Australia PM signals changes to media reforms after outrage

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday opened the way for "sensible" changes to proposed press reforms, after outraged media proprietors attacked them as "draconian" and "bad law".

The reforms, which will include a new public interest test for major mergers and stronger self-regulation requirements for the print media, arose from Britain's phone-hacking scandal.

They have provoked a fierce backlash from media groups including Mr Rupert Murdoch's News Limited with one of its tabloid likening Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to Joseph Stalin and other dictators.

Mrs Gillard appeared to leave the way open for change as parliamentary committees examining the legislation began in Canberra.

"Our intention remains to pursue the legislation that is before the parliament now," she told journalists.

"If there are sensible suggestions consistent with our reform intentions that come out of the parliamentary committee process then certainly we will listen to those.

"But we're not in the business of cross-trading or horse-trading on these bills." News Limited, the Australian arm of Murdoch's News Corporation, has led strident criticism of the proposals, but was joined by other media identities in Canberra on Monday to argue their case against the changes.

Businessman Kerry Stokes, who runs the Seven Network, attacked the proposed laws, which include a new public interest media advocate (PIMA) to oversee press and online media standards and media mergers and acquisitions.

"The legislation is, in my opinion, draconian," he told a parliamentary committee, adding that the proposed laws were also needlessly intrusive.

"I've yet to see anybody explain to me any problem which warrants these laws."

Mr Kim Williams, who heads News Limited, said the proposals had "many policy shortcomings" and the bills "constitute bad law".

In an open letter to Mr Conroy, Mr Williams said legislation to establish the media advocate "make it clear that the PIMA's decisions cannot be appealed".

The government argues the reforms are in the public interest and will promote media diversity.

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