Australia outlines terms for media inquiry

Rupert Murdoch (file image) Rupert Murdoch's News Limited controls more than two-thirds of Australia's newspaper market

Australia has confirmed it will hold an inquiry into media regulation in the wake of Britain's phone hacking scandal.

The review, to be headed by former judge Ray Finkelstein, will focus on the print and online sectors.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said it would look at strengthening Australia's media watchdog.

But he said it would not be a "witch-hunt" aimed at News Limited, Rupert Murdoch's Australian arm.

News Limited controls 70% of Australia's newspaper market and has extensive holdings in TV and the internet.

The review follows the closure in the UK of Mr Murdoch's News of the World tabloid after a string of damaging allegations that it had been illicitly hacking into the voicemail messages of prominent people to find stories.

News Limited chief executive John Hartigan has said he is "hugely confident" that there has been no improper conduct in his newsrooms.

'No witch-hunt'

The Green Party - the governing Labor Party's coalition partner - had called for the review to examine the media ownership issue, accusing some News Limited newspapers of bias.

Mr Conroy has himself accused News Limited of running a campaign against the government.

But he said the review was not about dismantling Mr Murdoch's Australian holdings.

"The government is not interested in attacking any one media organisation or in seeking to reduce the necessary scrutiny of the political process that is at the heart of a functioning democratic media," he said.

"In terms of a witch-hunt to demand that we break up News Limited, the fact is we are not interested."

Instead he said the review would look at substantially increasing the effectiveness of the Australian Press Council, the national watchdog, as well as examining media codes of practise.

"The government believes that this inquiry will shed light on the real pressures facing media organisations today and enable us to consider what regulatory or legislative changes might be needed in order to ensure that Australia continues to benefit from strong independent and diverse media," he said.

The inquiry is due to report back by 28 February 2012. Mr Finkelstein will be assisted by journalism academic Matthew Ricketson.

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