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Hacking Leads To Bold Media Watchdog Proposals... In Australia

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A wide-ranging review after revelations of phone hacking at Rupert Murdoch's news empire has resulted in bold proposals for a government-funded journalism watchdog.

In Australia, that is.

The inquiry was launched in September 2011 after the hacking scandal broke in the UK.

Unlike in the UK no Murdoch properties or journalists in Australia have been accused of phone hacking, but concerns were raised anyway as News Limited controls around 70% of the newspaper market in Australia, and also has TV and online interests.

And also unlike in the UK, where our own Leveson inquiry into media ethics is still rumbling on amid fresh allegations of criminal practices at Murdoch's papers, in Australia it's already complete.

The resultant report, 'News Media Council', said that a new council should be set up, independent but funded by the government, which had the power to force media outlets to issue apologies, corrections or retractions.

The new body would cover TV, radio, print media and, for the first time, websites.

Blogs would come under scrutiny if they received more than 15,000 hits a year, or 40 hits a day, the report said.

Only a few newspapers had appointed a "readers' representative", the report's author Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein said, and the current Australian Press Council "does not have the necessary powers or the required funds" to do its job,

It added: "If legal proceedings against the media are called for, they are protracted, expensive and adversarial, and offer redress only for legal wrongs, not for the more frequent complaints about inaccuracy or unfairness."

In response it said it wanted to strengthen "the nature of journalism and its democratic role" without increasing the power of government o imposing censorship.

"A guiding principle behind the design of the News Media Council is that it will provide redress in ways that are consistent with the nature of journalism and its democratic role."

The government said it would consider the recommendations alongside another report expected this month.

However News Ltd Chief Executive Kim Williams rejected the proposed solution.

"A government-funded overseer of a free press in an open and forward-looking democracy like ours cannot be justified," she said said in a statement.

"If print and online media are to continue to be able to robustly question, challenge and keep governments in check, they must remain self-regulated entirely independent of government."