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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

MEAA 2011 Press Freedom Report

On good reads, congratulations to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance for the 2011 Press Freedom Report, jam packed with information and informed comment on all the relevant issues-freedom of information, secrecy, whistleblowing, shield laws, privacy, copyright, open justice, national security, censorship and more.

Julian Burnside QC [8-9] has a good oneliner on the WikiLeaks message to government:
"Assange has introduced a new element into global politics: tell the truth or fear that the truth will be exposed."
Chris Warren in his introduction [3] sees grounds for cautious optimism in some recent developments, but with plenty more to be done. One urgent priority is the " ludicrous plethora" of secrecy laws revealed in the ALRC report still awaiting a government response well over a year later, an issue picked up elsewhere including by Markus Mannheim of the Canberra Times [14-15].

Mannheim's main point is that public servants- described as the real opponents of open government- and journalists all need to lift their game. Public servants must accept that open government means a stronger focus on what they do and need to develop the necessary thicker skin to go with this. As for journalists its a question of standards:
"The more documents become publicly available we must ensure that we get it right and be fair when we report on them.There are many eyes in Canberra watching for and counting our mistakes hoping to use them to argue against any further moves to open up..government. Let's not give them the pleasure."
(Update:Jonathan Holmes on The Drum on 13 April writes about FOI and subsequent media reporting on what was disclosed that falls short of professional standards.)

On privacy the Alliance calls [33] for a robust debate to ensure that judgments about legal rights of recourse are not just in the hands of the courts. The problem with this is that the debate, admittedly often in a desultory fashion, has been underway for years, with three law reform commission inquiries resulting in recommendations yet to be acted upon four years later, for a statutory cause of action for a serious unwarranted breach of privacy. If the debate hasn't been robust enough that may be because of the stand by some media organisations, including our loudest, that there is no need.

The chapter on privacy fails to mention the failings in the self-regulatory privacy arrangements that apply to the print media, pointed out last year by former Prime Minister Keating, but David Marr [33-34] gives Channel 7 both barrels for their judgment in outing then NSW minister David Campbell and more of the same for the ACMA for their "cockamamie"  argument that this was in the public interest. (Barbara Tuchman's "March of Folly" comes instantly to mind.)

Michael Pelly, at the time a legal affairs writer with The Australian and since appointed Media Adviser to NSW Attorney General Greg Smith, confirms [7] what most know or suspect about prevailing attitudes in some newsrooms regarding public interest considerations in publishing: "would the public be interested in reading about this?" is the question journalists ask, Pelly says, subject only "to the interests of good taste and reader sensibilities."

I'm afraid that's not what journalism professional standards and media codes say, or what the the law requires when the issue arises, with Pelly at least acknowledging this last point.

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