Australia media probe mulls 'inaccuracy' ban

28th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

An inquiry into Australia's print media convened after the British phone hacking scandal could consider penalising the publication of "deliberately inaccurate information", documents show.

The review of Australia's Murdoch-dominated newspapers and online media could also examine whether publishers should be required to distinguish opinion pieces from fact, according to a formal issues paper released Wednesday.

"Unreasonable intrusion" into an individual's privacy, gathering information by "harassment or subterfuge" and mandatory disclosure of payments or offers of payment for stories were also among new regulations open for consideration.

Breaches could be punishable by apology, correction or other sanctions, the paper said, also flagging the possibility of a government regulator for press complaints.

"As an alternative to strengthening the effectiveness of the (existing, self-regulating) Australian Press Council, would it be preferable to establish a statutory body to take over its functions?" the issues paper said.

To be chaired by former judge Ray Finkelstein, the independent inquiry was convened this month following the phone-hacking firestorm in Britain which saw the closure of Rupert Murdoch's popular News of the World tabloid.

Australian-born Murdoch controls 70 percent of newspapers in his home country and Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned his local empire, News Limited, had some "hard questions" to answer after the British scandal.

Though Gillard's administration has a deeply strained relationship with the Murdoch press and has accused it of running a "regime change" campaign against the government, it denies the inquiry is specifically aimed at News Ltd.

The company's chief John Hartigan has described the probe as "politically motivated" and said it originated as a "witch-hunt" against his firm.

The issues paper raised a number of questions about reporting standards, including the balancing of views and a right of reply when attacking the "honesty, character (or) integrity" of a person.

It also asked whether independent or minority-focussed journalism should get extra assistance -- government or otherwise -- and how to boost new entrants to the media market.

© 2011 AFP

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