A Senate inquiry has called for a royal commission-like probe into the the concentration of media ownership in Australia and whether a new independent press regulator is needed.
Handing down the findings from a year-long probe into media diversity on Thursday, the Environment and Communications Committee found Australia’s media laws are “weak, fragmented and inconsistent”.
Backing calls from former prime minister Kevin Rudd, the Labor and Greens majority committee recommended “a judicial inquiry, with the powers of a royal commission”.
It would consider whether a new independent media regulator was needed to “harmonise news media standards and oversee an effective process for remedying complaints”.
“Large media organisations have become so powerful and unchecked that they have developed corporate cultures that consider themselves beyond the existing accountability frameworks,” the inquiry report said.
The inquiry also urged the government to guarantee sustainable and adequate funding for public broadcasters the ABC and SBS.
Australia has one of the world’s most concentrated media ownership markets with seven of the 12 national or capital city daily newspapers owned by Murdoch’s News Corp, according to a recent fact check.
That’s nearly 60 per cent of the metro and national print media market.
The government has yet to formally respond to the report. But in a sign it might dismiss the recommendations, Liberal senator and committee deputy chair Andrew Bragg published a statement on Thursday calling the report a “shameless political stunt which should not be taken seriously”.
“The recommendations are aimed at one particular organisation which has a large exposure to newspapers [News Corp],” Senator Bragg said.
“Assessing media concentration by looking at the ownership of newspapers in the digital age is deeply embarrassing and [a] totally inappropriate measurement.”
If the Morrison government resists pressure to create a Murdoch royal commission then Labor and the Greens could take the proposal to the upcoming federal election.
Opposition senators strongly supported the probe in Thursday’s report.
“The committee believes that media convergence due to technological change has greatly strengthened the argument in favour [of] a single regulator across all platforms,” the report reads.
“As a consequence, the committee further recommends that the judicial inquiry’s terms of reference include consideration of a single, independent media regulator to harmonise news media standards and oversee an effective process for remedying complaints.”
The committee seized on News Corp’s coverage of the climate crisis as an example of media concentration damaging Australian politics.
“They called for the policy that the Morrison Government took to COP26—a pledge of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050,” the report said.
“The Coalition had resisted this for more than a decade, but it now has, in effect, a licence to adopt this policy issued by News Corp.
“There could be no clearer example of the clout wielded by the proprietors that dominate Australia’s commercial media.”
The committee also highlighted YouTube’s recent ban of News Corp’s Sky News channel as evidence the empire is responsible for spreading misinformation.
“The YouTube ban on Sky News over the publication of public health misinformation highlighted that there is an issue when a private company is able to act swiftly to protect the public from misinformation but the ACMA, the media regulator is not,” the report said.