Category Archives: defamation

Helping identify a risky media law situation


There is no easy solution to helping journalists and other professional communicators identify a risky media law situation.

The first challenge is to be able to sound the alarm bells in the midst of researching or writing. Given a journalist or public relations consultant might be working on numerous stories, investigations, production or communication tasks in any day, what might prompt them to pause and assess the media law risks associated with a particular publication or action?

The answer has puzzled me for my 30 years of teaching media law, and it appears to lie in a combination of situational / emotional analysis and media law knowledge, supported by a routine system of mindful reflection.

I have recently revisited the issue with groups of working journalists, asking them to identify situations they believed prompted them to be on high alert for media law problems. I have combined their observations with my own into this table of situations and risks.

This table is a work in progress, so I would really appreciate your comments and suggestions for further categories as I work to fine-tune it for inclusion in our next edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law.






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.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Filed under blogging, defamation, free expression, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, media law, mindful journalism, online education, reflective practice, social media, terrorism

Interview Part 4 – Strengths and pitfalls of online courses


This is the fourth and final edited transcript of my interview with Griffith University doctoral candidate David Costin, who recently interviewed me as part of his research into engaging with the online environment in higher education.  Over the past three installments we have discussed my design of an online / on campus course in media law (Part 1), how principles of ‘mindful journalism’ have influenced the course design (Part 2) and some suggested strategies to embed online learning (Part 3). This week we explore the strengths and pitfalls of online courses.

Q (David Costin):        What are the gaps and barriers that you see that hinder you as being an effective online operator? You’ve mentioned one about rules, about the boundaries of …. of the uni itself, but what other gaps are you seeing, or barriers?

A (Mark Pearson):         Time is a barrier, the time element, because the ideal, the face-to-face environment commits you to so many hours in the classroom, the students know you will be there, certain consultation hours, they know they can come to see you. The online environment is meant to be amenable to the learner, but it doesn’t necessarily sit with the teachers’ availability. So you know, whatever the learning problem, whether it’s just a technical thing with the quiz not working or whatever, the online student might encounter that at 3:00 a.m. because it suits their schedule, but to maintain one’s own sanity and life balance, one can’t be available 24/7 to online students. And sometimes they’ll get frustrated that they’ve had to wait to get a response. That doesn’t happen very often, but nevertheless, the ideal would be for them to get immediate responses to such problems, but that’s – until we get teaching bots – that’s some way away.

Q:        Yeah, yeah.

A:         So that springs to mind as one constraint. Another is, I mean I talked about institutional barriers to the design, but there’s also the industrial labour issue of teaching online. And (my School) … has been very good with this and I have online tutors that are compensated comparably with the on-campus versions. For academic staff, there is the workload issue and that’s looking reasonable at the moment for online development, but it’s, you know, the risk is trying to force fit online to traditional models and to under-allow for all of this development and nurturing and engagement that has to happen for online to work, to undervalue that in workload and in rewards within the system.

Q:        Okay, so you’re saying so therefore part of that is I suppose a lot of your work is developing that relationship with students, but that’s not really fixed into any particular workload or that you could put a monetary value on it or anything else like that.

A:         Well it is, it’s so many hours of workload per week that you would devote to that and the jury is out as to whether that’s enough to cater to that many online students, isn’t it? I mean teaching is somewhat of a calling and you suffer angst if you think your students are being underserviced, but the more hours you put into it, the lower your hourly rate becomes, you know, for whether you’re a casual worker on so much per hour, you’ve done your hours that were allocated, but there’s some student crying for help. You know, what do you do? Your calling tells you, you offer the help.

Q:        That’s right.

A:         You then become a volunteer and that’s nice for you and me at this stage of our careers, maybe we can afford to be volunteers a little bit, but the struggling young mum or dad that’s trying to feed the family on sessional …

Q:        Yeah, wages.

A:         … rates or whatever, it becomes a – I believe if it’s managed poorly and it’s undercompensated, it’s an exploitation of people in those situations.

Q:        Well it becomes an ethical type of practice I suppose.

A:         Mm.

Q:        You mentioned before, you’ve done a couple of courses within . about supporting – about the development of online. What are the support structures that you’ve found have really helped you in the development of your online course?

A:         Workload allowance for the development. So I mean academic workload is done on a formula that changes regularly within institutions. It’s a points-based formula at the moment, but it’s meant that I haven’t had to teach a full load of classroom teaching in the semesters that I’ve been developing or … revising the (online) courses. So the institution’s been willing to take a full professor out of the classroom to invest in the design and then the offering of such courses.

Q:        Okay.

A:         The other – not so much constraint but important impediment – in this area is the fact that a lot of work is done in the establishment of online courses, but there has to be, just as in vehicle maintenance, there has to be a schedule of service maintenance updating, freshening. And unless that is allowed for in the budgetary and workload approaches of the institution, what you get is what sadly has become the fate of online distance correspondence courses through the ages, is that you just get people who may or may not care about it anymore and the course is just getting rustier and rustier, the readings getting older and older, the technology is being further and further behind the state-of-the-art at the moment and this obviously is going to impact both enrolments but more important on the learning that’s happening in the course – rusty courses.

Q:        It’s a good term, I like that term, ‘rusty courses’. And I’ll go back to – and this is, of course, I suppose one other question I was going to ask, you mentioned at the start you believe there was more courses adapted to the online environment. In your opinion, what do you think, is it more, like this particular course is more gravity, more orientated towards online? Are there other courses you think are more orientated towards the online than others, in what you’ve experienced so far?

A:         The term ‘hybrid courses’ or ‘hybrid learning’ is bandied around.

Q:        Yeah.

A:         I haven’t seen a very strict definition of it. For some people it seems to mean some online components to a standard course. To others, it means a course that can be undertaken fully online or on campus. With this one, it is the latter and I’ve tried to make it so that it is as valuable a learning experience to the online student and also that opportunity is fully available to the on-campus students.

