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Senator Brown defends media inquiry -

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Greens Leader Bob Brown joins Lateline to discuss the Government's carbon tax legislation and the
media inquiry requested by the Greens.

Transcript

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: To discuss the Government's media inquiry and its plans to change the
Migration Act to make the Malaysian Solution legal, we were joined just a short time ago by the
Greens Leader, Bob Brown.

He was in our Parliament House studio.

Bob Brown, thanks for joining us.

BOB BROWN, GREENS LEADER: Thanks, Tony.

TONY JONES: Are the terms of reference broad enough to allow this inquiry to examine and make
recommendations on the concentration of newspaper ownership in Australia?

BOB BROWN: Well we'd have them broader and more specific, but yes, they are. The final catch-all is
to enable justice - former Justice Finkelstein and his fellow commissioner to look at any matters
that are in the public interest effectively coming out of media and the operation of media.

But there is also a specific reference to the amount of variety or diversity in the media. And,
yes, ...

TONY JONES: Can I interrupt you there? It's the second term of reference; it talks about the impact
of technological change on the business model of newspapers and asks how diversity can be enhanced
in this changed environment. Is that what you see as the foot in the door to examine newspaper
ownership?

BOB BROWN: No, it's not a foot in the door, Tony, it's the door wide open. And of course, the
commissioners will be able to look at the concentration of media ownership which has 70 per cent of
the newspapers in the hands of one corporation, that's the Murdoch empire here in Australia;
nothing like that in the rest of the world.

But also, and I think more particularly, whether that concentration, along with the Fairfax
ownership of much of the rest of the press, is going to spill over into the new media.

And, you know, it is very obviously hard to undo what's done in terms of the print media, but you
wouldn't want to see that replicated in the multiplicity of new media that's coming down the line.

And, you know, a media inquiry - the opinion poll released today shows that a media inquiry is
popular with Australians. They want to have a check on the awesome power of the media, but also
whether it's effectively living up to its own codes of conduct. And ...

TONY JONES: Alright. We'll go through some of that detail in a moment. First of all, let's stick
with the ownership question. It'd be a huge call for Judge Finkelstein to make, wouldn't it? I
mean, to examine media ownership on this vague reference?

BOB BROWN: No, not at all. And you can't separate media ownership from the ability of the populace
to have diversity. There's four capital cities in Australia where there's only one newspaper and
they're all owned by the Murdoch empire.

TONY JONES: Let me ask you a specific question; it'd be about what you would want to see, what the
Greens would want to see. Would the Greens want to see an outcome that resulted in a difference in
the level of newspaper ownership, that 70 per cent equation that you talk about, for Rupert
Murdoch?

BOB BROWN: Well, it you're going to ask me: do we want to see the forcible divestment of newspapers
by Rupert Murdoch, I don't think that's achievable. Might think it would be in the public interest
to have greater diversity, but I don't think that's achievable.

What I don't want to see - what I personally don't want to see is that spilling over into the new
media forms so that Australians don't get the diversity that you get in Britain or France or
America or Canada.

And it's really important that we're looking forward. This is an inquiry, I think - we know what
the media concentration is, Tony - it's an inquiry not to find out what the concentration of
ownership is, but how we can get better diversity for the Australian public and the democracy which
is served by good information and diversity in the future.

TONY JONES: OK, so - but, let's get this straight: you don't particularly want to see any forcible
change to that 70 per cent ownership equation of newspapers.

BOB BROWN: That's correct. I wouldn't want to see a change in that. But talking about forcible
changes, no, I don't think that's going to come out of these inquiries and nor do I think that we
could reasonably achieve that. I think that was lost back in the '80s in particular when the
Murdoch empire was able to take over the Herald and Weekly Times and we saw that concentration
which is very hard to undo once it's done. But let's not spill it across into the new media.

TONY JONES: OK. News Limited CEO John Hartigan said today this inquiry started life as a witch-hunt
by the Greens and it's morphed into a fairly narrow look at a mixed bag of issues focusing on print
journalism. Your response?

BOB BROWN: Well he'd know about it, wouldn't he, because John Hartigan and the Australian newspaper
are the great exponents of witch-hunts. They track down people, pulverise them unmercifully,
there's no answer back to that. I mean, as far as the Greens are concerned, his mission in his
editorials in the Australian is to destroy the Greens at the ballot box.

