Media Accountability in a Liberal Democracy
An Examination of the Harlot's Prerogative

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The thesis represents the first combined survey of both external mechanisms of accountability in Australia - those existing outside the various media organisations - and the internal mechanisms existing within three of Australia's largest media organisations. These organisations span print and broadcasting, public and private ownership. The thesis is based on substantial qualitative research involving interviews with a wide range of experts in media ethics, law, management, and accountability.

It is also based on two quantitative surveys, one among practitioners of journalism and the other among the public they serve. This combination of research is certainly new in Australia, and no comparable study has been found in other Western countries.

In addition to the main qualitative and quantitative surveys, three case studies are presented. One deals with media performance in relation to quality of media content (the case of alleged bias brought against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation by the then Senator Richard Alston); one deals with media ethics (the "cash-for-comment" cases involving various commercial radio broadcasters), and one deals with accountability processes (the "Who Is Right?" experiment at The Sydney Morning Herald).

The thesis is grounded in established theories of the media, and these provide the norms on which the media's performance is judged in relation to quality of media content. Ethical norms are derived from a range of ethical codes and statements of principle developed by the media industry in Australia and in comparable jurisdictions abroad. The thesis points up shortcomings in existing normative media theory and in the codes. It proposes a new theory and institutional structures to make good these deficiencies.

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