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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Privacy surfaces, Demi settles

Demi Moore settled with New Idea publisher Pacific Magazines her Australian action claiming breach of copyright and breach of confidence over publication of photos taken at a private party in Los Angeles, prompting Ben Hills in The Age and Tim Dick, Media Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald to reflect on the state of the law regarding a cause of action for breach of privacy.

Hills quotes Sandip Mukerjea, a senior associate at Minter Ellison, which represents the paper, saying political parties believed a privacy tort would ''primarily benefit the rich and famous rather than the ordinary man and there's not a pressing need for it.'' But he gives space also to the Australian Privacy Foundation view that a public interest defence would protect serious journalism. ''We think you can you have the best of both worlds,'' said APF spokesman Nigel Waters. ''There's a gap in the law and we need a privacy tort to fill that gap.''

Dick notes that three law reform commission reports recommend action, says "(p)oliticians in all jurisdictions are cool on the idea and media companies icy," muses over how vague and complex this might become in the courts, and refers to a likely chilling effect on reporting on the edges of "the public interest."

Neither Hills nor Dick delve into the broader issues raised by former prime minister Paul Keating in his recent University of Melbourne speech about media failures to apply and enforce their own professed standards in weighing privacy and the public interest. And while Dick is right about media companies views, some voices in the media and in government think some action is warranted.

Mark Day for example took the same line on reform as that first suggested by ABC Managing Director Mark Scott 18 months ago: it is probably wiser that the media get into discussion now about sensible reforms to privacy law "before the legislature loses patience with the self-regulation regime and imposes standards of its own."

And Dick missed these comments by the federal Communications Minister last week on ABC Q and A, that indicate not all politicians are as cool on the idea of a cause of action as he suggests
STEPHEN CONROY: Look, I think what I found really interesting about today was that a News Limited publication outed somebody. When the South Australian attorney-general tried to say that people had to identify themselves on a blog during the South Australian election campaign News Limited led a writers' campaign to say this was censorship just by saying, hey, everybody else when the write has to say, "Political commentary" and identify themselves. So I thought it was really interesting to see News Limited outing somebody for anonymity today when they ran a campaign to protect anonymity about 12 months ago. But I also think this country needs to face up to a debate around the tort of privacy. I mean, if you look around the world there's much greater protection for individuals privacy than we've got here in Australia and on the one hand we've got a campaign on called The Right to Know. Well, we need to have some balance between the right to know and the tort of privacy so I personally am a fan of these concepts.

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