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Teal independent pushes for judicial inquiry into media concentration

Following the filing of a defamation suit against Australian media outlet Crikey by Lachlan Murdoch, independent MP Zoe Daniel is set to instigate a motion for a judicial inquiry to ensure greater media diversity for the sake of the nation’s democracy.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 26 August 2022 Politics
Teal independent pushes for judicial inquiry into media concentration
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Judicial inquiry

In a statement issued yesterday (Thursday, 25 August), Zoe Daniel — the former ABC bureau chief and independent “teal” MP from Goldstein in Victoria — announced that she would be pushing for a judicial inquiry to ensure greater media diversity and to make media organisations responsible for truth-telling, with penalties in place to ensure truthful material.

“The role of the big players, News Corp, 9 News, Network Ten, Seven West Media, and indeed the ABC and SBS, deserve to be scrutinised as part of any such inquiry,” she opined.


“The Parliament needs to act to ensure greater diversity, more voices not fewer.”

She will also argue, she noted, for “clear” legislation to allow either party in a defamation action to opt for trial by jury in the Federal Court.

“As an observer of the state of play in the United States, and a former journalist, I completely subscribe to the position that the law of defamation should allow the robust discussion of matters in the public interest and free exchange of opinion,” she wrote.

“Where the burden of proof resides allows greater freedom to report in the United States. The situation in Australia where the burden resides with the publisher has a chilling effect on local reporting and subsequently cowers editors as they commission and publish investigative journalism.”

Ms Daniel’s statement noted that she would also support a judicial inquiry motion brought by another member of parliament, “depending on its content”.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Marque Lawyers managing partner Michael Bradley said that there has already been an “undercurrent of concern about the degree of domination” of outlets like News Corp in Australian media.

“This latest development has added an extra element to it, so it’s not surprising that calls that have been around for a while, for some form of inquiry, to be getting fresh energy,” he mused.

Fox versus Crikey

The announcement from the independent MP follows reports that Fox Corporation chief executive Lachlan Murdoch has filed defamation proceedings against Crikey, which is owned by Private Media.

The proceedings have been brought in relation to an article, published by Crickey, surrounding the congressional hearings into the attack on the United States Capitol building on 6 January 2021.

That article is titled, “Trump is a confirmed unhinged traitor. And Murdoch is his unindicted co-conspirator”. Published in late June, Crikey editor Bernard Keane wrote that “the Murdochs and their slew of poisonous Fox News commentators are the unindicted co-conspirators of this continuing crisis”.

Crikey, which is being represented by Marque Lawyers, said: “The rest of the article is about Trump’s role on January 6 and the state of US politics [but] based on that headline and one sentence”, Mr Murdoch — who was not personally named, outside of his surname — has initiated proceedings in the Federal Court against the publisher.

In an open letter published earlier this week, Private Media chairman Eric Beecher and managing editor Peter Fray said they have been accused by Mr Murdoch, “through [his] lawyer with a series of letters”, of defaming him personally with an apparent 14 allegedly defamatory imputations.

“We want to defend those allegations in court. You have made it clear in your lawyer’s letters you intend to take court action to resolve this alleged defamation. We await your writ so that we can test this important issue of freedom of public interest journalism in a courtroom,” the pair wrote.

Two days later, following receipt of a writ, the pair wrote that Crikey stands by its story and looks forward to defending its independent public interest journalism in court.

“We are determined to fight for the integrity and importance of diverse independent media in Australian democracy,” the pair said.

“We welcome Lachlan Murdoch’s writ. Crikey’s Lachlan Murdoch letters series this week reveals how media power works in this country. We believe that coverage of the events of January 6 at the US Capitol, and the role of Fox News in those events, is absolutely legitimate.

“We welcome the chance to test what an honest, open and public debate actually means for free speech in Australia. We stand by our reporting.”

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