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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Media inquiry and privacy issues

The media inquiry in due course will work out where its terms of reference take it but pundits in the meantime are having their own go, with Mark Day in The Australian and Alison Carrabine on ABC Radio (for two) commenting today that the inquiry excludes privacy. Que? Sure the media issue (correction The Australian's issue) of the month-the merits of moving to a statutory cause of action for a serious and unwarranted invasion of privacy-is outside the terms of reference.  But any examinanation of
"the effectiveness of the current media codes of practice in Australia... (w)ays of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Australian Press Council....with particular reference to the handling of complaints;  (and a)ny related issues pertaining to the ability of the media to operate according to regulations and codes of practice, and in the public interest" 
will take in media standards, practice and enforcement relating to privacy obligations.. 

The Australian Law Reform Commission in 2008 had this to say on the media and privacy:
" organisations are subject to a range of voluntary industry standards (for example, those developed by the Australian Press Council (APC) for the print media) and regulations made under law (such as those promulgated by ACMA in respect of the broadcast media). Such sanctions for breach as exist provide few, if any, real remedies for individuals whose privacy rights have been seriously affected. With the exception of the broadcast media, nor, arguably, do they provide significant disincentives for further breaches. [42.24]

The Commission recommended continuation of a journalism exemption from the Privacy Act subject to media organisations committing to self/ co- regulated schemes that provide adequate privacy standards in ways that go beyond the current  lip service.

These and other aspects of the codes of practice as they relate to privacy and the print and online media are within the terms of reference of the media inquiry.  Enforcement powers including the need for own motion investigations, and meaningful penalties should also get a run, as I argued in Crikey in July.

In the meantime discussion of the separate issue of a statutory cause of action-not primarily  a media matter- awaits the promised government issues paper. 

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