Media Watch calls for ACMA to be given some teeth

2013-10-28_2332Last night’s Media Watch took a closer look at the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s powers in keeping broadcasters, radio and television, accountable.

It raised questions that we’ve all wondered about: why are punishments for breaches so light, and should they be given more powers?

As it currently stands, ACMA can’t fine broadcasters. It can’t compel them to publish its findings. It can suspend licences, but that’s an extreme step.

Host Paul Barry cited problems in keeping 2GB’s Alan Jones to an ACMA recommendation that his radio show maintain fact-checking, but his points also apply to television broadcasting:

So we’d like to see regulation made to work. And we have two suggestions.

First that the ACMA be given more power not to investigate.

It’s crazy to spend a year on trivial complaints. And it’s a waste of time for all concerned.

Second, that the watchdog be given some teeth. Allow the ACMA to force broadcasters to acknowledge and correct their mistakes.

And allow it to impose fines on serial offenders as the British regulator Ofcom is able to do.

Finally, it would help if 2GB took its responsibilities more seriously.

Six weeks ago Channel Nine’s A Current Affair was found to have breached the TV code with a story that a shopping mall in Sydney had been overtaken by Asians.

ACMA recommended it acknowledge that breach on air. And thanks to Channel Nine boss David Gyngell, it did.

It wasn’t the best apology in the world because it did not go into any detail of the sins they committed.

And we’re not suggesting A Current Affair will never sin again.

But it is a start. If broadcasters are forced to admit their mistakes on air, it will surely make them a little bit more careful about making them in the first place. 

A number of government inquiries have recommended change to ACMA and to media regulation.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the programme:

The Government has a general deregulation agenda, through which we intend to reduce the burden of regulation across the economy by $1 billion a year. In the radio sector, this will involve reviewing the existing regulatory framework to see which regulations are out of date, overlap or could otherwise be streamlined and made more efficient. 

You can read more at Media Watch


  1. Bump

    Can I just add, because I’ve just caught up with it, that the proposed Royal Charter to deal with press standards in the UK has provision for equal prominence to apologies. So if you are slandered on page 1, you get your apology on page 1. Here’s hoping, and then we can follow.

  2. Well said Media watch and Mr Barry, but it is a shame though, because has Mr Barry exposed himself as being totally delusional, I only ask this simply because if he or anyone else thinks that ACMA will be given even a partial one tooth denture to add to the one lonely worn down tooth they now have, they will all have to be delusional.
    One only has to look at the commercial networks and most of the print media, and the attitude and intensity of reporting on all things “Labor” during the Labor’s term of government, compared to what is happening now after Mr Abbott and Co. became the government that many vested interests wanted in power.
    Lessor things that would be continual Lead Stories/Front Page and the target of Bolt, Jones and the rest of their ilk back then, now hardly rate a mention. More Teeth Not Likely!!!!

  3. Woah there eastwest101, you have it the wrong way around, if commercial networks were held to same standard as the ABC it would be an improvement. You are forgetting how the ABC got in trouble in 2003 for say Iraq “may have” WMD instead of “has”, how they cannot have any commercial content, how they do fact check the information and how they do not run sensational self serving headlines.

  4. I agree with what Paul Barry said. Especially about fining people and organisations. I even like the suggestion of fining for improper start times someone mentioned here.

    Of course the other way would be the advertisers to have automatic discounts negotiated into their contracts for how many minutes late a programme starts. So that the more minutes they’re late the more of a discount they get. Just a naughty thought to fix the ultimately self destructive behaviour the stations are indulging in.

    By the way I did find the stuff about alien abductions to be a hoot too. Kudos for delivering that straight.

  5. carolemorrissey

    Thanks Jason, I wasn’t aware of that. Well we have no hope then.