Q:        Flexibility, yeah, comes through all the time. And I suppose, you know, this kind of comes on to the last question in that in the course that you’re developing for the online, but you’ve taken your own thinking processes and you’ve I suppose looked at where you want the kids to be, the students to be, but what other things do you do that strengthens your own skills in that teaching and learning environment, the students’ environment?

A:         What do I do that strengthens my own skills?

Q:        Mm, what do you do? Obviously you reflect upon your teaching.

A:         Yes.

Q:        Which is one of those – knowing things that work.

A:         Yeah.

Q:        But do you depend on – do you go and talk to your other colleagues about other strategies you can utilise or do you go and experiment on a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and come back and incorporate those things?

A:         Well I’ve done both of those things. I write about some of these experiences and practises in the academic literature. I maintain a blog, which I’ve been doing for about five or six years now, with – it varies, but with like a monthly contribution, but there’s been two in the last two weeks, you know, it’s just according to time and what happens, called Journlaw, which has a mixture of things to do with commentary or snippets about media law, abstracts and excerpts from my writings or articles, just referring people to those things. And when I do those guest interviews, I’ll throw them on there, so there’s sort of a central place where students and others can go there. And I’ll do mini reports or live blogs of conferences with relevance to that area, so instead of just going to sleep as a delegate at a conference, I’ll keep myself awake by taking a couple of photos and writing a news story about the presentation and whacking it onto the blog, those sorts of things. So there’s that, there’s the academic output. I have done a few of the MOOCs as you mention. What else do I do? The academic’s life, I’ve noticed, the pressures and demands over many years has become more intense in recent years than it was in the earlier stages of my career. So I don’t do as many sort of learning and teaching grant applications, writing about learning and teaching in learning and teaching sorts of journals or got to many of the seminars for staff and that sort of thing, just because there’s only so many hours in the day and certain priorities, KPIs you’re rewarded for.

Q:        Yeah, so what you’re saying is you’re prioritising what you believe as part of the important strategies that will help you through the parts of your course.

A:         Yeah and I do some leisure reading about it. In other words, if I’m an airport bookshop and there’s a – I mean that thing with the formative quizzes and repeating the question just came from some random popular book on embedding learning that I found in an airport bookshop and I was interested in reading about, but it’s not something – I mean the thing I do read a lot about at the moment is Buddhist ethical principles and mindfulness and that kind of thing, so that is influencing me a lot at the moment.

Q:        But you’re adapting too.

A:         Yeah, whenever I do those things, I think is there a way that that has relevance to either my research or my writing. And I build some of the principles into the research. So we did a big ‘Reporting Islam’ project which is just finishing up now. I finished in December, but it’s about a $900,000 over three years that we’ve just done. It had many dimensions to it, but part of it was developing this app …. And so my colleague has continued with the project, is negotiating with future hosts for it and everything. But associated with this were a lot of training courses we developed for journalists, a handbook on Reporting Islam, a newsroom handbook that is there in PDF version as well as we printed a few copies for our expert panellists and so on. But I guess my point is, this thinking around the online stuff has also led to a very practical research project which has academic outputs but also newsroom and social application. [Calls up ]. So you start to get, like I recorded this interview with (journalist Peter Greste) – I didn’t record it, I took a cameraman to report it and it talks about the importance of reporting upon Islam accurately, basic information about the religion and things that get commonly confused, some basic myths about some of the common things like the different types of headdress or whatever. And then so going from that, basic terminology and then putting it into practice with a checklist for journalists to identify, like a little quiz on how inclusive their newsroom is, basic reporting tips, protocols they should follow when reporting Islam and the voices of journalists who are respected from a range of media about pitfalls in misreporting of Islam. Then very importantly, driving home with students the effects of misreporting …

(Audio visual playing)

A:         … the impact on people in the community and what bad reporting or negative reporting, associating them all as terrorists and whatever can have. And so this is taken from another body of literature with permission with our actors’ voices talking about their focus group.

(Audio visual playing)

Q:        Okay.

A:         But we had actors and photo stock images to capture the person that’s said those things in those research projects. And I have recorded these interviews with different experts about the research.

(Audio visual playing)

Q:        Mm.

A:         So journalists and students can get that actual research base to the effects and then similar to what I’ve done in the media law thing, we’ve developed scenarios that actually have all of the components here for practice reporting on a Muslim issue. So the scenario is explained, there are tasks that they have to do within a two-hour class, you know, council papers about a proposed mosque, tips that they would follow in reporting some images that we’ve had taken that they choose from for it and a selection of quotes, including some of which are actually live acted.

(Audio visual playing)

A:         That kind of stuff and a similar one on a terror arrest, because that’s a commonly misreported scenario with an actual court case following it and so on. And then a list of resources and people, journalists can go to. So that was quite an achievement, but the reason I mention it is a lot of these same principles have gone into there. So there are the mindfulness principles, – what’s my intent with this story?, why am I going to cover in this?, what’s the language I’m going to be using?. All of that’s built in to some of the resources.

Q:        It’s also that lived experience, isn’t it?

A:         Mm.

Q:        You’re there, so from where I sit, you’ve got that lived experience of what you’re seeing. You’ve got your background as to that journalism component, plus the ethics coming in on top of that, plus the mindfulness.

A:         Mm.

Q:        So it comes together in a product, one way, that can be practically and which people can then access and I suppose that end point for where they want to be.

A:         That’s the idea of it. We won the Queensland Multicultural Award last year for media, communication.

Q:        Wow, well done indeed. Well thank you very much for your time.

A:         Alright, okay, absolute pleasure.

Q:        I’ve enjoyed it.


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.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Filed under blogging, Buddhism, defamation, Eightfold Path, free expression, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, media law, mental health, mindful journalism, online education, reflective practice, social media, terrorism

Interview Part 3 – Strategies to embed media law learning


This is Part 3 of my interview with Griffith University doctoral candidate David Costin, who recently interviewed me as part of his research into engaging with the online environment in higher education.  Over the past two installments we have discussed my design of an online / on campus course in media law and have examined how principles of ‘mindful journalism’ have influenced the course design. This week we explore some strategies to embed media law learning.

