There are plenty of stories on the web that expose the appalling abuse and misuse of power by certain members of the media.

You only have to do a few Google searches to realise that this a systemic problem which causes great hurt and harm. I refer not just to the publication of outright lies and manipulations but also to the irresponsible way that the media portray women and insidiously influence the way we feel about ourselves and each other.

The other side of the story is that there are many examples of good and true journalism where the media has played an important role to the benefit of humanity.

The Honourable Ian Callinan AC QC, a former judge of the High Court of Australia recently delivered an interesting speech where he discusses the above issues, the independent government inquiry into the Australian Media which was led by Mr Finkelstein QC and Mr Callinan’s own views as to how to deal with the media abuse.

The full speech can be found here.

In that speech Mr Callinan gives many examples of appalling media behaviour and states that “the media regard themselves as being above the law”.

He respectfully argues against some of the proposals that were presented in the Finkelstein report as being less than practical or effective. However, from my initial readings of the Finkelstein Media Inquiry, there do appear to be some practical recommendations. When I have completed reviewing the 474 page report, I plan to write a follow up article.

So what do we do about the media?

I suggest a three pronged approach incorporating:

  1. Social Media and Public Responsibility
  2. Legislative Reform
  3. Publicly Supported Litigation

Social Media and Public Responsibility

We the public have a responsibility to speak up when something is not right. By not saying no to something that is wrong we are by omission saying yes.

We can:

  • speak up and expose what is really going on;
  • hit them where it hurts – in the wallet;
  • let their advertisers, shareholders and sponsors know what we feel;
  • report impropriety to the relevant government bodies and regulatory institutions.

The media speaks as if it is the voice of the people, but what it says increasingly does not represent the people but rather the vested interests that control the media.

These days with social media we have the avenues to speak and make a difference.

Recently the public was outraged by the behaviour of Australian radio presenter Alan Jones. This was not something new as Jones has been involved and found guilty in multiple prior defamation cases over many years and also charged with contempt of court and other improprieties.

None of these findings appeared to put a dent in his outpourings or in fact advertising sponsorship. However in September 2012 when he made his famous speech about PM Julia Gillard’s father dying of shame, the public took offence and retaliated in the social media.

In his speech titled “Is people power the antidote to media bullies?” Malcolm Turnbull showed just how effective the social media campaign was. He stated that advertisers paid to be associated with Jones because they thought it would help them sell more products. When the people made it clear (by targeting the advertisers) that they would be less likely to buy their products if they were associated with Jones, the advertisers terminated their association. This was highlighted by a photo of Mercedes taking back the car that Jones had been driving.

Legislative Reform

In his speech Mr Callinan talks about a range of legislative issues. He clearly shows how and why the current defamation laws do not work and suggests some specific and sensible legislative reform that will improve the situation.

Mr Finkelstein also provides a range of suggestions for legislative reform and shows very clearly how and why self-regulation has not and will not work.

We need to expose the extent of the problem and then look into where and how we can legislate.

Public Litigation

It may be of assistance to set up a funded body or charity that can take on selected cases where the media has clearly abused its powers and persecuted an individual or business. At present the cost of litigation is prohibitive for ordinary people and that barrier contributes to the arrogance of the media.

Abraham Lincoln said:  “To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”

Sometimes seeing the extent of the rot is so painful that we avoid even looking at it or getting involved. This is cowardly. There are too many clearly identified examples of systemic media abuse for us to play this kind of ostrich game any longer. Let’s not be cowards, let’s speak up.

We need to expose what is really going on, see how wrong it is and see how much harm it causes to all of humanity. Exposing and naming what is going on is a first step to healing it.

Then we have to work together to find a fair, simple and equitable way forward.

The media has a very important and valuable role to play in society and we need them to be free to carry out their job and not be fettered by unwieldy bureaucracy and regulations.

Equally, society needs to be protected from those members of the media who abuse their position. There needs to be a very real and workable deterrent available to stop such abuse of power.

This will require legislative reform and the introduction of penalties severe enough to matter to a Fortune 500 media conglomerate. There also needs to be equal and timely access to the law for all regardless of the depth of their pockets.

As the cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”