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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26797

Mr WAKELIN (4:40 PM) —Freedom of the press is vital to a democracy, and no-one argues with that. The great thing about Australia is that there is very little corruption in public life. We all understand the profound influence of the media. There are probably not many of us who have not felt the sharp and cruel hand of a journalist who has either got their facts wrong or in a minority of cases has had some other vindictive approach. But generally our media works very well. I thank the member for Brisbane for the opportunity to canvass these issues again, because I think it is a wonderful opportunity to discuss them, bring them out into this chamber and perhaps, if nothing else, allow MPs to rethink them a bit.

I can remember very well being attacked on page 3 of the Adelaide Advertiser and then taking it to the Press Council, and getting a retraction about four months later on—on page 26. That is what we are dealing with all the time. The media have the luxury in this country of never really having to provide the solutions. I will not say they sometimes create them, but they certainly only ever have to report on them in a somewhat colourful way from time to time to ensure the commercial success of their respective operations or, in the case of the ABC, to ensure its continued funding. That is a little too cynical—I accept that—but nevertheless there is a reality and a marketplace out there in the public that we need to be conscious of.

As I say, there is very limited corruption in this country. Therefore I do not support the full registry concept. But I do think we need to have further discussion about what we should be doing to bring the media into better balance. Where it is actually within the material that they write and report on, they have the requirement to declare their interests immediately, as they write it. I accept that some of them do, but I am sure that in many cases they do not.

I really enjoyed the mention Mr Price, the member for Chifley, made of the issue of radio and cash for comment, which is clearly an excessive and wrong use of the media, in my view. I do think that sort of thing needs a much stronger hand and there need to be stronger laws which actually have some teeth and which create an opportunity for people to have greater respect for the truth. We have gone from the 1979 inquiry and the rebuttal or rejection of the need for this sort of regulation—let's have a code and let's have a more gentle approach and something not too draconian. I do not think that that is sufficient, but I cannot offer the chamber today a sufficiently strong alternative.

I do not favour this very regulatory method, because I agree with the member for La Trobe that having a very regulated system is not acceptable at all. But I do know that we do need a significantly stronger brake on the media so that they at least have greater respect for the parliament in which they have the privilege of working—as we do. To conclude, I believe that the standards of the media are probably bumping around where they have always been, I think the commercial interests are stronger than they have ever been, I think there is a need for further discussion on this subject and I think there is a much stronger need for the media to have far greater respect for the laws of the land and for the people who endeavour to represent Australians in this place.