Q (David Costin):  Obviously you’ve thought about that end point [of students applying their media law knowledge in the workplace].

A:  (Mark Pearson) … I have the opportunity and the good fortune as a consultant to be able to train some journalists in the workplace … and I’ve done that for more than 20 years …. That feeds back into the loop because quite often in the class are my own students from these classes and it’s interesting to see what they do or don’t remember, although I haven’t actually formally tested that. So what niggles away at me, at this late stage of my career, is that I haven’t seen many of my graduates – I can’t recall my graduates getting into actual legal trouble and that would be one sign, but nevertheless, I sort of say ‘there but for the grace of God walk I’, you know, because you do know there are those 50 per cent students and they might have been away the day we did defamation (although it’s very unlikely, there’s a fair bit of it in the course).

Q:        Yeah.

A:         And these days they’re often, you know, going to be contractor workers rather than fully employed by an organisation, perhaps running their own blog. And so in the area of contempt, jail is a possibility, a substantial fine, certainly professional disgrace and in defamation there’s huge damages; they can lose their family home. And thankfully I haven’t seen that happen to my students, but it’s an area where if they were away the day they did one of those important things, then it’s a risk. So what is the retention of this knowledge in the workplace? That would be a wonderful research project to go back and revisit some of these people years on or whatever. I mean you know, media law training session only last year I had one of my students from 20 years ago at another institution, you know, so there are people there that would provide data for it I suppose.

Q:        Yeah, yeah.

A:         But I mean maybe I’m half scared to do so because it’s a worry, the extent to which they may not actually retain much of that knowledge (laughs).

Q:        But you know, I can see, you know, that again, that reflective stance drives, you know, I suppose where you want and it’s also updating that course at the same time, because as you said, you know, this area’s changing so much all the time.

A:         Mm.

Q:        And I suppose it also feeds into the question of, you know, what do you see is effectiveness in this environment.

A:         Mm.

Q:        So what you just indicated a student from 20 years ago, came back and came on the course, but is there other things that you see, other than the stats at the end of every semester, as being effective in this environment when you’re teaching in the online environment?

A:         Well I remember an earlier lecturer I worked with in my career talked about seeing the ‘whites of their eyes’, you know that expression?

Q:        Mm, yep, yep.

A:         And there are moments where you see that, that you know the knowledge at least for that one student is deeply embedded and has made a real difference. And from time to time you get that – I had that only yesterday, right? It was only a very small moment, but I’m very conscious of mindful practice being dismissed or being looked at sceptically as sort of some new age thing or being dismissed by other academics or whatever or students thinking I’m pushing some religion on them or something like that. So when I tell them about that, I frame it in terms of both the Buddhist principles – meditation and mindfulness – but also (Donald) Schon and reflective practice, but I’d also introduce them to a term that rarely any of them have ever heard of which is form the psychological and educational literature called ‘metacognition’. And I talk about that as either thinking about your own thinking or reflecting upon your own learning, depending on whether you’re looking at it from psychology. So in this particular class yesterday, I had an African law student in the class and I’d done that early in the – like week one or two of the semester – and yesterday (in the final week of revision) we were just talking about something, I can’t even remember what the topic was, and she said, “Ah yes, that’s metacognition. I’ve just practised metacognition.” And so to me, that’s a success, that’s just a skerrick of evidence of someone having learnt something in the course.

Q:        The ah-ha moment.

A:         Yeah, yeah. But the very important change we’ve made with the course this semester meant that I was getting that feeling a lot yesterday in my lectures as well and that’s because I’ve gone from, partly through very pragmatic and practical reasons, I’ve gone from a sit-down final exam in a lecture theatre – open book but handwritten into exam books – … I’ve gone from that to a take-home finale difficult problem, take-home exam over 10 days; 1500 words, written in exam style, loosely referenced but just so as answering those same basic questions, but a finale problem. And they submit it via Turnitin, plagiarism detection and all of that. And in the lectures yesterday, it hit home how important that is. Because I read somewhere some time ago that there are all pros and cons to, you know, obviously there’s security issues with take-home exams …

Q:        That’s right.

A:         That may happen. But in the lectures yesterday, here was a fully engaged class, many of whom I’d never seen before. They may have been following it on Lecture Capture or whatever, but here they were, for Professor Pearson to walk them through the take-home exam problem and to speak – I spoke in what you might call cryptic or code terms about the issues that were arising and highlighting on the screen the things that they might identify, without spoon-feeding them and giving them all the answers and reinforcing the fact that the students who had engaged in all the learning activities will know what I’m talking about here, that this word, confidential source here means certain things, it means things from different parts of the course, (etc). Well, they were just fully engaged because they had a vested interest in embedding this material for 40 per cent of their overall grade for the course. Now the difference is that the sit-down exam tests the level of knowledge that they know at that point for whoever knows how long afterwards, that they may have crammed for that two hours in week 12 or 13 or whatever it happens to be. This one is – if they’ve done the course, it’s designed so they shouldn’t take more than a day to do it, but some of them have the chance to actually engage with all of that over those 10 days, if they’ve never even come to a class, and I’ve got much more hope because the test mainly drills defamation and contempt, which are the two big ticket areas and it’s my way of being a little bit reassured that people would get over the line with their final take-home exam are at least familiar with those terms and understand a bit of their operation in a hypothetical newsroom environment.

Q:        Okay.

A:         So there are pros, there are cons, but I could see learning happening in a traditional lecture yesterday, which is somewhat unusual, sadly.

Q:        Unique.

A:         Yeah, yeah.

Q:        Okay, so two questions. You’ve established then your own benchmark, using that process, you’ve got your own type of benchmark in the back of your mind, as to what you want the students to achieve using this process?

A:         The take-home exam?

Q:        Yeah, yeah.