We're growing despite that and, you know, you can overstate the power of media and editorials, but
The Australian is a great one at pulverising people. It is the hate media and central, and, it's
lost track of what's news and what's views. It's a views paper essentially.

But that all said, you know, media would moving on. And people know about that, and I think the
public's very savvy about how the media works.

TONY JONES: Let's go through this a little bit. I mean, you seem to be fixated on The Australian,
arguably because of what they've said about the Greens ...

BOB BROWN: No, you asked me about John Hartigan, so I responded.

TONY JONES: Yes, I did, but he's the CEO of all of News Limited. So, it's a broader issue that he's
talking about, not just The Australian. Why is the Australian so heavily in your sights, apart from
the fact that they've targeted the Greens, a paper with a relatively small circulation?

BOB BROWN: Well you'd read it, I reckon, Tony; so do all the politicians. It's very influential.
And look, if you're indicating that it's targeted as far as I'm concerned, that doesn't matter.
We've got an independent media inquiry now which is popular with the Australian people, the idea of
a media inquiry, that can look at a whole diversity of things.

TONY JONES: OK. That's true, but let me just stick ...

BOB BROWN: I'm one of 22 million Australians when it comes to this inquiry.

TONY JONES: Let me stick to The Australian for a moment. I mean, certainly it is influential beyond
its circulation, partly because journalists and broad broadcasters read it, as you've just
suggested, and pick up on its agenda. I mean, that's hardly the fault of The Australian, though, is
it? I mean, in fact it's a tribute to their tenacity.

BOB BROWN: Well is it a tribute to their tenacity or the well-known tenacity of the Murdoch empire
to make and break governments, not just here but in the United States and in Britain. And, you
know, we have to be mindful of the power of the media as well as we do indeed of the power in
politics.

TONY JONES: Sticking with The Australian, would you be comfort to wake up one morning and find that
it had ceased to exist?

BOB BROWN: No, I think that would be a loss. But I would be comfortable to see if for suggestions
coming out of a media inquiry, for example, it lifted its standards. I think that would be a good
thing for the public interest.

TONY JONES: In what area precisely?

BOB BROWN: Well, for example, in putting news on its front page instead of mixing it with - you
know, its own ethics, say, it won't mix up opinion and news, but from front page through to the
opinion pages, it is a views paper.

Look, we all know about that. Australians are very intelligent readers and they're able to handle
that and I'm very happy to be in a public debate with news media. I think there's been far too
little of it. I think there's been too much gutlessness in politics when it comes to, for example,
taking on Rupert Murdoch and the media.

TONY JONES: In the question of regulation, you favour a single independent regulator across all
media, is that right?

BOB BROWN: Yeah. We have ACMA, which, as you know, is looking at the radio and TV sector and it has
more powers than the Press Council, which has for years laboured on, but very toothless largely.
Julian Disney's heading that up and I think he's trying to move it to be more relevant and
responsive to the public. You'll see in the terms of ...

TONY JONES: But can I just focus for a moment on this idea of a single regulator? I mean, do you
want to see something start from scratch across all media like, for example, ASIC which deals with
corporations, which has the power to prosecute, level fines and to regulate on questions of ethics?

BOB BROWN: I'd like to wait and see what Justice Finkelstein and his inquiry comes up with.

TONY JONES: I know, but I'm asking for your view.

BOB BROWN: Well my opinion is that, yes, there would be merit in a single regulator that had more
teeth to look after the average person in the public who gets done over, sometimes quite wrongly by
- in the media.

TONY JONES: But something like ASIC, which is there to regulate corporations, is that what you
mean?

BOB BROWN: No. I think the media's a very different thing here. We're talking about individuals in
the public and their right to be able to have their privacy protected, to not be misrepresented, to
ensure that the law is upheld in reporting on them.

These matters are very important to the average person in the public, who I think is a little
fearful of the media, much the same as politicians are, and we need to make sure their interests
are upheld. And I think a single media regulator that's a one-stop shop, that is quick in its
response, that is able to listen to the public and very rapidly process complaints so that they're
not compounded by a delay in time, is quite important, and I don't think we're there with the Press
Council on that one.

