Does the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Engage in “Trial by Media”?*


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    I am particularly indebted to Michael Rush for his invaluable research assistance. I am also grateful to Imelda Maher and John Braithwaite for giving me an opportunity to present a more extensive version of this paper, entitled “Is the Use of Informal Adverse Publicity a Legitimate Regulatory Compliance Technique” to seminar participants at the Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet), Centre for Competition and Consumer Policy (CCCP), Canberra, Australia in September 2002. Any errors remain my own.

Address correspondence to Karen Yeung, St Anne's College, Oxford OX2 6HS, UK. E-mail:


In recent years, heated debate has arisen concerning the media practices of Australia's competition and consumer regulator (“the ACCC”), with a number of industry leaders asserting that the ACCC engages in “trial by media.” The public disquiet surrounding the ACCC's use of the media was so significant that the Australian Parliament established an independent committee of inquiry (“the Dawson Inquiry”) to investigate (amongst other things) whether Australian competition legislation “provides adequate protection for the commercial affairs and reputation of individuals and corporations.” In its report, the Dawson Inquiry observed that widespread misgivings about the ACCC's media practices had emerged from the submissions that it had received. In its recommendations to the Australian Parliament, the Dawson Inquiry recommended that the ACCC should develop a media code of conduct to govern its use of the media, particularly in relation to enforcement proceedings. In making these recommendations, the Dawson Inquiry drew from a hitherto unpublished research study conducted in 2002 that sought to identify the extent to which the ACCC engages in “trial by media.” This article documents the design, methodological bases, and findings of that study in order to facilitate broader dissemination of the research findings upon which the Dawson Inquiry's policy recommendations concerning the ACCC's use of the media were based.