Labor and the Greens have recommended a judicial inquiry with the powers of a royal commission into media diversity, ownership and regulation.
“It is clear that the current regulatory framework is not fit-for-purpose and significant changes are required,” the report into media diversity tabled in the Senate on Thursday says.
“A judicial inquiry would have the capacity for a more comprehensive investigation, including compelling witnesses to give evidence, than can be undertaken by a parliamentary committee. Such an inquiry would also be conducted at arm’s length of all politicians to allow an independent investigation into media regulation and ownership.”
The former Labor prime minister’s petition for a royal commission into the need for a strong, diverse media was supported by 501,876 people.
The committee was told media regulation is not effective and inconsistent governance arrangements band standards across platforms made it unworkable: TV is governed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, a government agency, and print and digital news by the Australian Press Council, a self-regulated industry body.
“Evidence to the committee testified to the inability of existing regulators to ensure that standards of fairness and accuracy are maintained, and to prevent the spread of misinformation,” the majority report from Greens and Labor said.
Hanson-Young said the report found that the call for an inquiry by more than half a million Australians who signed the petition was warranted.
“The majority of the committee which undertook this 13-month-long inquiry, has recommended the establishment of a judicial inquiry with the powers and weight of royal commission into the state of media diversity and dominance in Australia,” Hanson Young said. “This is a move the parliament itself can make.”
A judicial inquiry could be set up without the support of the government but for a bill to pass the House of Representatives, a member of the government would need to cross the floor.
Hanson Young said: “The evidence that the Murdoch media empire is indeed a dangerous monopoly was heard loud and clear. From climate-denialism to gendered, partisan attacks, and providing a platform for racism and for Covid disinformation, the impact of both concentration of media ownership and a failing regulatory system was obvious.
“Throughout the inquiry we heard about the many Australian journalists that produce high-quality, in-depth reporting with integrity and professionalism. It is those hard-working journalists that are being let down by a broken regulatory system and corporate culture inside news organisations that allows poor behaviour to flourish. “
Murdoch’s global chief executive, Robert Thomson, told the inquiry the idea that Rupert Murdoch influences Australian elections is a “myth” and far removed from the behaviour of “the real Rupert”,
Thomson rejected a suggestion by Hanson-Young, that the chairman and chief executive of News Corp had a hand in directing his newspaper editors on which party should win.
“Senator, the philosophy is around ideas,” Thomson told the media diversity inquiry via video conference from New York.
“I have to say there is Murdoch the myth … and the real Rupert.
In earlier evidence Sky News Australia denied broadcasting Covid misinformation, telling the hearing that YouTube’s removal of 23 videos of the broadcaster was “totalitarian” and lacking in transparency.
Chief executive officer Paul Whittaker said it “now appears commonplace to discredit any debate on contentious issues as ‘misinformation’” and vigorously defended Sky’s right to present a range of views on treatments such as ivermectin.
In a dissenting report Liberal senator Andrew Bragg called the report a “shameless political stunt which should not be taken seriously”.
“The committee has called for this inquiry two weeks after the Senate collapsed an inquiry into the ABC complaints process,” Bragg said. “The report recommends private media organisations should be subjected to the intrusions of a judicial inquiry. At the same time, the ABC should not be subjected to Senate scrutiny. That is absurd.”
Bragg was behind the inquiry which was branded “political interference” by ABC chair Ita Buttrose and was voted down by Labor and the Greens in the Senate.