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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is frenzy the right word?

There are plenty more opinions about privacy reform proposals to come, but Matthew Ricketson in The Age today seems to share the view expressed here yesterday about the "end of the world as we know it" line running strongly in some sections of the media:
"In the weeks leading up to the release of the Australian Law Reform Commission's massive report on privacy, the Right to Know coalition has been sounding the alarm at the prospect of a new law against invasion of privacy.''Privacy threat to celebrity coverage'' was the headline in the Media supplement of The Australian on July 31 for its lead story, which began: ''The celebrity media industry could be thrown into turmoil by moves to restrict reporting on public figures''. Am I the only person who thinks this reads rather like an item in the satirical American newspaper The Onion or an out-take from The Chaser?"
The short answer is no.Ricketson goes on to acknowledge that there may be some validity to the concerns expressed about the proposed cause of action, but as public cynicism about the media is widespread, by focusing on the proposed law's impact on the media, the coalition risks narrowing the debate unduly.He suggests some other issues, for example, the privacy threats from the embrace of new technology should be attracting media interest.

The Canberra Times( "Mixed reaction to privacy proposals") seems to have picked up Ricketson's message in a broad assessment of the report, and Jack Waterford in the same paper( "What we can't know hurts you") has a thoughtful analysis of legitimate claims to privacy, the rise of BOTPA ("Because of the Privacy Act") and government accountability, including this:
"BOTPA is one, if only one, of the reasons for general media cynicism and suspicion about proposals for new privacy laws. Another one, about which the public ought to be quite cynical, is the fact that some sections of the commercial media thrive and profit from invading the privacy of celebrities, starlets, models and sometimes ordinary non-consenting members of the public who have stumbled into a public spotlight. Trivial gossip has become bigger and bigger business in most cases with the implicit consent of most of the ''victims'' but has very little to do with the public interest, or with reasons why the media can, or ought to be able to, claim that in respect of its monitoring of the exercise of public power it is acting in the public interest."
Elsewhere( including in The Age) the headlines are enough to disappoint Ricketson:
"Overkill in defence of privacy"- The Age, but at least the other side in "Civil liberties group for media reform"
"Privacy laws shield malfeasance"- The Australian. The editorial sets up a straw man with this warning: " would be a serious mistake to remake the rules governing the operation of the media by enshrining privacy as an inalienable right which, at all times and in all circumstances, trumps all other considerations."
"If you've nothing to hide"- The Australian.
"New law to hide behind"- Herald Sun.
And a less outraged "Right to know(2):privacy- Sydney Morning Herald.

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