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Published 04 July 2012 13:04, Updated 11 July 2012 04:49
News chief executives have broken a cardinal rule of their own industry and compromised their ability to remain impartial during the next federal election campaign.
A letter was sent by seven news organisations yesterday to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to ask for the scrapping of proposed plans for tighter ownership limits and news coverage standards set by a federally funded media regulatory body.
While the executives have a very real concern and right to fight against restrictions to freedom of the press, they have made a big mistake.
The letter was also sent to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott with a request that if he wins the next election he will commit to repeal any legislation that is passed.
If Abbott agrees to the request, the letter’s signatories have compromised the independence of their organisations. While media organisations in editorials can and do try to influence the outcomes of elections, it is a different matter if the entire organisation becomes beholden to one side of politics.
The letters were signed by Nine Entertainment's David Gyngell, Seven West Media’s newly installed chief executive and former oil executive Don Voelte, AAP’s Bruce Davidson, APN News & Media’s Brett Chenoweth, News Ltd’s Kim Williams, Foxtel’s Richard Freudenstein and Sky New’s Angelos Frangopolous.
Noticeably absent was the chief executive of Fairfax Media, Greg Hywood.
As a Fairfax journalist I have not talked to Hywood about this issue and don’t expect to, so I have no insight into his reasons for being absent as a signatory except the well reported line that he is “concerned at its [the letter’s] tone”.
But no doubt the government will hold up this letter as an argument that news organisations have a self-interest when they almost inevitably urge for a change of government at the next election – Hywood and Fairfax will have the high ground in that argument.
However, it remains to be seen how far-reaching Gillard’s proposed legislation will have to go.
Given the reach that an individual can potentially have on social media, should each twitter and Facebook account be considered a news organisation? If that’s the case, perhaps Hywood would be happy to add his signature to the letter that millions of Australians would be happy to send to the Prime Minister and which in essence would say “Butt out of our lives”.