Major parties decide there's no need for media royal commission

After just a day's Senate hearings, both the Coalition government and Labor have decided there is no need for an Australian royal commission into media diversity.

The government "decision" - announced "exclusively" by reporter James Madden in The Australian and attributed to communications minister Paul Fletcher - is a response to a petition by former prime minister Kevin Rudd, but comes while a senate committee hearing on the subject is still in progress.

While neither major party was willing to follow up on the petition - signed by more than 500,000 people - the baton was taken up by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who chaired Friday's opening sessions.

Instead, Fletcher issued a statement this morning welcoming industry group DIGI's Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation.

In a press release, he said the government would be "watching carefully to see whether this voluntary code is effective in providing safeguards against the serious harms that arise from the spread of disinformation and misinformation on digital platforms".

The Australian Communications and Media Authority is to report by June 30 on initial compliance and how the code deals with problems identified by the ACCC's digital platforms inquiry, and "will guide us on whether further action is needed".

Madden says Royal commissions are not established by parliament, but rather by the Governor-General on government advice. He says the parliamentary petitions committee will receive a letter today from minister Fletcher, "advising that the federal government is not recommending that a royal commission be initiated".

While declining to comment on this advice, Fletcher did assert that the Australian media was already "vibrant and diverse", and the federal government committed to ensuring it remained so. Labor has said it does not support the call for an "unnecessary" royal commission.

Meanwhile, the Hanson-Young inquiry is due to resume after hearing widely-differing views from parties including Rudd, News Corp, Nine Entertainment and The Guardian. It may be that the reason that a Royal Commission has been canned is exactly why one is needed - something the Senate inquiry may indicate.

With a better understanding of the difference between 'mastheads' and 'newspapers' developing on Friday, issues for senators to investigate may now include the difference between 'public interest news gathering' and its dissemination, where news content - its gathering often supported by public and philanthropic funding - is then restricted behind a tight commercial paywall.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Paul Fletcher (right) with prime minister Scott Morrison, from his website

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