Title Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Database Senate Committees
Date 19-03-2013
Source Senate
Parl No. 43
Committee Name Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Page 17
Questioner CHAIR
Birmingham, Sen Simon
McKenzie, Sen Bridget
Responder Mr Breheny
Mr Berg
System Id committees/commsen/5adfd817-5309-44e4-81b6-6ca2892507f4/0003

Environment and Communications Legislation Committee - 19/03/2013

BERG, Mr Chris, Director, Policy, Institute of Public Affairs

BREHENY, Mr Simon, Director, Legal Rights Project, Institute of Public Affairs


CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the Institute of Public Affairs. Thank you for talking to us today. Do you wish to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions?

Mr Breheny : Yes, please. The news media reform package 2013 is nothing less than an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Australia. It is absurd to claim that the government could institute a regulator to regulate media self-regulators like the Australian Press Council and pretend that doing so would not constitute substantial new government oversight of the free press. This is a fundamental conceptual error with very disturbing consequences and, in our view, government oversight of the press is unacceptable in a liberal democracy. The government has no business deciding what constitutes fairness or balance in a media whose job it is to hold them to account. That ought to be a bedrock principle accepted by all sides of political debate.

We have a number of specific points we would like to raise about the proposed public interest media advocate. The government-appointed PIMA would be responsible for deciding which news media self-regulation bodies' members would receive an exemption from the Privacy Act and which would not. This regime means that news outlets will never be able to write about things that are claimed to be personal or sensitive. The news-gathering functions of a news media organisation would be shackled for fear of breaching the Privacy Act. To us, the coupling of Privacy Act exemptions with regulated membership clearly makes this a de facto licensing system, further emphasising the significance of the attack on free expression that the proposal represents.

The minister can directly and unilaterally appoint any person to the public interest media advocate role. Government members of this committee might reflect about whom a future government could appoint and whether instilling such significant powers over the press on a political appointee is democratically desirable. This is doubly so because of the entirely undefined concept of public interest that this entire project seems to be founded on. I am sure that our idea of what is in the public interest is different to the ideas of some members of the committee.

The proposed regime also undermines fundamental legal rights. The bills provide no avenue for appeal of a decision of the PIMA, they reverse the burden of proof in cases of proposed media mergers and they use ambiguous terms that give the PIMA enormous discretionary power.

The most disappointing part of this process is how the government has completely shirked the necessary reform to regulatory frameworks governing media and communications. There is almost nothing in these bills that deals with the serious and important problems in media regulation brought about by technological convergence. Instead, the process seems to have been entirely diverted by a partisan battle between one side of politics and one media company.

We have one final, broader concern. Chris Berg and I appeared before another Senate inquiry into another bill less than two months ago, on 23 January 2013, to defend freedom of speech against another real threat posed by legislation that this government proposed. That bill was the draft Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Bill 2012. Both pieces of legislation seek to shrink civil society by restricting free speech, one under the guise of human rights and the other under the guise of fairness and accuracy in the media. For these reasons, it is our view that the bills should be rejected.

CHAIR: Mr Berg, do you wish to add anything?

Mr Berg : No. I agree with Simon.

CHAIR: Senator Birmingham.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Gentlemen, thank you for your time today. You describe this as a de facto licensing system. The government claims that it is only setting up a mechanism to hold media companies to commitments that they already make under existing Press Council and self-regulatory arrangements. Why shouldn't the government reinforce those existing self-regulatory arrangements in this way?

Mr Berg : I think there are some serious problems with the existing self-regulatory arrangements but probably not what some of our opponents suggest they are. I am not confident in giving the Press Council the statutory backing that this legislation would give. In my view, the idea that you would take a voluntary regulatory scheme and turn it into a mandatory regulatory scheme or a full, black-letter-law regulatory scheme throws away any concepts of self-regulation and it would give, as I say, some sort of statutory backing to what was previously an amorphous, voluntary system. I think that is deeply concerning.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The government's proposal here has been scrutinised by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which handed down its report today. It cites, for example, the UN Human Rights Committee as indicating:

Restrictions must not be overbroad … they must be appropriate to achieve their protective function; they must be the least intrusive instrument amongst those which might achieve their protective function … they must be proportionate to the interests to be protected…When a State party invokes a legitimate ground for restriction of freedom of expression, it must demonstrate in specific and individualized fashion the precise nature of the threat, and the necessity and proportionality of the specific action taken, in particular by establishing a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the threat.

