out.''
Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam said it did not help when ''the minister bangs the table . . . and says 'it's my way or the highway'''.
To get the legislation through Parliament, Labor needs the votes of five of the seven crossbenchers.