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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Media Watch on the media and privacy

Last night's ABC TV's Media Watch was devoted entirely to discussion of the Australian Law Reform Commission proposal for an action for breach of privacy, and media reaction or overreaction, depending on your point of view. It followed themes commented on here last week. The transcript( or video) provides a good overview of the opinions of the critics and Commission President David Weisbrot, together with some useful links.

While there is a basis for concern that we don't have freedom of speech firmly established in the law, and that Australian courts have not shown much interest in examining in a defamation case whether a publisher acted responsibly in the circumstances, is there a basis for this claim by Sam North, the Managing Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald that judges can't be trusted to interpret a statute in a manner consistent with Parliament's intentions :

Jonathan Holmes: In your experience how much weight do judges in this country give to freedom of expression to the media's right to free speech?

Sam North: Very little... They have an antipathy towards the media and freedom of expression and freedom of speech doesn't rate very highly.

Jonathan Holmes: So if it was up to individual judges to weigh the right of privacy on the one hand and the right of media to free speech on the other, how do you think you'd go?

Sam North: I think we would go badly.

We are all entitled to "think" whatever we like about the future and to express our view. My five cents worth is that we might all be better off with something on the statute book that defines the broad parameters of a cause of action, balancing as best we can the interests involved.The alternatives are to proscribe such a cause of action ( courageous in the Sir Humphrey sense), or leave it to the courts to respond or not, to changing community attitudes to new threats to privacy, both here and internationally.

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