    I agree about programmes starting on time. Last night I was wanting to go to bed but had to wait till X Factor finished so I knew what time Scandal started so I would know how long to set my recorder for. Not surprisingly it finished 20 mins late. I thought it was finally over, when they had the winner sing. I missed the end of shows in the past, even though I have set them for 10-15 mins past when they are supposed to finish.

  6. As long as the ABC is held to account and has to meet the same standards as commercial TV and radio then fine. But I don’t think you will find many in the ABC who would really want to be accountable as their commercial rivals.

    In my experience ACMA are currently a toothless tiger when it comes to complaints about what goes on in the media industry in Australia whether its a commercial or a publically owned media outlet.

    However having ACMA become a defacto arbitration authority on what is “truthful” or “untruthful” could have some very amusing and unintended consequences that I would be very wary of…..

  7. ACMA’s role is diminishing as the internet grows. John and Jane Q Public have worked out that when a miscreant screws up the public can target the advertisers, and companies fear social media more than they fear regulators so for a time they pull their ads. As the ads are pulled the stations take a bottom line hit.

    All before ACMA has had a cup of coffee in the morning.

  8. I want to see ACMA given the ability to fine networks for running programs late. In America shows start on time. When it’s 1 minute late it’s a big deal and it’s highlighted, and that’s just for a single minute. Think the UK fine networks for being late.
    Here they know they can get away with it, so they do it and don’t care. Advertising has strict standards, and what they networks do is the same as false advertising. Shows are pre-recorded they know how long it goes for, yet even after they update EPG they still run ads saying the original start time, and they still start late. FTA tv is dying in this country, time to lift the standards

  9. I totally think they totally need to be held responsible for misinformation and lies.

    However what happens with manufactured conflicts. These right wing people constantly spread complete falsehoods and misrepresentations on climate science.

    They will claim there’s conflicting positions and they are stating one. Even though the conflict isn’t real and what they are stating is false.

    How with those sorts of things work?

    They will go nuts with conspiracy theory crap about it.

  10. @carolemorrissey – Jones is a large shareholder in 2GB. Part of John Singleton’s deal to lure him over from 2UE. Unfortunately he’ll be there forever, or until sponsors dry up.
    @Dr_Rudi – Yes, the old authority (Australian Broadcasting Control Board) did have some teeth. TVT6 was put off the air for 24 hrs for exceeding commercial time limits. See it happen now?? Never.

  11. I suspect ‘on air’ apologies would be as effective as the printed apologies in newspapers (remember them?). You know, buried at the bottom of page 53 where no one will see it, not splashed on page 1 as per the original sin.

    I do think however, that broadcasters and publishers have an obligation not to carry information which they know is demonstrably untrue. I’ve said it before – readers, letter-writers, and talkback callers are entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts.

    As for punishments, let’s suspend some licences. Going off air for a day or week would sharpen up performance pretty quickly I think.

  12. I don’t think anyone is calling for Jones not to be allowed the right to free speech.

    What the call is about is that he does not sprout lies and half-truths all for the sake of pushing his agenda. The way Jones insists on carrying on about stories that have already been proven to be false or wrongly reported elsewhere is what this is all about.

  13. Jones has an audience of grumpy pensioners. And he’s entitled to his opinion, as long as his interests are declared.

    Trying to make talkback radio about “facts” and treat it like news not opinion is a rather silly idea in the first place.

  14. carolemorrissey

    I don’t know why the likes of Alan Jones & Ray Hadley are even given air time. With their ‘head in the sand’ views on climate change and global warming and sucking up Abbott’s arse. The rubbish they spout every day is ridiculous. Surely they are past their use by date. Jones will never admit he’s wrong, everyone else is wrong.

  15. I don’t think the ACMA should be given the power to just ignore complaints. That will cause all sorts of problems and allegations of selective investigations and bias. They should be able to make findings that there is no breach quickly after looking at the footage and the networks response to the original complaint for minor offenses.

    Forcing networks to air ACMA ruling is the offending programme would be a good idea and would do no harm.

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