Media: Inquiry terms of reference (think of the children)

Media: Inquiry terms of reference (think of the children)

Source: The Editorialiste
The wide-ranging terms of reference for Australia's Independent Media Inquiry are out with a particular emphasis on the migration of print media to digital and online platforms, as apposed to the investigation into bias that the Greens have called for, to the chagrin of Senator Bob Brown, though provisions have been made for addressing issues of privacy and ownership in terms of codes of practise and the public interest.

This is great. In an era when mastheads are considered "brands" and not as distinctly "print" and "online", when multimedia producers with degrees in computer science and/or more expertise in coding and video editing than factual story telling are being employed in newsrooms, when traditional mastheads are attracting more online users than paying readers and subscribers, when SEO is an editorial imperative, when "copy and paste" dissemination is de rigeur, when social media can land you in hot water (or an extensive readership base), when everyone is a publisher, and – significantly – when young people have greater access to online for education, information and socialising, the time has never been more ripe to consider the implications for digital news production within the media industry as it stands.

This week The Australian published a list of the Top 150 Print Websites Accessed by Australians in August, based on data from Experian Hitwise, which featured a range of overseas and locally produced sites. The Top 5 newspaper websites featured include The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Herald Sun, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph; the top international newspaper masthead sites were The Daily Mail, The New York Times, The Times of India, and the Telegraph.

The list also featured a range of magazines, putting paid to the idea that magazine mastheads are a thing of the past: The Australian Women's Weekly might sell less than 500,000 copies a month, but its website attracted more than a million visits in August. Similarly, other titles experiencing circulation contractions, such as Reader's Digest, Woman's Day, Grazia and the now defunct Notebook: magazine also rated highly in the list of most-visited websites.

How titles can best capitalise on these figures is a work in progress of interest to publishers, media buyers and brand managers alike, particularly as Australians are more likely to pay for overseas content, and will be addressed by the inquiry with the view to exploring business models for maintaining quality journalism.

Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy has also hinted that a media "super-watchdog" with "super disciplinary powers" may usurp the the Australian Press Council and Australian Communications and Media Authority.  

"There are people who have argued to me that the days of the Press Council are numbered and that in a converged world [of media] there should be one regulator that looks at both print, online and broadcast because they've become converged entities in themselves," said Senator Conroy. "Having two different regulators with different rules and different standards is confusing and wasteful."

The proposed terms of reference, outlined below, have been met with mixed reviews, though they do provide a lot of scope. Conducted independently of Government and led by Former Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, Ray Finkelstein QC, with the assistance of Dr Matthew Ricketson, Professor of Journalism at Canberra University and a former practising journalist, the inquiry will provide its findings to the Convergence Review in early 2012. 

The Terms of Reference
a) The effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia, particularly in light of technological change that is leading to the migration of print media to digital and online platforms;

b) The impact of this technological change on the business model that has supported the investment by traditional media organisations in quality journalism and the production of news, and how such activities can be supported, and diversity enhanced, in the changed media environment;

c) Ways of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, including in relation to on-line publications, and with particular reference to the handling of complaints;

d) Any related issues pertaining to the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the public interest.

Additional media coverage:
The Australian
Business Spectator
The Canberra Times
Radio Australia News

See also: 
Laws and claws, what are they good for?
Time for a new media paradigm?
Murdoch's media empire under siege

Girl With a Satchel