A:         Yeah, well yes, we still have to have a final moderation meeting for the tutors for the marking of the exam, but the pass point will be a demonstrated ability to identify those key issues of media law and to come up with a plausible navigation of those issues in such an environment and showing a basic knowledge of some key laws and cases that would inform that decision.

Q:        Okay. So then the other part of the question is, where did you come across this idea or have you adapted along the way or it’s been an experience, you know the take-home exam experience has been something that you’d wanted to try, or you’d read about it or you’ve adapted it before over the period of time?

A:         Well as long as I remember, there have been take-home exams in some university courses and I’m wracking my brain, thinking of one I’ve ever done myself as a student. I can’t think of one right now. It’s a small extension of a more intense newsroom exam situation that I’ve run at an earlier institution with my media law students, which was the sit-down open-book exam where it’s actually given to the students and then they can either sit there or go away, phone a friend, do whatever they like, as a journalist would do in that environment and come back in two hours with their answer. So it’s an adapted version of that which I hope is actually going to work better. But a point I was going to make earlier about the design of online and everything is that there’s a lot of pragmatism and there are a lot of sort of constrictions or institutional boundaries that you have to work within while you’re still trying to engage with students and enhance their learning and cover the appropriate content. And I mean luckily journalism doesn’t have some industry accreditation as well, you know, because I’d hate to think in accounting or law you’d also be managing those external – or psychology – you’d be managing external requirements as well. So the design of such courses is kind of its own cryptic crossword because for every decision you’re making about a certain format or learning tool, you’re having to think, is this going to work on the Nathan campus, is it going to work on the Gold Coast campus, how does it operate with OUA, what are the online students going to be able to do with this, what are the institutional rules around this? Because the institutional rules have things like no more than 20 per cent of online assignments in the course, you know, that kind of stuff. And so how do we navigate all of these things but still come up with a coherent, meaningful curriculum and pedagogy that’s actually best practice? That’s the challenge, I mean I don’t know whether I’ve achieved it here, but it’s a work in progress.


NEXT WEEK: Strengths and pitfalls of  online courses


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.

© Mark Pearson 2017

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, Buddhism, defamation, Eightfold Path, free expression, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, media law, mental health, mindful journalism, online education, reflective practice, social media, terrorism

Interview Part 2 – A mindful dimension to media law course design


Griffith University doctoral candidate David Costin recently interviewed me as part of his research into engaging with the online environment in higher education and has kindly allowed me to reproduce sections of that interview transcript in my blog.  Last week, in the first edited installment, we discussed my design of an online / on campus course in media law. This week we delve further into how principles of ‘mindful journalism’ have influenced the course design…

Q (David Costin):        Okay, so it’s practical – so I suppose what you’ve done is you’ve set up so it’s a practical, interactive course with reflection at the same time, which would then assist them in their development down the track with it, I suppose.

A (Mark Pearson):         The approach incorporates – the mindful journalism part of it is incorporating the idea that journalists aren’t going to be able to sit there and meditate in the lotus position in the newsroom, but if they learn to pause to reflect and they learn to take opportunities to do so, whether it’s on the train to work or in what others might call a ‘smoko’ break at work and they think through some of these basic principles there, then the theory goes that they might eventually, after doing this many times, be in what both Schon and others call ‘in the zone’, which is basically the consummate expert being able to reflect in action, but it being somewhat of an innate process so that they are almost subconsciously reflecting upon their learning to make the right decisions in those moments. And the basic Buddhist principles that go into my writings about all of this are from what is foundational to all of Buddhism called the ‘Eightfold Path’. And it’s not a religious thing, in fact some call Buddha the first psychologist and phenomenologist, but the principles are ‘right understanding’ – so this is from 2500 years ago, all right and it was meant for monks, but … part of the integrated reflection and he made a big point of saying all of this is integrated, it’s not just one or the other, the path is not uniform steps, but ‘right understanding’. ‘Right livelihood’ – so how does what I’m doing match my livelihood? Is this what I went into it for? You know, which is very important for journalists in this modern environment. ‘Right intent’ – so what is my intent here with this story or this, (from my perspective), with this lesson or this interview today? o basically having that partly considered. ‘Right speech’, because back then it was just oral, but that’s all form of communication and in multimedia it’s very important for journalists to think, you know, ‘how am I communicating this?’, ‘am I using both the right form of expression in speaking to this source or student or whatever it happens to be?’, or and also the way I’m actually putting the words together. ‘Right action’, so what behaviours am I exercising and should I exercise in this situation? ‘Right effort’, and the effort is all-embracing because it comes back to, you know, ‘how often am I reinforcing thinking about this, you know, reflecting upon these issues?’. ‘Right mindfulness’, which obviously for the monks it’s hours of meditation, but for the working journalist, it’s a moment of reflection – just to stop and go, “Oh, okay, I did media law today, what did I really pick up from that?” And that’s embedding the learning through reflecting.

Q:        Reflective practice, yeah.

A:         Yeah and the final one is ‘right concentration’ and that’s being ‘in the zone’, that’s basically putting it together so that it’s all happening and you’re able to adapt any of those elements appropriately for the circumstances.

Q:        I like that because in a couple of weeks’ time I’ve actually been asked to speak on a panel to third year students and I could see that translating across very, very nicely indeed as to their effectively – what they see and into a long term view, because that’s beautiful.

A:         Yeah, well to be quite frank, while I work in journalism, I can see that applying at an ethical and a practical level very much in teaching and it could be some – I mean I’m late in my career, but it could be at some stage I move part of it across into there and apply it there as well.

Q:        Mm, no, it’s simple. I mean to say, that’s a firm foundation, isn’t it?

A:         It is, yeah and it’s not ramming some religion down someone’s throat.

Q:        No.

A:         It’s basically a map of life.

Q:        Yeah, exactly right. And I suppose that comes on in the next question too, I mean to say, when you’ve been reflecting and then you’ve altered the course at the same time, so then I suppose the next question is what do you see as an effective operator in that online environment to your students? Because obviously, you know, you’ve got an encompassing overview of what you want to do, okay?

A:         Mm.

