Newspapers could have critical protections from privacy laws ripped away by a Government-appointed official under new media laws mooted by the Federal Government. The proposed changes met with widespread criticism.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy unveiled his long-awaited package of media reforms, demanding the creation of a public interest test for major media mergers and the appointment of a bureaucrat to certify independent press regulatory
bodies. Conroy gave little information on how the public interest test would work and said the measures must pass Parliament inside two weeks or be junked.
Shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull vowed that the Opposition would oppose the public interest test and the creation of the regulator:
Any attempt to regulate or further circumscribe the media has got to be viewed with the greatest of suspicion. Particularly from a Government that seems determined to cowl the media, to bully the media into not criticising it.
Under Senator Conroy's plan, an office called the Public Interest Media Advocate would be created that would apply the public interest test to mergers and give the tick to independent regulators such as the Australian Press Council or the
Independent Media Council.
The Media Advocate would have the power to revoke certification for either body should it judge it was not living up to its promised standards. Without certification, newspapers would lose protection from privacy laws and their ability to publish
controversial and legally risky stories would be compromised.
A cartoon of Serena Williams published in an Australian newspaper last year did not breach media standards, a press censor says.
The cartoon depicted Williams jumping above a broken racquet next to a baby's dummy in the US Open final which Williams lost to Naomi Osaka in September. During the match she aggressively accused the umpire of sexism and being a thief.
Critics claimed that the caricature used racist and sexist stereotypes of African-American people.
The Australian Press Council noted that some had found the image offensive, but accepted the publisher's defence. It added that the newspaper had sufficient public interest in commenting on behaviour and sportsmanship.
The cartoon went viral in September. The National Association of Black Journalists in the US denounced it as repugnant on many levels. Public complaints centred around the portrayal of Williams with large lips, a broad flat nose... and [being]
positioned in an ape-like pose.
In an unprecedented attack on press freedom in Australia, 23 journalists and 13 media outlets have been hit with charges relating to the child sexual abuse trial of Catholic cardinal George Pell. The accused include Australia's two biggest
newspaper companies, Rupert Murdoch's Nationwide News and the former Fairfax group now owned by broadcaster Nine, as well as leading newspaper editors and reporters.
The media and reporters are accused of abetting contempt of court by the foreign press and of scandalising the court by breaching a gagging order, despite none of them reporting on the charges involved or mentioning Pell by name. The court had
banned all reporting of the case pending a second trial that was later cancelled.
Some foreign media, including The New York Times and the Washington Post , reported Pell's conviction in December, while local media ran cryptic articles complaining that they were being prevented from reporting a story of major public interest.
Matthew Collins, representing the accused media at the first hearing on the matter today, said such wide-ranging contempt charges had no precedent in Australian legal history. Collins added that a guilty verdict on any of the charges would have a
chilling effect on open justice in Australia. He insisted that the contempt allegations lacked specific examples of how any of the accused news companies or journalists actually breached the gag order when they never mentioned Pell or the crimes
for which he was convicted.