Do you believe that the government has in any way managed to demonstrate, in a specific and individualised fashion, the precise nature of the threat that warrants this action being taken?

Mr Berg : No, absolutely not, and I think it is important to track back to where the original media debate came from. It did not start with the Finkelstein inquiry; it did not even start with the Leveson inquiry. It started with the Convergence Review, which, in my view, was an extremely important process and an extremely important desire to deal with technological change and how it affects existing and legacy communications and media outlets. I think that is the biggest issue that the parliament could face in the communication space and the media space at the moment. But we have seen this process being diverted into a political issue with justifications being invented after the fact. I have not had a chance to scrutinise the Human Rights Committee's findings, but to me that part that you read out makes complete sense. The government, to my satisfaction, has not demonstrated any sort of need for change in this area.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: In terms of the overall issues—and in the opening statement you identified concerns that there was a pattern here that followed the anti-discrimination legislation in terms of attacks on free speech—do you believe that there is sufficient commitment given in human rights agenda to the issues of free speech and to the types of principles that were outlined by the UN Human Rights Committee that I quoted from just before?

Mr Berg : No. Through a wide range of policy areas, we have consistently seen freedom of speech, as a principle, downplayed. This has been a long-term trajectory, in my view; it has been going on for the last 30 to 40 years. But I think it has really taken a sharp uprise in the last couple of years. Obviously we all followed the Bolt case very closely, where Andrew Bolt was found to have unlawfully breached the Racial Discrimination Act. Then there was the Finkelstein review which, in my view, seemed to be inspired by political rather than policy desires. Then we have had the human rights and anti-discriminations acts. What we have found in these debates is that freedom of speech is almost always relegated to a second-tier concern above other concerns. I am a strong believer in freedom of speech. I have extremely strong, firm beliefs that it is the central value of our liberal democracy. It is absolutely essential to individual liberty and it is utterly essential to the maintenance of a democratic sphere. It is very disturbing to see it being continually downplayed across a wide range of policy areas.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: You highlighted that all of this began with the Convergence Review. Senator Conroy has claimed, in proposing these reforms, that there are now fewer and fewer voices in the media landscape. Is that a proposition that the IPA agrees with?

Mr Berg : No, absolutely not; and I am not sure that Senator Conroy believes that is the case either. I think it is very obvious that the amount of material we are able to access has never been more than it is today. The amount of information available to an individual reader or consumer of media content has been growing continuously for the last three centuries; there has been an extraordinary explosion of media content in that time. But over the last two decades, we have seen so much content that it completely breaks the regulatory frameworks that govern our existing systems. We have so much diversity available to us on the internet at any time and in any circumstances that we have to seriously rethink why and how we are regulating existing legacy contents. This set of legislation does not go anywhere towards that, and any future government is going to have to deal with that problem.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: But how do you respond to those who say that there is disproportionate power and influence between a blogger versus News Ltd?

Mr Berg : There is certainly disproportionate readership; nobody is questioning that. More people read the Herald Sun than read myblog, for example; and more people read the Herald Sun than read the IPA website, for that matter.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I am sure that that will change after today's hearing.

Mr Berg : I have great plans for this Senate committee hearing. But having said that, you have to ask: what is the objection there? More people want to read the Herald Sun than want to read myblog. Are we complaining about the power of the media or are we complaining about what citizens choose to read voluntarily? I worry that, when we discuss these issues, we are patronising or dismissing the importance of consumer choice. There is more diversity than ever before, in all of Australian and global history, available to citizens if they want to choose. Are we really here to second-guess those choices of our citizens?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The Treasury made some submissions to the Convergence Review and they said:

Where convergence provides consumers with more choice and a greater variety of media content, it should be encouraged, provided it meets community standards … Regulation that interferes with competition is likely to have the opposite effect—

in terms of encouraging a competitive media and communications market—

and instead stifle innovation and make it less responsive to consumer needs.