Q:        But what do you see as being an effective operator in that online environment for you?

A:         Yeah, it’s – no course or approach can be all things to all people. And I believe in my area, a professional area, only some curricula areas are particularly well suited to online, to totally online delivery.

Q:        Okay.

A:         So I don’t think anything and in fact Schon was all about the teacher is the coach and the studio environment. For professional education, I really think nothing beats the shoulder-to-shoulder coaching by a real …

Q:        Person.

A:         … experienced practitioner, just as the concert pianist, how effectively are you going to become a pianist by doing an online course in playing the piano? Yeah, some people might, you know, and there could be – these days there are all sorts of ways you could envisage that.

Q:        Yeah.

A:         But the question is, would any of them match sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the maestro in a studio situation, masterclass situation, for at least part of that journey? So I’m lucky that media law and the other course that I’ve designed here for public relations and crisis communication people called ‘Social Media Law and Risk Management, they lend themselves to that because you know, these days it’s much of the way journalists communicate and because of that knowledge base to the thing and then the problems that are written problems, accompanied by a whole bunch of AV material. So you’ll see that there’s those mini lectures which MOOC experience has told us is best done up to 18 minute bursts. So this one goes just beyond it at 22 minutes for the very first one and it’s …

(Audio visual playing)

A:         All right, all that sort of stuff. Now that’s the mini lecture and so that’s reinforced for online students with just a copy of the slides. And then there is, as you’re probably aware, from …. University there’s also the full slides that are available through the Lecture Capture.

Q:        Yeah.

A:         So that’s the full two-hour version, one hour and 50 and some of them will want to immerse themselves in that, but it’s proven to be not that effective a way of, certainly in its analogue form, it’s actually very effective for foreign students particularly, the videoed lecture version, because they like to slow it down in the pace, pick it up for the, you know, so there are certain students that like that. And there’s also, I mean the genre of university study, there’s something about having lectures like that, rather than just having a bunch of materials you could get on any old MOOC, you know, so there’s something about the full-on thing. So the slides and the lectures are there for them as well. Now we make both campus’ lectures, which are repeats, available to all the students and the reason for that is occasionally there is a glitch with the recording, but more of a problem for my class is typically they’re – well this semester they were timetabled on a Monday and a Tuesday and you have the public holiday problem.

Q:        Yeah, okay.

A:         So that way the whole cohort can go to the other day’s lecture, because we had Anzac Day on a Tuesday and then the other Monday public holiday, so at least they get the lecture that week. So there are those things and then in addition to that, some people are very visually driven and over the past, the time I’ve been here at …., four-and-a-half years, I’ve put together a number of interviews, some of them are on Skype, with experts in the field or people who have been through that particular media law experience. And every one of the modules has one or two of these guest lectures. So what that does is give an anchor in the real newsroom experience to complement the theory, I suppose, or I try to make it as far from theoretical as we can in the class, but just so that they’re seeing that there’s a practical edge to it. The other thing is that although we might from time to time get a live guest, I will try to film that professionally because that’s just a one-off thing and lost forever unless it’s captured for other students to enjoy. It’s very rare you get a live guest who will appear at both campuses in that week and otherwise it just becomes part of the Lecture Capture experience and is just a one-off for that trimester ever.

Q:        To utilise again and again, like you said.

A:         Yeah and the final element is in each of the modules I do a – I got this off the MOOCs, ‘Office Hours’ – and the ‘Office Hours’ is basically positioning yourself in my home or work office.

(Audio visual playing)

A:         So you’ve got the idea of that and that’s what we’re talking about there within the …

Q:        Mm.

A:         Yeah, it’s just amazing, it’s 400 students and at any moment you’ve got people that haven’t studied for a long time or they’ve got various stressors in their life, they’re not very technologically literate and it’s just amazing how many still don’t know to press that. So that basically tells them a lot more about the actual assessment.

Q:        But it’s interesting from my side looking in because you’re accommodating and I suppose this is your character, maybe it’s part of your own character too, that you can accommodate – you’re accommodating, you’re also entrepreneurial, because I haven’t seen anything like that before.

A:         Oh really?

Q:        Yeah, yeah and it’s quite interesting.

A:         Have you gone on MOOC though?

Q:        Oh yeah, I’ve done – yeah.

A:         When MOOCs came out, I immersed myself in a few of those just to pick up from that experience.

Q:        Okay and that’s certainly coming through as well, that people go out on their own and experiment and then come back and bring that wealth of information with them at the same time.

A:         Mm.

Q:        So obviously – and the flexibility, because you’ve obviously, from your own life experience as well, you realise that students are doing different things at different times. So you take that flexibility into account as well. So I can see those things coming through.

A:         Yeah.

Q:        And also that reflective practice.

A:         Yeah, yeah.

Q:        One of your other colleagues actually used the term ‘pracademic’.

A:         Oh okay, that’s nice.

Q:        It is a nice term because all your work is practical, very practical and it’s aimed at I suppose the end point of where you want your students to be.


NEXT WEEK: Strategies to embed media law learning


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.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Filed under blogging, Buddhism, defamation, Eightfold Path, free expression, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, media law, mental health, mindful journalism, online education, reflective practice, social media, terrorism

Designing a media law course for reflection in action



Griffith University doctoral candidate David Costin recently interviewed me as part of his research into engaging with the online environment in higher education and has kindly allowed me to reproduce sections of that interview transcript in my blog. Here, in the first edited installment, we discuss my design of an online / on campus course in media law.

Q:        In the online environment, what theory and pedagogical knowledge do you draw upon when you’re operating in the online environment?

