What do we think of the Fink?

The Australian media has spent much of 2012 in the spotlight with the release of the Independent Media Inquiry, also known as the Finkelstein Review, and the Convergence Review. Bridget Fitzgerald reports on what it is like “Living with the Fink”.

The Finkelstein Review examined the self-regulatory system of the Australian media and its codes of practice. The review sparked debate between those who
agreed there should be greater press accountability, and those who advocate for the protection of press freedoms.

Media experts shared their thoughts on what the report’s implications.

Panel members included the Australian Press Council chair Professor Julian Disney, Herald Sun editor-in-chief of the Phil Gardner, ABC broadcaster and
head of policy and staff development Alan Sunderland, and Matthew Ricketson, who assisted Ray Finkelstein QC with his report.

According to Professor Ricketson, if the public got all their knowledge on the Finkelstein Review from the mainstream media, they would be hard pressed to
understand its recommendations.

He said of the 29 opinion pieces that appeared in The Australian newspaper following the release of the review, one was neutral, two supported it, and 26
opposed it with “varying degrees of vehemence and sharpness and vitriol”.

Mr Ricketson said what he, Mr Finkelstein and others behind the inquiry were asked to do was look at the state of the self-regulatory environment and if there
was a case for the government to reassess the media business model.

He said there were diverging opinions from different sides of the media.

The Press Council said the self-regulatory system wasn’t working, but the major news groups said the system was working fine.

“Wherever you end up on the spectrum between pure self regulation at one end and government regulation at the other end, the issue is trying to give that
regulatory system some teeth.”

Mr Gardner said some of the "bad" media conduct that the review criticised and said gave justification to increased regulation, is what he would describe
as “just good journalism”.

He said he agrees there are things that the media needs to review, but the remedy of increased regulation tips the balance too far in favour of government
intervention.

“Press freedom is not a cliché, it is an important part of who we are,” Mr Gardner said.

Professor Disney said he was not against press freedom but there were some issues with how the media represented some things.

“There is a lot of concern in the impact of influential opinion pieces that profess fact instead of opinion,” he said.

He added that there needed to be great care with things like headlines, which could very easily imply things that are not fact.

“They might seem mundane, but they are often what people are talking about when we talk about bias,” Mr Disney said.

Mr Sunderland said he thought the question of media regulation was the “least significant and relevant discussion” we could be having on this issue.

“We’re spending so much time arguing about who the regulator should be and so little time talking about what we should be doing to set our own standards
and maintain standards for our audience,” he said.