MEDIA companies, journalists and ''shock jocks'' should be fined when they publish or broadcast material they know is factually wrong, Victorian Labor MP Steve Gibbons has said.
Mr Gibbons, moving a motion in Parliament urging the establishment of a regulator to oversee news media standards backed by ''commercially significant sanctions'', said he did not believe that the Finkelstein report, which recommended a news media council with the power to require corrections, went far enough.
He said that prominently publishing or broadcasting apologies, corrections or retractions was all very well but ''there are far more serious consequences for democracy if a media article misleads the public''. A misinformed public could not form reasonable views about matters of national importance.
''As a society, we seem to have little difficulty deciding what is socially acceptable behaviour in most walks of life. … Our legislatures, our regulators, and our legal system seem to be able to determine what constitutes misleading advertising. I fail to see why it should not be possible to do the same for misleading media stories''.
He said that penalties ''of commercially significant amounts did appear to lead to improved behaviour''. He pointed to Apple being fined $2.25 million for misleading consumers about its iPad, and internet service provider TPG fined $2 million for misleading advertising. ''Fines such as these for publishing blatant untruths or misleading news reports, or temporary suspensions of the right to publish or broadcast, would lead to a major improvement in the accuracy and fairness of our media.''
Chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon, seconding the motion (which was not voted on), said: ''A democracy dominated by the press is no democracy at all. A democracy in which the journalists create rather than report the news is a democracy in decay. The situation is rendered much worse when, to create the news, journalists start adjusting the truth in their quest for the next Quill Award or other journalistic award, or, worse, when journalists are encouraged to sex up, embellish, misrepresent or do whatever it takes to create a headline for circulation's sake.''
New South Wales Liberal Paul Fletcher said reporting was a messy business, and journalists and news outlets would often make mistakes, sometimes with serious consequences. But a new regulator along the Finkelstein lines was not desirable.