A:         I can mention a principal theory that’s driven a lot of my career and I carry into the online environment… My first major point is that I believe theory and pedagogical understanding and approaches are crucial to teaching in the online environment. But they are not necessarily something that you are conscious of every day of your teaching. I think it’s fundamental to your learning in the area, it’s fundamental that you revise that occasionally, revisit it, but my own experience is it’s not something that is at the forefront of your mind as you’re teaching every class. So, the main pedagogical approach which is entrenched in a theory that I’ve used since the 1980s and have carried into the online environment is Donald Schon’s work in teaching – The Reflective Practitioner. My area of journalism education is very much about preparing students to do what Donald Schon called ‘reflect-in-action’, which is basically when they are confronted with new situations in the newsroom (or these days in various professional communication environments), that they will also be able to reflect, sometimes innately (like I do on pedagogies and theories). In that same way, one should be confident that they can reflect on what I have taught them and be able to solve their own problems, whatever they may be, technologically and ethically and professionally in changing environments. So to my mind, if that is done properly, then you effectively have someone who is a change agent and is able to reflect in action upon their education, no matter how long ago that may have been, to shape and be able to come to a consciously right decision in their work in a new context. And that’s my take on the Schon approach.

I have something to add to that though and that is in more recent years, since 2013, I’ve developed what – I’ve worked with colleagues and have coined the expression ‘mindful journalism’. Because in my undergraduate years, I did explore some Eastern philosophies and so on and in more recent times I’ve used meditation practises for various reasons in my life and have rediscovered Buddhism, but from a secular perspective. So in other words, some of the foundation stones of Buddhism are actually very secular, reflection in action practices. So mindful journalism is something I’ve actually built into my media law classes, teaching students how to reflect in action because my biggest worry in teaching media law is that a graduate who may have only passed with 50 per cent result, may not be able to recognise in the newsroom the legal risk that should be apparent to them. So I’m using this as a way of embedding an approach that hopefully deepens their knowledge at the tertiary level enough to be able to carry with them into the workplace.

Q:        So your basis, then, is working from that practical on-the-ground reflection status, would that be correct?

A:         That is correct. Obviously media law has two major components to it. One is enough knowledge about and familiarity or literacy to do with the language of law, to be able to understand what defamation or contempt of court or confidentiality, these sorts of things are. And the second element is the actual putting that into practice, to be able to navigate those laws effectively in a highly competitive, under resourced, time poor, stressful news environment where there are other imperatives, in fact there are very significant rewards for pushing the boundaries of the law in a technological era based on clickbait and page views. So the challenge within that is being able to do that both in the classroom environment, but also in an online environment, so there’s no reason why media law, from that content end of the equation, can’t be taught very effectively both in the classroom and online or in a hybrid way.

Q:        Okay.

A:         It’s only recently we’ve really ramped up the online offering of the course and so I’ve had to encounter the challenges of being able to capture that for students just working in a fully online environment as well. …So the course, as I’ve redeveloped it for this year, well for the past few years, but I’ve really refined it for this year, has a dovetailed knowledge-problem based approach. So it’s textbook driven. The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law is the main textbook used in the field throughout Australia … which has little exercises and things in the back of it. Clearly in law you just have to cover certain topics, but unlike a standard legal text, you would already see in the textbook itself, being The Journalist’s Guide, a handbook for communicators with the chapters and headings reflecting – it’s not what they – typically a law textbook is what they call black letter law. … It’s multi-dimensional.

So the second element is a problem based approach and it used to be we had a problem a week that they were dealing with a scenario and now we’ve narrowed that down so they are having more time to work with particular problems and they’re getting guidance within that. So there are, over the course, four or five problems that they work with over the 12 weeks and the first three are submitted as a learning journal approach to the problems. Not learning journal as in “what did I learn from it?”, but learning journal as in a record of their answers to key newsroom law questions that they would need to answer about these things. So if you go to the actual course itself, all of this material is available to the students who are on campus and online.

Q:        Okay.

A:         And I mean we have a very good – within our group here, we have a very good blended learning team based out of Mt Gravatt and they run various courses and a couple of years ago I did the online learning course. A lot of this has been developed with their curriculum design assistance. But the idea is that the students – there’s a certain suite of activities and a lot of it is to do with developing their understanding of reflecting on their learning, even from the very early stages. So in the early slides, it explains the actual – this is just the mini lecture, so there are only three slides here, but it has the study plan of what they’re expected to do as part of their course.

Q:        Yeah, yeah.

A:         So it’s a little, just like a five to 10 minute mini lecture, there’s a learning problem that they preview early on and there are online discussion boards or tutorials or both that they can attend. They read the relevant chapters and the study guide and earlier on it was starting to get to the point that even the textbook talks about mindful practice and the textbook navigates what I call the “legalities and the realities” of media law. In other words, it’s not just about what’s legal and illegal, it’s about how one might navigate legal risk within a work environment and not just for journalists but for public relations practitioners, other new media entrepreneurs, those sorts of things. So they read the chapters, there’s an online study guide as well …

Some people prefer the print material, so they get just a basic run through the main areas. The learning problems are set up with each learning problem the student having to consider the scenario that is put to them in the terms of what are the main media law issues arising in this scenario, what laws and defences might apply, what cases or examples would you draw upon or talk about or to make your decisions there and assuming your goal is to publish as much of it as is legally allowable, you know, what are you going to do in this situation. Or there’s a longer one here, the really prickly things that we normally really hone in on are ones to do with situations involving defamation and contempt of court. There should be really problem two here somewhere, it was like the arrest of a sex murderer on Moreton Island, … – with little study tasks for the online students, which are normally quite similar to the ones at the back of the textbook chapters, although there are a couple of variations in there. So they answer the end of chapter questions, the study guide and the textbook, complete the formative quiz, so that’s something I picked up from the blended learning people, that the – and also just a bit of reading around that area of knowledge, because there’s that knowledge base component.

At the end of each of the five modules, there’s a 20-question quiz. On the actual substantive knowledge where the students have 30 minutes to be able to look up the textbook to get their answers as to what defamation is and that kind of stuff. But what I learnt through my reading around this kind of thing was that the learning is embedded more in that context if the students are presented with the same question again and so for the more important topics like defamation and contempt, those questions are geared to repeat in the later formative quizzes and the formative quizzes are non-assessable but the final one is worth 20 per cent of the assessment and is done in a single hit of 20 randomly generated questions from the others with no backtracking allowed.

