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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Senate consideration of journalists' shield law slips to 2011

I've laboured over a long piece on this but ****!!! its disappeared into the ethernet. The short version:

The Wilkie bill didn't come on for consideration in the final week of sittings after the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee reported and recommended the bill. Liberal senators on the committee in a dissenting report favour the Brandis bill. Senator Ludlam in additional comments foreshadows amendments to the definition of journalist and journalism that seem sensible to me.

The committee hearing transcript is worth a look for the discussion of issues about the definition of a journalist and questions about whether Julian Assange would qualify (mixed opinions).  Police powers unaffected by the proposed law also get a mention. These allow for access to telephone records of a journalist or anyone else where necessary in an investigation of a criminal offence (submission and evidence of Ken Parish, and evidence of officers of AGs department).

The precedent value of a 2002 NSW Supreme Court decision (NRMA v John Fairfax [2002] NSWSC 563) referred to in evidence by Matthew Minogue of AGs on the test for determining who is a journalist is questionable. The issue in that case was whether a confidant, a journalist was a member of a "profession" and acting in a "professional capacity," the words used in the NSW Evidence Act.This required the court to consider the attributes of carrying on a profession against standards tightly drawn by the law [145-157].These words aren't used in the Wilkie bill. The issue as the bill stands will be whether a person in the normal course of work involved in dissemination of news is given information after providing an assurance of confidentiality. Compliance with the standards expected of a person as a professional won't arise. What constitutes the normal course of work may. Senator Ludlam sensibily suggests avoiding this, the paid /unpaid issue, whether a person is employed (as mentioned in the Wilkie EM but not the bill) and the old/new media divide by amending the definitions as follows
journalism means the reporting in a news medium of facts which are, to the best knowledge of the person reporting those facts, fair, true and accurate, and includes incidental processes such as the gathering of information for that purpose; journalist means a person who engages in journalism, no matter who the person is nor the medium in which the person publishes his or her material
There was more- in my head if anyone wants to talk about it. Or read at your leisure if you can track down the reams that may be floating around somewhere out there. ****!!!

Shield laws and whistleblower protection will both be back on the agenda in 2011.

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