Do you believe that these proposals in terms of new regulation have the potential to, as the Treasury indicated, stifle innovation? In particular, can I direct that question to the proposals to apply a public interest test on media acquisitions and mergers?

Mr Berg : I think this is the last time in the world that you would want to be imposing a new constraint on what media businesses can do on a commercial basis. It is instructive to see the difference between when the Finkelstein report was released in March 2012 and today. The Finkelstein report suggested that the media companies had told him that everything was actually going pretty well; they saw that there was substantial growth in the future and they saw that there was not going to be a huge problem any time soon. So Finkelstein basically called for the government to hold a watching brief. That was just three months before the extraordinary job cuts in Fairfax and before the extraordinary job cuts in News Ltd. Basically, the heart of the newspaper sector in Australia had a great big contraction.

That, in my mind, makes many of the policies recommended by previous reviews—reviews prior to those huge contractions—really quite redundant or certainly needing to be revised in light of these changes. I worry that we are trying to regulate the last war; we are trying to regulate based on concepts that we developed a decade ago and to impose them on an extraordinarily fast-paced media sector. I have heard the public interest test mentioned for at least a decade. I know that it came out in a Productivity Commission report in 1999­2000. The idea that we are still talking about the exact same policy proposal going through a decade later, when there have been so many changes to technology, to media and to communications, I just find completely absurd.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: The specific legislation before us requires a news media self-regulation scheme to ensure that it has standards addressing matters of privacy, fairness, accuracy and other matters relating to the professional conduct of journalism. It then goes on to require that it also meet a level of community standards—no particular definition of what those community standards may be. Do you believe that they are appropriate subjects for a regulatory scheme to consider; and, if so, how should a regulatory scheme go about considering those particular issues?

Mr Berg : I believe that they are appropriate subjects for a self-regulatory scheme. If I were running a newspaper, I would very much want to impose those sorts of things. I think it is important that newspapers open up their pages to contrary letters and contrary opinion pieces and so on and so forth. But I do not think it is appropriate for any government regulator or any government to try to impose on the free press its own conception of what constitutes fairness or balance. The free press has a vital and essential democratic role to basically expose the misdemeanours of government. The idea that the government would then turn around and regulate the press for fairness or balance seems to me to be deeply worrying and seriously concerning. It is extraordinary that we are talking about this in 2013.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Why is it that, even at a self-regulatory level, the media industry should be concerned with matters of fairness?

Mr Berg : It depends on how you are running your newspaper. The newspapers I like to read tend to be fair, try to be balanced and all those sorts of things. I personally think that is a virtue worth pursuing, but I do not think it is a virtue worth regulating across the board.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Why that distinction?

Mr Berg : Because the free press and freedom of speech are too important for government to be deciding what constitutes fairness. Government is not a neutral player in this game; it has great interests in what is printed in the newspaper, and government control or oversight would be very, very dangerous, in my view.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Historically, have we seen a greater tendency or a lesser tendency than would be the case today to have publications that take very biased approaches?

Mr Berg : Historically speaking, the news press started as an extremely partisan business. The newspapers in the 18th and 19th centuries were funded by political parties specifically and they hurled all sorts of abuse at each other and at politicians. There was a period in the early to mid 20th century where the idea of objective journalism really took hold. Now I think the concept of objective journalism is coexisting with a broader, more aggressive, more opinionated news media. I do not have a problem with that. I think it is a very interesting thing to look at, but I certainly do not think it is the job of the government to be second-guessing those sorts of philosophical changes in journalism.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: So an evolution has occurred over a period of time from a period where the emergence of news media as such was driven by parties with a self-interest, be they political parties, business groups, unions or otherwise, who funded magazines—what leaps to mind is one I quoted in my maiden speech, called The Worker, which I suspect would be dear to Senator Cameron's heart if he were to go back and look at those old copies—through to an era today of objective journalism. Also there has been a transition perhaps, as you say, to people now partaking more in opinion based journalism. That appears to reflect also the greater choices and spread of options that people have. As there are more choices, they will presumably seek out media opportunities that better reflect their outlook on life, whether that is good, bad or otherwise.

