1.71Digital communication technologies and media convergence require us to adopt a first principles approach to the questions posed in our terms of reference. They require us to re-evaluate the public interest in continuing to recognise the news media as a special class of publisher, with access to legal rights not available to ordinary citizens, and in continuing to hold the news media accountable to standards not applied to ordinary communicators.
1.72In chapter 3 of our report we consider the public interests underpinning the first part of this proposition: the case for preserving the news media as an entity with special legal and organisational rights and privileges. We consider what differentiates “news media” from other types of communicators and draw on these characteristics to construct a definition of “news media” for the purposes of determining which entities should be entitled to access the news media’s privileges and exemptions.
1.73In chapter 4 we undertake a similar exercise with respect to the question of standards and accountabilities. Again, we adopt a first principles approach, asking whether there is a defensible rationale for imposing different standards and accountabilities on the news media and, if so, what form these should take. This exercise involves the careful balancing of two critical public interests: the public interest in a robust and unfettered news media; and the public interest in an ethical media, subject to effective and appropriate accountability mechanisms.
1.74In order to determine the most appropriate approach to news media accountability in the digital environment we were required to assess both the potential and actual harms arising from ethical breaches by mainstream and new media, and the effectiveness of the remedies available under the existing complaints regimes.
1.77In chapter 4 of this report we draw on this research, submissions, and an analysis of the complaints appealed to the Press Council and the BSA over the past five years to provide some assessment of the problem.
1.78In chapters 5 and 6 we then move on to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the existing accountability mechanisms and consider the options for reform with particular focus on the proposals put forward in the Finkelstein and Leveson Reports.
1.79Having considered the various options available for providing public accountability for their power, we turn, in chapter 7 to outline our proposal to create a new converged independent standards body for all news media, irrespective of format or delivery channel.
1.80 Our recommendations in chapter 7 are guided by a number of principles and propositions which have much in common with those underpinning the Australian Convergence Review and Classification Review referred to earlier. Foremost among these is the recognition that the internet has created a step-change in the way in which individuals are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression – protecting this right is of fundamental importance.
1.82 The policy objectives of our recommended reforms are to:
1.83Finally in chapter 8 we address the issue of entertainment content. Although the regulation of this type of content largely falls outside the scope of our project, we outline some of the issues that we consider will need to be considered in any future review.