TONY JONES: OK. Last week you let loose on Julia Gillard, accusing her of moving to the political
right of John Howard on asylum seekers and you said you'd be taking it up with her face-to-face
this week. Have you had that meeting?

BOB BROWN: Well, the meeting's between the Prime Minister and I are in camera, but yes, I did raise
the issue with her and we know that we think differently on this.

If I can just point, Tony, to two opinion polls now done by Nielsen; they show that 54 per cent of
people do back the Greens in wanting to have asylum seekers brought ashore in this country and
processed decently under Australian law.

There's 28 or so per cent who back the Prime Minister's idea of going to a third country, and
there's only 15 per cent who back Tony Abbott's pretty cruel idea of turning around the boats. He
doesn't say turn around the planes, although there's 60,000 visa over-stayers in this country. But
he's got that mantra. You know, it's being more and more discovered to not be - not have the
popularity that he talks about.

But here we've got both the big parties pursuing the unpopular, the unedifying, the inhumane, the
expensive and the illegal and they're wanting to make that legal. And, it's a very worrying
process.

TONY JONES: OK. But if I can put it this way, you're in a kind of Labor-Green alliance at the
moment, so you're in a unique position to potentially influence that policy. I mean, are you
prepared to put it on the line with the Government and say that you'll break the alliance if they
go ahead with this policy?

BOB BROWN: No. We have a written arrangement with outcomes. It's the form of an agreement to form
government and we will uphold that, because the Greens responsibly believe that government should
serve their three-year terms.

But that said, if you follow through what you're suggesting, Tony, we end up with Tony Abbott and
the least popular option and the cruellest, the most expensive and the most illegal of the
alternatives being put in place. I don't think so.

TONY JONES: OK. You've also demanded a meeting with the same Immigration officials who briefed Tony
Abbott. These are the public servants you referred to as "turkeys" engaged in a xenophobic
prognostication. Have you had that meeting?

BOB BROWN: No. Senator Hanson-Young and I have wrote to the Government. We will be having that
meeting with whoever those people were I presume tomorrow. Let me say, when I made that response, I
didn't - no names had been brought forward and I think it was a very appropriate response to what
was said and what was reported in the media as the briefing.

Now I will be tackling the bureaucrats who were responsible for that sort of public statement about
people who come to this country very distressed, from horrible situations, who need humane
treatment and who need to be treated as decent human beings, not as people who are going to set our
cities burning in the future.

TONY JONES: OK, once again, we're nearly out of time, so I'm sorry to keep interrupting you. We're
nearly out of time. We're talking about Andrew Metcalfe, the head of the Immigration Department.
He'll be the key briefer. A former Howard Government bureaucrat as well.

You suggested in your press conference last week that the Labor Government should have gotten rid
of people like him. I mean, is that - do you hold with that opinion now that you've seen the whole
saga - at least the behind-the-scenes story about what he really said to people?

BOB BROWN: Tony, I'm now able to question, whoever it is, whether it's him or somebody else that
came up with those statements, tomorrow, personally. And they better get ready, because I think it
was very poor behaviour. And mind you, the only remitting factor, if you like, was that the
Government had these people briefing the Opposition in those terms. The ministers should have been
doing that briefing and not leaving it to public servants.

TONY JONES: Well, I mean, evidently not. This seems to be the point: that it doesn't sound like
Andrew Metcalfe did say those things to Tony Abbott in the briefing. At least, whatever he said to
the journalists in that private briefing seemed not to have been relayed to Tony Abbott.

BOB BROWN: I don't know Mr Metcalfe, but I - he may be there tomorrow, I don't know, and I don't
know who said what. But I stand by the statements about people who would make the reported comments
to the media before they went on to brief Tony Abbott last week. And I'll be asking who made those
comments and I will be eyeballing the people involved and asking them on what basis they could ever
make such comments and allow them to go into the public domain.

But you know, the Government has a responsibility here to do the briefing itself, not leave it to
public servants.

TONY JONES: Bob Brown, we'll have to leave you there. We thank you very much for taking the time to
come to talk to us on Lateline.

BOB BROWN: Thanks, Tony.