Mr Berg : I suspect that we are going back to an earlier stage of journalism where you have commercial neutral or objective journalism outlets but you also have private donor-supported outlets with very, very strong opinions. We can see this in the United States; we have seen a huge development of what you might unfairly describe as 'partisan' media outlets that are privately funded or donated to by small members and philanthropists. I suspect that we are going to see that in Australia as well.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: And the opportunity to produce content cheaply online or for 24­hour news channels or those sorts of things—

Mr Berg : Exactly. It is a business model that we should all get into, basically.

CHAIR: Given that you have mentioned your maiden speech, I will go back and have a look at that again because all I can remember from your maiden speech is that you are a very strong supporter of dealing with climate change and using a market-based approach.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: You were not in the Senate at the time of my maiden speech, Senator Cameron.

CHAIR: But I have read it.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I am pleased to hear that.

CHAIR: Mr Berg and Mr Breheny, why should we give more weight to your evidence than to Mr Finkelstein's and Professor Ricketson's?

Mr Berg : The IPA has strong views; I think it is backed by research evidence. I do not think that the Finkelstein review was as intellectually coherent as some have claimed it was, and I do not think it is the be-all and end-all of media discussion in this country. I do not know why we would raise that up to being the definitive statement on the free press.

CHAIR: But strong views are not the basis on which to make deliberations; strong views are strong views.

Mr Berg : Absolutely; and I would be happy to send you a copy of my book, which details at great length the evidence that we bring to bear on this discussion, which is a historical and philosophical grounding on the importance of the free press and the historical and current threats to it.

CHAIR: Do you have a PhD in the media or something like that?

Mr Berg : No, I do not.

CHAIR: What are your qualifications?

Mr Berg : I have a Bachelor of Arts and I am doing a PhD at the moment at RMIT university.

CHAIR: In what?

Mr Berg : In economics.

CHAIR: So you have no qualifications in the media?

Mr Berg : In the media in general?


Mr Berg : I am a published commentator on all sorts of things.

CHAIR: A commentator—

Mr Berg : No, I understand—

CHAIR: I am asking about your professional base. I am not asking whether you are a commentator; we know you are a commentator. Mr Breheny, what about you? What are your qualifications?

Mr Breheny : I am currently a university student; I am studying arts and law at the University of Melbourne.

CHAIR: Arts and law—good on you; that is great. Let us go to the issues you have raised about fairness and balance. Do you believe the press should have the right to say whatever they like? Should there be any restrictions on the press?

Mr Berg : There are already many, many restrictions on the press at the moment, from defamation to intellectual property. There are courses that you can do in media law. Journalists have to do dedicated subjects about these sorts of things. It is a straw man to suggest that we are discussing a laissez-faire press versus a regulated press. We have a highly regulated press at the moment and the government is proposing to increase those regulations.

CHAIR: You have read the Finkelstein report?

Mr Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: What do you say to the instances where individuals have suffered because the press has taken a wrong position and caused those individuals huge problems—for instance, a minister of the Crown having his homosexuality exposed and being forced to resign; a chief commissioner of police being the victim of false accusations about his job performance fed to the news media by a ministerial adviser and, following publication of the articles, being forced to resign; a woman wrongly implicated in the deaths of her two young children in a house fire, with her grief over her children's deaths compounded by the news media coverage; nude photographs said to be of a female politician contesting a seat in a state election published with no checking of veracity and the photographs being found to be fake; and a teenage girl victimised because of her having had sexual relations with a well-known sportsman? How do these people get some redress?

Mr Berg : There is a wide range of ways they can get redress at the moment. There are a couple of things we have to break down in that list. Obviously many of the claims made were defamatory. If the government is interested in changing defamation laws so that they are more accessible to some people, that is a different discussion we can have.

