Regulating Online Publications

On the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation Part 2: Online Publications

Getting down to specific elements of the IIMR (the Independent Inquiry into the Media and Media Regulation) with which I take issue, I begin with section 6 of the executive summary. Finkelstein comes to the conclusion that the existing mechanisms for regulation of media are not sufficient to achieve the degree of accountability desirable in a democracy in part because online publications are not subject to the existing mechanisms. This is only partly true, the legal constraints that cover newspapers and mainstream media are equally applicable to online publications. For the rest, the justifications tendered in the report for regulation of the media can be found in section 9 of the IIMR. Section 9 addresses the subject of whether persons subject to adverse comment in the media should have a “right of reply” or if there should be a broader “right of access”. Many of the arguments found in this section are far less applicable in the online environment than is the case with print or television media.

  1. Access to means of distributing information in the online environment are accessible to people with minimal financial resources.
  2. There is no lack of diversity of information sources in the online environment
  3. Because of 1. and 2. there is no reason to suppose that readers need to be “made aware of competing versions of events and different opinions”
  4. There is no real need to “maximise freedom of speech” in the online evironment. The online environment is nothing but freedom of speech and attempting to maximise it by compelling people to say things with which they do not agree for this purpose defeats the purpose of free speech.

In my honest opinion, the true reason to desire to regulate online publications is not so much to ensure that the public has access to online publishing, because plainly, we do. It is rather, to ensure access to an audience. Am I, an obscure blogger without a single regular reader so far as I am aware, entitled to the audience held by NineMSN or by the Sydney Morning Herald website? It seems silly to suggest. Or at least, I would feel silly suggesting it.


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