Q:        The thing I like with what you’ve just done is that you’ve actually, in some ways, you’ve talked about your problems and then how you’ve set it out, in some ways you’re actually catering for that diversity of the learner too. …If they don’t want the audio, they can go to this to look at the problem or they’ve got that visual …

A:         Yeah and that’s something that’s been drilled home by our blended learning people through the various online development courses, is to try to cater to those different learning styles. And so while on the slide I’m saying they should do all of these things and always return to the learning problems, so preview the learning problem, come back to it later, engage in the tutorial discussion or discussions about it and find and reflect upon the recent readings. Because in media law there’s always new cases unfolding and stuff, people find and so we share that on our Twitter, #MLGriff Twitter feed, which is just a hashtag that people put on it. So this Rebel Wilson’s in the news, all the students are throwing that there. I tweet to that when I’m at seminars and things like that. And you know, it becomes almost like a really useful summary of media law because there are more than 400 students [per year] doing this course … and I’ve got them all integrated into the same program. OUA is a different site just because there’s just slightly different terminology and everything that they use.

Q:        Yeah, that’s right, yeah.

A:         So at any one time, through some of the activities such as the discussion board, you’ll get three of those four cohorts all there on the discussion board, discussing the learning problem or having general course questions or the tutors are engaging with them in their discussion about the answer.

Q:        Okay, so it’s practical – so I suppose what you’ve done is you’ve set up so it’s a practical, interactive course with reflection at the same time, which would then assist them in their development down the track with it, I suppose.

NEXT WEEK: A mindful dimension to the media law course


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.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Fake news prompts a mindful approach to teaching media law in a ‘post-truth’ context – #MLGriff


My article ‘Teaching media law in a ‘post truth context’ has just been published in the Sage journal Asia Pacific Media Educator, edited by Professor Stephen Tanner from the University of Wollongong.

Much has been written about the ethics of so-called ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative’ facts in a ‘post-truth’ era, but few have explored the legal implications of these and the flow-on to education in media law.

This article suggests there are clear legal risks for journalists adopting the hallmark practices of ‘fake news’ – particularly in linking identifiable individuals to reputationally damaging falsities (defamation) and in making misleading or deceptive claims in the course of business (consumer law).

Whether or not such an ethically dubious practice is actionable will depend on a host of factors including the strength of publishing defences, the availability of legal advice, and the jurisdictional reach of any legal suit.

This article suggests a problem-based approach – including recent examples and classical media law principles – might encourage a ‘mindful’ (reflective) practice when assessing media law risks in the news room.

When a graduate makes the news for a serious legal error – as one Yahoo!7 journalist did in Australia in 2016 (DPP v Johnson & Yahoo!7 [2016] VSC 699 (28 November 2016) ) – journalism educators are deceiving themselves if they think such a fate might not await their own graduates.

If we accept there is no guarantee our students will retain the key knowledge they need in an important area like media law, we need to at least ensure they are equipped with the requisite skills to pause and reflect in the midst of their news reporting and production to assess their capacity for reporting a particular story or addressing a legal or ethical dilemma.

We have developed and refined one approach to achieving this over recent years which we have called ‘mindful journalism’. I’ve  written a short account of the basic principles of mindful journalism in the journal Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, and the editors have been kind enough to make that article available for free viewing as a feature item on their website here. Our book Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (Shelton Gunaratne, Mark Pearson and Sugath Senarath eds; Routledge, NY, 2015)  explored the possibilities of applying mindfulness techniques to journalism practice.

The Asia Pacific Media Educator article explains that in applying the mindful journalism approach to media law, students are taught to work through an eight-point checklist to self-assess their capacity for dealing with an ethical or legal dilemma. When applied to the proposed construction and/or publication of ‘fake news’, the eight points of questioning and reflection might appear as follows:

Understanding – What is my understanding of the media laws relevant to this situation? What are the legal implications of publishing something false – even the false words or constructions of others? What are the risks of publishing something true, which might still be in breach of a law (for example, in breach of a suppression order or in breach of sub judice contempt rules)?

Intent – Why do I even want to report this story? What public interest does it serve? What am I intending to achieve by my involvement in its production?

Livelihood – Am I in the right occupation here? Where does the task I am approaching (‘fake news’) sit within my career definition?

Speech – What is the factual basis to the words I am selecting and how are they best selected and crafted to demonstrate truth, accuracy and good faith? Whose voices are in my story and is there a sufficient range of voices and perspective to earn the relevant defences? What needs to be said that is not being said in this story, contributing to falsities, misunderstandings, or imputations about others?

Actions – What aspects of my behavior in this reporting and publishing sit within the bounds of the law and the defences to which I aspire? How do I manage the fact-checking of the words others are saying here and how do I explain any falsities to my audience? Can the publication of my story be delayed until I can substantiate any claims with further evidence?

Effort – To what extent am I trying to follow both the letter and spirit of the law in the pursuit of this story? How hard have I worked to gather evidence to prove the truth of the facts in my story, and to give all key stakeholders the opportunity to speak and respond?

Mindfulness – What techniques of self-reflection and micro-meditation upon media law risks and approaches have I learned and implemented? What time have I devoted to working through each of the other factors here and in applying them to my situation at hand?

Concentration – How accomplished is my concentration upon the multiplicity of legal dimensions to the story in focus? How well have I focused upon each of them and worked systematically through its elements and the extent to which I have addressed them?

Interested? Please go to the Sage site to access the full article.

If you are interested in reading more about my application of mindful journalism to media law and ethics, please see my treatment of its relationship to defamation in the International Communication Gazette in my article titled ‘Enlightening communication analysis in Asia-Pacific: Media studies, ethics and law using a Buddhist perspective’. Its abstract and link to the full article is available here. See also the mindful approach to navigating mental health reporting restrictions I used with colleague Tom Morton, reported in the Pacific Journalism Review article “Zones of Silence”, accessible here.


