Press group warns against Australian censorship
Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders has warned the Australian government against handing too much power to the country's newspaper watchdog following Britain's phone-hacking scandal.
Australia announced an independent inquiry into the nation's print media during the week, which could see tougher regulation and penalties for newspapers for breaches of Press Council rules.
Reporters Without Borders said while it understood the need for authorities to adapt to the changing media landscape, it was concerned the probe could hand too much power to the watchdog.
"We understand why the authorities would want to adapt the regulatory bodies to the new realities in the media sector, marked by the emergence of new technologies," the group said in a statement late Friday.
"But there is no need to reinforce control of the press. This council should not become a censor."
"Given the current tension between the Australian government and the press, which is very critical of this government, it is legitimate to wonder whether this inquiry into the print media is politically motivated," it added.
Canberra wants the inquiry to examine the diversity and effectiveness of Australia's highly concentrated newspaper industry.
It will be tasked with looking at ways to strengthen the powers of the Press Council and "enhance remedies" for breaches of its rules.
The government also left open the possibility of bringing print media under a statutory authority to police its conduct, flagging possible "regulatory or legislative changes", despite earlier ruling out press regulation.
The government has denied that the inquiry is a "witch-hunt" against the Murdoch press which controls 70 percent of Australian newspapers and has a stake in broadcasters Sky News and Fox Sports.
Prompted by the phone-hacking scandal in Britain which saw Australian-born Rupert Murdoch close his best-selling tabloid News of the World, the inquiry will provide a preliminary report to government in early 2012, complementing a probe into broadcast media convergence launched last year.
© 2011 AFP