News Ltd won't be broken down by inquiry
Canberra - An inquiry into the Australian print media will examine increasing regulation but will not go as far as breaking up the nation's largest newspaper empire owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, a government minister said on Wednesday.
The government on Wednesday released the terms of reference of the inquiry promised after the New York-based media company closed its top-selling British tabloid News of the World in July over illegal phone hacking allegations. News Corp owns 70% of Australia's newspapers through its subsidiary, News Ltd.
Many government lawmakers argue that News Ltd's newspaper holdings are too large and are biased against the ruling centre-left Labour Party.
The inquiry, headed by a retired judge assisted by a journalism professor, will examine strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the print media's self-regulatory watchdog, the Australian Press Council. It will also examine the effectiveness of media codes of practice and impacts of technological change.
But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the inquiry would not look at ownership concentration of the media or consider breaking up the Murdoch newspaper empire in Australia.
Not breaking up News Ltd
"In terms of a witch hunt to demand that we break up News Ltd or to attack News Ltd, I'm not interested," Conroy told reporters.
"I don't need an inquiry to establish that the Murdoch press owns 70% of the newspapers in this country. I don't need an inquiry to establish that some organs of the Murdoch press are clearly running a campaign against this government," he added.
Conroy, who has accused New Ltd's top selling Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph of "running a campaign on regime change," called the Australian Press Council a "toothless tiger" with inadequate complaint processes.
"The government believes that this inquiry will shed light on the real pressures facing media organisations today and enable us to consider what regulatory or legislative changes might be needed in order to ensure that Australia continues to benefit from strong independent and diverse media," he said.
Senator Bob Brown, leader of the minor Greens party that supports Labour’s minority government and a vocal critic of News Corp, welcomed the inquiry. Opposition communications spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull dismissed it as a waste of money.
Inquiry will report next year
The inquiry, which covers online as well as newsprint news, will report next year. It complements an inquiry which began last year into regulating broadcast media as it converges with online media.
News Ltd did not immediately respond to The Associated Press's request for comment on Wednesday.
But a News Ltd broadsheet, The Australian, said in its editorial on Wednesday that it welcomed an inquiry that "will shine a light on the half-formed fictions as well as the facts about media behaviour".
"The reality is that claims of bias are often simply crude attempts to intimidate journalists and editors," it said.
There have been no allegations made in Australia of the type of phone hacking that has led to at least 16 arrests in Britain. News of the World stands accused of illegally hacking into the voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even a murder victim in search of scoops.