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.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Filed under Buddhism, contempt of court, defamation, Eightfold Path, free expression, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, mindful journalism, Uncategorized

DEFAMATION CASE UPDATE: Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd – identification and offer of amends appealed #MLGriff


CASE UPDATE: Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd – 2015, 2016 and 2017

I blogged in 2016 about a case where the mistaken identification of an innocent octogenarian tailor in place of his alleged gun-running son produced a useful case study for media law educators trying to explain the basic elements of defamation.

Indeed, the NSW District Court case of Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Limited & Ors [2015] NSWDC 232 remains an excellent introduction to defamation, although in October 2016 the NSW Court of Appeal overturned the publisher’s defence of “offer of amends” which was originally granted by the lower court, in the appeal case of Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd [2016] NSWCA 283, and awarded the plaintiff $150,000 in damages. The appellant, Mr Tony Zoef, also had a partial victory in a more recent appeal over the backdating of the damages award, costs and interest owing in Zoef v Nationwide News Pty Ltd (No 2) [2017] NSWCA 2.

The first appeal is useful for educators explaining identification issues in defamation and the “offer of amends” defence requirements under s 18 of the Defamation Act 2005 (NSW) (Defamation Act) – and its equivalent in other Australian jurisdictions – while the 2017 appeal holds little value for media law teachers.

The case centred upon an article published in The Daily Telegraph on 22 August 2013.

It appeared a relatively straightforward case of confused identity, where the reporter mistakenly attributed to the older Mr Zoef – a suburban Sydney tailor – the alleged crimes of his son who lived at the same address. At trial, the sole basis on which Mr Zoef’s claim was dismissed was the newspaper’s defence that Mr Zoef had failed unreasonably to accept its offer of amends.

The article in the Telegraph (22-8-13, p. 9) carried the heading “Tailor’s alter ego as a gunrunner”, which might also make an interesting topic of discussion for students around the issue of sub judice contempt: Does such a heading carry a presumption of the accused’s guilt when accompanying a report of a preliminary court appearance? [The article in question is attached to the judgment as a pdf file.]

The article portrayed a then 81-year-old suburban tailor (with a distinctive surname ‘Zoef’) as a gun-runner who had been arrested, charged and appeared in court facing charges related to him holding a huge cache of weapons and ammunition at his home.

Police had indeed raided his premises and had found weapons and ammunition in the house’s garage, occupied by the tailor’s 43-year-old son, who shared his father’s name and was the actual individual who had appeared in court facing those charges.

As I blogged in 2016, the trial judgment by District Court Judge Leonard Levy is a fascinating one for student discussion because several basic concepts in defamation were contested and resolved, including:

  • imputations – how they are worded and presented
  • the misidentification’s impact on the plaintiff’s relationships, business and emotional state
  • the question of identification and case law establishing the extent of defamation of a second person with the same name and address as the first [*** considered on appeal].
  • whether a claim for defamation will hold when some other identifying factors do not match one of the named individuals. [In this case, while the headline identified the plaintiff as a tailor, the article featured a small photograph of his 43 year old son and mentioned the younger man’s age]. [*** considered on appeal].
  • whether the defences of a fair report of proceedings of public concern could apply when there were serious inaccuracies in the article
  • whether an offer of amends had been reasonable and whether it had been accepted by the plaintiff [***the trial judge’s decision which was subsequently overturned on appeal].

The trial judge had held that, despite the serious errors in the reporting of the story and a dispute over whether the publisher’s offer of amends was reasonable and had been withdrawn, the newspaper was entitled to the offer of amends defence.

In the leading appeal judgment, Justice Fabian Gleeson stated:

Taking into account the seriousness of the defamatory imputations and the significant hurt they caused the appellant, the damage to his business as a tailor, the unequal prominence the respondent afforded to the proposed correction and apology and their resultant inadequacy, the modest monetary component of the offer, and the likelihood of the proceedings being successful, the offer of amends was not reasonable. His Honour was in error in finding to the contrary and upholding the respondent’s defence under s 18 of the Defamation Act. (at para 78).

His reasons for that decision involved a step-by-step appraisal of the offer of amends defence and thus make useful instructional material for educators wanting to explain this defence to students. It should also serve to remind journalists that the offer of amends is very much a ‘lawyers’ defence’ – not something that should be handled by journalists or editors independent of legal advice – and given its time constraints it means that counsel from lawyers on the efficacy and wording of any such offer should be sought promptly.

The publisher also challenged the trial judge’s findings on whether the plaintiff had been identified in the article when it carried a photograph of his son and stated his age as 43 years old.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial judge’s decision that Mr Zoef Sr had been identified in the article despite those countering factors. Justice Gleeson ruled:

The article in this case contained a prominent and sensational headline, which, when read together with the first paragraph (par 29), would be reasonably understood to refer to the appellant. The strength of the general impression thereby created surpasses and dominates that of the subsequent reference in par 30 to a “43 year old” which is not something the ordinary reasonable reader might be expected to have focused on, let alone re-read or reviewed. It lacked the prominence of the sensational headline and the focus on the local, relatable indicia of the identified person’s name, profession and locality in the foregoing paragraph.

In respect of the photograph, his Honour’s finding that it was “immaterial” is supported by three considerations. One is that the photograph was small, cropped, and, as his Honour found, “less than distinct”. Next, the appellant gave unchallenged evidence in cross-examination that his son was not known to his customers. No identification would therefore have been made on a visual basis by the appellant’s customers. Finally, the use of historical photographs in newspaper articles is not so uncommon as to render unreasonable a conclusion by the ordinary reasonable reader that the article (with an unfamiliar photo) referred yet to the appellant. (paras 159-160).

So there you have it. The Zoef case – both at trial and on appeal – holds valuable lessons for media law students and educators are encouraged to use it as a case study. I have done so successfully with both journalists and tertiary students.


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.

© Mark Pearson 2017

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Filed under blogging, contempt of court, courts, defamation, free expression, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, Press freedom, sub judice, suppression, Uncategorized