The Australian Press Council “is responsible for promoting good standards of media practice, community access to information of public interest, and freedom of expression through the media.”
The Press Council holds itself out as an organisation dedicated to high standards of integrity, and as an independent arbiter of complaints relating to media in Australia.
So it’s of great concern to see that the head of the Press Council, David Weisbrot, has agreed to be a board member of a new activist litigation fund being established by the left-wing advocacy group GetUp!
This is more than a general problem about the independence of the Press Council. GetUp! has run a series of campaigns which demonstrate how inappropriate it is for the Press Council to join up with it.
Here are three of the most recent examples:
1. The campaign against the repeal of section 18C
One of the most important things the Press Council should do is to argue in favour of freedom of expression. The media simply can’t operate if free speech is restricted.
There are many current laws which make it unlawful to say certain things. Yet GetUp! has run campaigns against the restoration of freedom of speech, including the campaign against the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. It celebrated when the former Abbott government’s modest reforms were shelved.
2. The campaign against the appointment of Gina Rinehart to the board of Fairfax Media
Last year, Gina Rinehart purchased a large minority stake in Fairfax Media. She indicated an interest in becoming a board member of the media company. GetUp! saw fit to involve itself in the internal operations of the company, running a campaign aimed at “stopping Gina Rinehart exerting editorial control at Fairfax.”
3. The campaign against News Corp Australia newspapers
During the 2013 federal election, GetUp! published a video campaign against newspapers published by News Corp Australia. The campaign was centred on the editorial line taken by papers such as the Courier Mail and other News Corp Australia mastheads.
If Weisbrot was not involved with the Australian Press Council there would be no problem with his association with GetUp! But given the positions GetUp! has taken on issues that directly relate to his position as head of the media watchdog, he must immediately disassociate himself – with one or the other of these two organisations.