CHAIR: A different discussion in your eyes. So you are saying—

Mr Berg : No, I am not suggesting—

CHAIR: You are not suggesting that—

Mr Berg : I am not suggesting anything. What I am suggesting is that again we are discussing, not the legislation that is before parliament, but some general feeling about what the media can and cannot do.

CHAIR: Just a minute, Mr Berg. It is not a general feeling—it is what the Finkelstein report indicated were serious problems with the operation of the Press Council and individuals' rights. So do not dismiss it like that. If you want to be accurate, be accurate. If you want to tell us how smart you are that is okay, but at least deal with the issues I am raising.

Mr Berg : I am happy to. My argument is that many of the cases in the Finkelstein review—which I have read as well as you have—are clear options for defamation action. Many of the cases were given apologies by the newspaper, which is all that the existing legislation would allow—

CHAIR: So the woman whose two children were killed in a tragic accident—what did she get?

Mr Berg : I am not sure exactly—

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Mr Ricketson was not able to tell us that, Senator Cameron.

CHAIR: I just thought Mr Berg could. He is telling us all the details.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: There was a lot of—

CHAIR: Senator Birmingham, I did not interrupt you. Do not interrupt me—thanks.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Well you keep interrupting—

Mr Berg : I am also concerned with some of those other cases we are talking about—ministers of the Crown, public figures. There cannot be any restrictions on what newspapers and journalists can investigate about public figures. I do not think it is the job of the government to defend its own ministers using the statutory arm of the law.

CHAIR: Tell me where in the legislation the government can defend its ministers using the statutory arm of the law?

Mr Berg : I am not suggesting that that is in the legislation. I am suggesting that any solution you might propose that would directly attack or directly deal with those specific examples—coming back to Senator Birmingham's point about specific examples—would necessarily allow a government to defend its minister. I am happy and eager to talk about the specifics of the legislation, but you have brought up the Finkelstein review. The legislation that is offered is not exactly what the Finkelstein review suggests.

CHAIR: But we are dealing with some principles that underpin the legislation. I am entitled to ask whatever I like. You do not have to answer. If you do not want to answer, you can always go. I am simply saying to you that these are significant issues that the Finkelstein review raised. There is another one. Are you familiar with a person called James Delingpole?

Mr Berg : Yes, very much. The IPA had him out a couple of months ago.

CHAIR: So you sponsored him?

Mr Berg : I am not sure what the arrangements were, but the IPA brought him out.

CHAIR: So you brought him out. Are you aware of an article that he wrote which appeared in the Australian on 3 May, 2012?

Mr Berg : I think I am familiar with the one you are referring to.

CHAIR: The 'Wind farm scam' article.

Mr Berg : Yes. If that is the one I am thinking of, I am familiar with it, yes.

CHAIR: Were you perfectly happy that that was a legitimate expression of free speech?

Mr Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: It was?

Mr Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: Are you aware that the Press Council had a different view on that?

Mr Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: So you think it is okay to make an assertion that union superannuation funds 'are using the wind farm scam as a kind of government endorsed Ponzi scheme to fill their coffers at public expense'. Is that a fair and reasonable proposition?

Mr Berg : I would not say that it is a fair proposition to the unions, but I think it is a very clear illustration of the boundaries between satire and public commentary. I think if you tried to regulate that distinction we would be in a lot of trouble.

CHAIR: So Mr Delingpole was using satire, was he?

Mr Berg : I think in many parts of that article he has a very satirical pen.

CHAIR: 'A very satirical pen'? Even to the extent where he quotes an anonymous New South Wales sheep farmer opposed to wind farm development?— 'The wind farm business is bloody well near a paedophile ring; they are f...ing our families and knowingly doing so.' Is it perfectly okay to do that?

Mr Berg : He is quoting a farmer. I do not understand what the objection specifically would be to. You might think that is an exaggeration of the true position. You might think that is unfair. But this is the nature of a free and open discussion. People who exaggerate, who use satirical strategies and all this sort of stuff—you have to allow that in a free and open country, in my view.

