Press Council membership vital for free media

Australian Press Council chairman Professor David Weisbrot has equated the strength of council membership to its ability to counter government attempts at regulation of a free press.

Chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor David Weisbrot.

Chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor David Weisbrot.

Prof Weisbrot said the council needed to represent as close to 100 per cent as possible of print and online publishers to be effective in this area.

He made the comments as the council welcomed two new members: Echo Publications, the publisher of The Bryon Shire Echo and Echonetdaily; and Queensland-based news site Independent Australia.

They join a number of new sign-ups as the complaints and advocacy body seeks to broaden its membership to include more community, regional, multicultural and online-only titles.

The council encompasses the majority of major newspaper and magazine publishers in Australia – accounting for around 95 per cent of circulation.

New members in the past 12 months include online-only publications HuffPost Australia and Daily Mail Australia, Filipino publisher emanila and community title The Monthly Chronicle.

Prof Weisbrot demarcated his tenure as chairman with a desire to see the organisation play a greater role in advocating press freedom, particularly around issues like the contentious metadata retention laws.

He said that new members were an affirmation of the council’s ability to address the concerns and interests of publishers, big and small.

“Increased diversity of membership also provides the council with a richer range of experience and perspectives, strengthening our standards of practices and our processes,” he said.

Echo Publications general manager Simon Haslam said his organisation supported the council’s championing of free media in the face of “unprecedented government restrictions”.

“We also see the need for an independent media body to handle complaints in the increasingly fragmented online world,” Mr Haslam said.

Independent Australia managing editor David Donovan said his company believed the council did valuable work enforcing ethics and media standards in Australia.

“As a responsible media organisation that has always abided by the MEAA code of ethics, we welcome the opportunity to now be formally held to such standards, as well as this formal recognition of Independent Australia as an established and fully-fledged news organisation,” Mr Donovan said.

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