An inquiry into the Australian print media will examine increasing regulation but will not go as far as breaking up the nation's largest newspaper empire owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., a government minister said Wednesday.
But an influential senator said the inquiry could curtail the Australian-born, New York-based media company's future Australian media acquisitions.
The government on Wednesday released the terms of reference of the inquiry promised after News Corp. closed its top-selling British tabloid News of the World in July over illegal phone hacking allegations. News Corp. owns 70 percent of Australia's newspapers through its subsidiary, News Ltd.
Many government lawmakers argue that News Ltd.'s newspaper holdings are too large and are biased against the ruling center-left Labor Party.
The inquiry, headed by a retired judge assisted by a journalism professor, will examine strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the print media's self-regulatory watchdog, the Australian Press Council. It will also examine the effectiveness of media codes of practice and the impact of technological change.
But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the inquiry would not look at ownership concentration of the media or consider breaking up the Murdoch newspaper empire in Australia.
"In terms of a witch hunt to demand that we break up News Ltd. or to attack News Ltd., I'm not interested," Conroy told reporters.
"I don't need an inquiry to establish that the Murdoch press owns 70 percent of the newspapers in this country. I don't need an inquiry to establish that some organs of the Murdoch press are clearly running a campaign against this government," he added.
But Sen. Bob Brown, leader of the minor Greens party that supports Labor's minority government and a vocal critic of News Corp., said the inquiry could make recommendations curtailing Murdoch's future media ownership.
"It's very obviously hard to undo what's done in terms of the print media, but you wouldn't want to see that replicated in the multiplicity of new media that's coming down the line," Brown told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television.
"If you're going to ask me, 'Do we want to see the forcible divestment of newspapers by Rupert Murdoch,' I don't think that's achievable," he added.
Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull dismissed the inquiry as a waste of money.
Conroy, who has accused New Ltd.'s top selling Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph of "running a campaign on regime change," called the Australian Press Council a "toothless tiger" with inadequate complaint processes.
"The government believes that this inquiry will shed light on the real pressures facing media organizations today and enable us to consider what regulatory or legislative changes might be needed in order to ensure that Australia continues to benefit from strong independent and diverse media," he said.
The inquiry, which covers online as well as printed news, will report next year. It complements an inquiry that began last year into regulating broadcast media as it converges with online media.
News Ltd. chairman and chief executive John Hartigan described the inquiry as "a politically motivated compromise."
"This inquiry started life as a witch hunt by the Greens and has morphed into a fairly narrow look at a mixed bag of issues ostensibly focused on print journalism," Hartigan said in a statement.
"For our part, we have strong editorial standards and we welcome public scrutiny of what we do. We will participate fully in this inquiry," he added.
There have been no allegations made in Australia of the type of phone hacking that has led to at least 16 arrests in Britain. News of the World stands accused of illegally hacking into the voice mails of celebrities, politicians and even a murder victim in search of scoops.
© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.