CHAIR: You have to allow misrepresentations?

Mr Berg : Are you suggesting that that was a misrepresentation or are you suggesting that all misrepresentations would be allowed? As I have said, if the union super fund suggested that was defamatory then perhaps they could take it up.

CHAIR: Everyone has to go to the law courts?

Mr Berg : I have serious problems with defamation law. I do not want to excessively defend that.

CHAIR: You have said 'defamation' a number of times.

Mr Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: But you have got serious problems with that.

Mr Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: I do not know what to make of that. This article also indicated:

The owners on whose land the turbines are built are subject to rigorous gagging orders (from law firms such as Julia Gillard's ex-company, Slater & Gordon); tame experts are paid huge sums to testify that there are no health implications …

It is not true, is it?

Mr Berg : I am not sure. Is it not true?

CHAIR: It is not true. So if it is not true should people just be allowed in the Australian to say what they like, even if it is not true?

Mr Berg : Issues that are not true and issues that you think are wrong or objectionable should be loudly fought in the public sphere. If you find that article objectionable you should write to the Australian or if the Australian will not publish your response you should write to another newspaper, you should put it on your website, you should put out a press release or you should talk about it in parliament. But I do not feel that it is the job of the government or a government backed regulator to make the decisions about what is legitimate speech and what is not.

CHAIR: Your definition of 'legitimate' is that people can basically print untruths, and that is part of the debate?

Mr Berg : I would not necessarily say that.

CHAIR: What are you saying?

Mr Berg : I would suggest legitimate speech is any speech directed towards a public purpose in this, and this is clearly a public purpose. If you object to that then you should debate the issue in public, as we all have to.

CHAIR: Does the IPA believe that the press should regulate itself in any way?

Mr Berg : We all regulate ourselves in many ways. I am sure that if you talk to journalists and editors they make decisions about what they are going to put in their paper on all sorts of grounds. The press does regulate itself. Should the press have a self-regulatory body? I do not have a big problem with that, and that is really up to the press, in my view.

CHAIR: Would you argue that there is no need for self-regulation?

Mr Berg : I am not sure. It is really up to the press. The whole point about self-regulation is that the individual industry gets to decide whether it wants to or not. That is the definition of a self-regulatory framework.

CHAIR: That is a principle that you would support, that the press can make a determination whether it self-regulates or not?

Mr Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: So it can just say, 'We will do what we like and face any consequences'?

Mr Berg : Yes. Of course that would be within the existing legal framework, which is substantial and extensive.

CHAIR: The IPA issued a press release after the Press Council concluded on three points that this article should not have been printed in the way it was; is that right?

Mr Berg : Yes. Was it under my name?

CHAIR: It was under your name, was it?

Mr Berg : I am not sure.

CHAIR: You are not sure. So you cannot remember?

Mr Berg : I am not sure exactly what the claims were in that specific press release.

CHAIR: I think it was a Mr Roskam, actually. You guys are interchangeable, are you—flexibility?

Mr Berg : We have so many—

CHAIR: Mr Roskam said:

The Press Council thinks they should decide what is allowed to be written about climate change or any controversial topic. But in a free society journalists and newspapers should be able to publish whatever they want on any topic of public debate …

Even to the extent of quoting someone to say that an organisation is the equivalent of a paedophile ring?

Mr Berg : Yes, I concur with the press release, if that is an accurate—

CHAIR: You concur with that?

Mr Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: So people can be equated to paedophiles as far as the IPA is concerned?

Mr Berg : I am not suggesting that it is a very good thing to equate people with paedophilia. I am not defending that claim. I am defending the claim that in a society that respects freedom of speech as a fundamental value we have to accept sometimes that offensive speech will be made. If you are only going to defend speech you agree with then you are not defending freedom of speech at all.

CHAIR: Very interesting, Mr Berg. After the publication of that article, we had the Press Council determination, we had the IPA press release basically saying you should be allowed to do whatever you like, and the Australian published Mr Delingpole's response, which again repeated some of the issues that the Press Council said should not have been there. Is that fair and reasonable?

