RAW: News of the World Scandal in Oz – Part 1

By Lewis Dowell

As the fall out from the News of the World phone hacking scandal spreads, Lews Dowell takes a look at how the debate is playing out in Australia.

News of the World scandal now taking effect in Australia: Gillard welcome to review the practices of the Australian Media

It’s been 2 weeks since the phone hacking scandal came to light in Britain, with the public becoming aware that News Corp. UK tabloid paper News of the World hacked the phones of up to 4000 people including families of terrorist attacks, families of killed soldiers and even murder victim, school girl Milly Dowler.

Now we have seen the paper collapse, staff fired, the past and present editors arrested and it now looks like the scandal can be linked back to James Murdoch having approved large payments to be paid to phone hacking victims Gordon Taylor and Max Clifford before the height of the scandal was known publicly, a move that many are claiming is proof the Chairman of News International knew full well about the illegal practices of the newspaper.

Now with reports of possible phone hacking incidents of 9/11 victims in the US, and with such a strong Murdoch presence in Australia, is it time that we take a look at our own media and make sure that it is completely and utterly, ethically sound?

Greens leader Bob Brown as called for a wide scale Senate investigation into Australian print and broadcast media practices including ownership, regulation and ethics, a call that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said to be happy to consider.

At the National Press Club the Prime Minister said she was “not surprised to see that in parliament, or amongst parliamentarians, a conversation is starting about the need for a review, and I will be happy to sit down with parliamentarians and discuss that review”.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott however does not see the need for a probe into the Australian Media claiming that they do a “pretty good job”, and that keep Australian politicians accountable.

The move can only be seen as either brown nosing the media, being contrary for the sake of contrary or just complete naivety. The fact he has only singled out media practices that relate to politicians shows he is single minded about the practices of the media, when the policies and practices of tabloid broadcast programs and papers, more often than not effect members of the public rather than celebrities or politicians.

Current affair shows and local newspapers are more likely to exploit the non-media savvy public than that of the media trained politician and it is this level of media that needs to be focused on.

A media probe in Australia should not be conducted on just the basis of phone hacking, cover-ups and payouts, because that may not necessarily be the problem in this country. A probe into the rights and protection of the public and the accountability of media outlets should be the focus, and not the search for a complex Watergate type conspiracy or scandal.

A media probe may not find that the Australian media has been tapping the phones of murder victims or have been stalking politicians, but may find that papers and news programs often mislead the public and exploit the members of it who don’t know their rights. It may also find that these practices exist because the lack of accountability in the world of Australian journalism.

Just because the News of the World scandal has forced us to take our media into account, it does not mean that a review or probe into our media should necessarily be in relation to the practices of News of the World. Our country’s media is likely to have problems, but problems of a different nature to the UK and the US. Only with a comprehensive investigation into our media will we find what those problems are and what we need to do to fix them.

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