Is the federal Labor team really looking around for a safe seat for Queensland Premier Peter Beattie? Isn't it a bit late?
Speaking at the University of Melbourne on Wednesday, the rumour was put to Beattie and the Premier given a chance to respond. Confirm?? Deny?? "I read it with quite considerable interest," the Premier said sheepishly. Even if there's no truth to the rumour, it's clear that Beattie is happy to have people whispering about a possible Federal future. After seven-and-a-half-years as Premier and age on his side, the Canberra option must surely be a tempting one.
Beattie was delivering the A.N. Smith Memorial Lecture in Journalism and quickly warmed to his topic, "Power Without Responsibility: Who Guards the Guardians?". The speech had already been condemned before it was delivered, with the Courier Mail playing the man rather than the ball.
The crux of Beattie's argument was that the media lacked accountability. The model of self-regulation has failed miserably, he argued, and the regulators were largely toothless tigers offering resolutions which amounted to 'too little, too late'. As an alterative, Beattie advocated media outlets ruthlessly scrutinising each other. He explained the status quo as a cosy oligopoly, with media outlets working to keep each other on side. Instead, Beattie called for media outlets to investigate the errors of its competitors.
More controversially, Beattie spoke out in favour of media outlets being subject to Freedom of Information laws. It's hard to know whether Beattie was serious about this one - his government has frequently used the fig-leaf of Cabinet confidentiality to prevent crucial documents from being released under FoI. Beattie's proposal basically involves media outlets needing to subject the laws, so that they can be required to provide evidence for all claims made. Therefore, media outlets will only publish information they know to be true, and aggrieved parties can force the media to cough up or fess up.
The idea is a dud, and Beattie knows it. Try any of these counter-arguments on for size: Media outlets are private organisations. Confidentiality of sources. Potential for vexatious claims. Potential for political harrasment. This idea is a non-starter, and is being used by Beattie to shift the focus away from his government's own poor record on FoI.
Less farcically, Beattie had an clever idea: Inhouse media ombudsman. Essentially, this involves each media outlet appointing an internal ombudsman whose job was to recieve and investigate complaints by consumers, and take action interally if necessary. The model cited by Beattie was the Washington Post ombudsman, who has recently found herself as the voice of journalists in a dispute with management over politically partisan content on the WP website, which strangely is a separate entity from its print namesake. Clearly, Beattie has put some thought into this one, and it seems like a goer.
One other interesting point made by the Premier was about the lack of competition in the Queensland media market. Most major cities in the state are one paper towns, with the Murdoch monolith being the proprietor. Beattie challenged Fairfax to set up a local newspaper in Brisbane, forcefully arguing that its growing population and staid media market made it an ideal location. Beattie is spot-on, particularly given his earlier observation that Queensland, like most states, had historically supported a dozen or more daily newspapers.
It's a shame that Beattie chose to bury a couple of good ideas amongst a whole lot of lame, substandard ones that seem to exist only the bait the Courier Mail. Judging by Thursday's coverage in the paper, it probably worked.
What's he so happy about?