Mr Berg : That is a position for the Australian to take, surely.

CHAIR: The Australian can basically ignore the Press Council and just print—

Mr Berg : Yes, that is the definition of a voluntary self-regulatory scheme.

CHAIR: So it is all voluntary; it is really meaningless—the Press Council?

Mr Berg : No, I would not suggest it is meaningless. I think they would have very seriously considered whether to do that.

CHAIR: If the Australian decides it is just going to repeat the same allegations in a different form, it is just ignoring the Press Council, isn't it?

Mr Berg : I think it is defying the Press Council in that case but I also think—

CHAIR: Defying?

Mr Berg : Yes, sure. But I think in many—

CHAIR: That is okay?

Mr Berg : Yes. It is a voluntary self-regulatory system. I think in many cases the Australian will have published retractions and so forth according to Press Council edicts. I am certain that other newspapers do and I have no reason to suggest that the Australian does not either.

CHAIR: Following that article, Christopher Pearson again went on to repeat the paedophile statement. So we had Delingpole run it up first. We had the Press Council, on the basis of complaints, say that should not have been done; it was wrong. We had Delingpole come back again in the Australian and run the same allegations and then we had Christopher Pearson run the allegations. And in between this we had the IPA saying basically 'do what you like'. Wouldn't you understand from that that individuals who do not have the power of the Murdoch press, do not have the power of Fairfax, do not have the power of Seven West, would say, 'How can we get a fair go'?

Mr Berg : Those individuals have never been more empowered at any time in history. It is very important to remember that. We are talking about increasing regulation on the press when the people who feel that they have been aggrieved have never been more powerful and never more capable of getting their own message out. The press is not a uniform bloc. It does not just exist as a solid entity shouting down small individuals. As you well know, there are many press outlets that go loggerheads against each other, that expose scandals about each other, all these sorts of things, and we have never been more empowered to get our message out and start those backlashes to what we might consider unfair or unbalanced.

CHAIR: Secretary, I might table the Australian article by James Delingpole of 21 December. I also table the Australian editorial of 21 December, the Christopher Pearson article of 22 December, the James Delingpole article of 3 May, the adjudication of the Press Council of 20 December and the IPA media release under the name of John Roskam of 20 December. It takes you through the problems that individuals would have in dealing with the arguments the IPA are putting up. Senator McKenzie?

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you very much for appearing today. I simply have one question. What would the IPA's response be to the issues around regional, local news, local weather and local sport?

Mr Berg : I have not gone into great detail about this particular piece of legislation and how it affects that. I want to preface it with that. In my view, however, the same arguments that I have made today hold for that as well. There has never been more opportunity for local and regional news, sport and weather to get out there. Unfortunately, the winds of business models are changing really rapidly and substantially. I do not think any legislation is going to make a regional newspaper any more commercially viable than it is at the moment, and certainly no more commercially viable than it would have been 10, 20 or 30 years ago. We need to recognise that the community is adapting and learning to adapt to these huge and significant business changes.

Senator McKENZIE: I was interested in your commentary around the convergence review and the opportunities that it presents. In terms of those sections within our community who lack the infrastructure to take up the opportunity of the changed environment in which we can consume media, do you have any commentary to make around that?

Mr Berg : I am not sure what the figure is to hand. It might be 17 per cent of Australians do not have an internet connection. By this stage it is not that they do not have an internet connection because they cannot have an internet connection; it is because they have deliberately chosen not to have one. That is an unfortunate thing. They are really missing out. A lot of those people are eventually going to have to get internet access. We just have to wait for the population to catch up with a lot of these things, I am afraid.

CHAIR: Last question, Senator.

Senator McKENZIE: Do you have a specific view on the 75 per cent reach rule?

Mr Berg : Not a specific view.

CHAIR: That is not for this inquiry. Thanks, Mr Berg and Mr Breheny. Good luck with your university studies, Mr Breheny.

Mr Breheny : Thank you, Senator.