Publishers meet to strengthen council

AS INDUSTRY opposition to a recommended new statutory News Media Council mounts, publishers met to discuss bolstering the Australian Press Council.

AS INDUSTRY opposition to a recommended new statutory News Media Council mounts, publishers met to discuss bolstering the Australian Press Council.

In a review of press standards released to the federal government last week, former federal court judge Ray Finkelstein declared self-regulation a failure and called for scrapping the APC in favour of a statutory government-funded watchdog, which would also govern standards for broadcast and online media over a certain size.

News media organisations have attacked the recommendations, and the APC yesterday met senior executives from Fairfax Media (owner of The Age), News Ltd, APN and West Australian News. In its submission to the review, the APC, which is funded by publishers, said it had insufficient funding to quickly deal with complaints. The council has annual funding of about $1 million.

With the threat of an alternative complaints body, the APC meeting yesterday failed to come to a conclusion about how to strengthen the council, in part by boosting its funding, but also in its operating structure. But talks were said to be "productive".

The APC is also attempting to persuade publishers to drop the practice of asking complainants to waive their rights to sue if they want the council to adjudicate.

Council chairman Professor Julian Disney described it as a "useful discussion", while industry representative Newspaper Works said "the group expressed its commitment to strong self-regulation of the industry by the Press Council".

"[Yesterday's] meeting has been productive and we will continue these discussions on how best to substantially strengthen the Press Council to meet the expectations of the public and the industry," it added.

The APC is also working on a new fee structure to encourage participation by online-only media groups. At the moment only one online group, the Property Review, comes under its watch.

The Gillard government is expected to respond to the Finkelstein review after it receives a final report on media convergence, due at the end of this month.