By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw
The digital age has increased both possibilities and risks for journalism, according to media ethicist Dr Denis Muller from the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne.
Muller was addressing the privileges, legitimacy and accountability of journalism at the annual conference of the Journalism Education and Research Association in Sydney.
He said the types of privilege offered to journalism were access to powerful people, places to observe events, and certain legal protections, however the digital revolution had made the privileges for those from big media inadequate for others like bloggers.
“This is a narrow and increasingly irrelevant basis for conferring legitimacy,” he said.
“Legitimacy of the journalistic function has more important bases than this.”
He said legitimacy of journalism as a function in a democracy is grounded in a combination of rights and socio-political necessity.
Journalism had a contrctual relationship with the community based on factual and constextual reliability, impartiality, separation of fact from comment and provision of a “bedrock of trustworthy information”.
The legitimacy of the journalistic function rests on the indispensability of its function, its capacity to animate free speech and the keeping of its promises,” Dr Muller said.
He highlighted privileges at law under the Commonwealth Privacy Act and State Shield laws – contingent on media organisations being signed up to an accountability mechanism.
Others not contingent on such accountability were the privileges under the Australian Consumer Law and the Commonwealth shield laws.
The latter protected anyone providing news to the public, seemingly including bloggers and others reporting news.
He reviewed the regulatory recommendations of the Finkelstein Review, the Convergence Review and the Leveson Inquiry and explained there was no accountability mechanism for journalists outside of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance sanctions for its members breaching its Code of Ethics.
He said he had worked with colleague Dr Judith Townend from City University London’s Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism comparing the suggested accountability mechanisms for the Australian news media.
They argued for
- access to incentives in the form of privileges,
- contingent on signing up to accountability mechanism,
- and that this mechanism be open to all who practise journalism.
The first step was the creation of a consensual set of ethical standards – professional norms and standards, they argued.
“News organisations should take a ‘get in’ rather than a ‘get you’ approach,” he said.
© Mark Pearson 2014
Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.