Category Archives: free expression

Case study shows the legal pros and cons of a media release

By MARK PEARSON

MEDIA releases are meant to enhance brand reputation but they can sometimes have the reverse effect, as we explain in the forthcoming sixth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2019).


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We profile the Born Brands case (2013), where two media releases had vastly different consequences for the manufacturers of a device to help better position infants during sleep.

The first was particularly successful, generating a news segment on Brisbane Extra about its Babywedge product and an appearance on national morning television (Born Brands case, para. 8).

But the second media release—this time emanating from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)—caused unexpected damage because it warned consumers against using infant sleep positioners.

Babywedge then featured on a Channel 9 news segment among other such products in a story about the potential dangers of infant sleep positioners (at para. 14).

As part of the fallout from the crisis, Born Brands sued the Nine Network for both defamation and injurious falsehood, claiming the news item damaged its reputation as a small corporation (fewer than 10 employees) and that it contained false statements, published with malice, which had caused it actual financial loss (injurious falsehood).

However, the company found no relief because the television network managed to defend both actions successfully, with the court finding the statements were not false and that no malice had been proven (paras 184–9).

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Like earlier editions, our text aims to give professional communicators and students a basic working understanding of the key areas of media law and ethical regulation likely to affect them in their research, writing and publishing across media platforms. It tries to do this by introducing the basic legal concepts while exploring the ways in which a professional communicator’s work practices can be adapted to withstand legal challenges.

If you wish to request a copy for course inspection or media review please contact the publisher, Allen & Unwin, who will have printed copies available from late November.

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 2018

 

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Defending truth: case study from our new edition

By MARK PEARSON

DEFENDING a defamation action using the truth or justification defence can have its hurdles, but this case we profile in the forthcoming sixth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2019) demonstrates how a major publication used it effectively.

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The Vocational Education case

Charan v Nationwide News Pty Ltd [2018] VSC 3

Facts

In late 2015, The Australian newspaper published a print article (‘Watchdog Takes Peak Training College to Court’) and a similar online version (‘ACCC to Take Top Training College Phoenix Institute to Court’). The story was about proposed court action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) against a vocational training college called Phoenix Institute owned by the publicly listed Australian Careers Network. The article mentioned earlier media reports that alleged Phoenix had sent sales staff into housing commission estates, pressuring potential students to join up, and stated that the parent company was under investigation by both the federal Department of Education and the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) and that its shares had been suspended from trading on the stock exchange for the previous month. The article identified the plaintiff, Atkinson Prakash Charan, as one of the company’s heads and stated that he had amassed a $35 million fortune from the vocational education business. In short, it suggested that, ‘whilst under his management, VET organisations acted unscrupulously, in breach of regulatory standards, and that he made a large amount of money as a result of that conduct’ (para. 2). Mr Charan had in fact left the company about a year earlier and the next day The Australian published a correction to that effect in its print edition and later an online apology for the error.

Law

The plaintiff pleaded that eight imputations arose from the article, which the judge grouped into four headings (para. 27):

  1. Mr Charan was head of ACN, a company that engaged in unscrupulous business practices that took advantage of vulnerable consumers.
  2. Mr Charan was head of ACN, a company that engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.
  3. Mr Charan was head of ACN, which engaged in unscrupulous door-to-door marketing practices to vulnerable consumers.
  4. Mr Charan [as head of] ACN carried on a business which was significantly non-compliant with quality standards.

The defendant, Nationwide News—publisher of The Australian—argued successfully that imputations 2 and 3 did not arise in the articles and defended the imputations of unscrupulous business practices and significant non-compliance with quality standards using the justification (truth) defence by proving that the imputations were substantially true as required under section 25 of the Defamation Act 2005. To prove the substantial truth of the unscrupulous conduct allegations, it had to convince the court under the civil burden of proof—the ‘balance of probabilities’—that there was ‘clear and cogent proof’. To do so, it drew upon a host of material obtained after the publication, including:

  • the oral testimony of a number of witnesses who had worked in the Community Training Initiatives (CTI) group
  • the oral testimony of three ‘students’ allegedly enrolled in CTI courses conducted by CTI companies
  • the contents of a series of audit reports, student interviews and file reviews (with associated documentation), carried out in 2015
  • a large number of emails and associated documents flowing to and from Mr Charan and other officers or employees of the CTI companies (para. 77).

The latter included records of phone calls and messages subpoenaed from Mr Charan’s telephone service provider, Telstra.

Justice Forrest found that the plaintiff was ‘was an entirely unreliable witness, not only on this issue but as to all matters relevant to his claim’ (para. 111). He concluded with a concise summary of his 768-paragraph judgment:

(a)   Mr Charan was defamed in both the written and online versions of the article;

(b)  the article defamed him by conveying imputations that:

(1)       Mr Charan managed a VET organisation which engaged in unscrupulous business practices which took advantage of vulnerable consumers which resulted in him making a large amount of money; and

(2)       Mr Charan managed a VET organisation which was significantly non-compliant with quality standards

I am satisfied that Nationwide has established the substantial truth of both imputations (paras 762–3).

Lessons for professional communicators

Several lessons arise from this rare successful use of the justification (substantial truth) defence by a publisher:

  • Considerable evidence can be needed to prove the truth of imputations stemming from an article, and sometimes this has to be located after publication and before trial, although as much evidence as possible should be available at the time of publication;
  • A publisher defendant can still win a case on the pleaded imputations even if there is a basic error in the story—in this case, the fact that Mr Charan had not been formally involved with the management of the company for a year. (Of course, such errors should normally be avoided.)
  • Defamation cases can be enormously expensive. In this case, the 35-day trial was reported to have cost both sides more than $3.5 million in legal fees (Houston, Duke and Vedelago, 2018)

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Like earlier editions, our text aims to give professional communicators and students a basic working understanding of the key areas of media law and ethical regulation likely to affect them in their research, writing and publishing across media platforms. It tries to do this by introducing the basic legal concepts while exploring the ways in which a professional communicator’s work practices can be adapted to withstand legal challenges.

If you wish to request a copy for course inspection or media review please contact the publisher, Allen & Unwin, who will have printed copies available from late November.

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 2018

 

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New edition of media law text available in early 2019

By MARK PEARSON

The sixth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2019) which I co-author with Mark Polden is well into production so it will be ready for the 2019 academic year.

We are making corrections and last minute updates to the first proofs of pages which were delivered for our scrutiny last week.

JGML6eCOVERorangeIn it we try to offer a mindful approach to assessing media law risks so practitioners can navigate legal and ethical barriers to publishing in mainstream and social media.

The sixth edition has been substantially revised to reflect recent developments in litigation, and the impact of national security laws and the rising gig economy where graduates might work in the news media, PR, new media start-ups, or as freelancers. It covers defamation, contempt, confidentiality, privacy, trespass, intellectual property, and ethical regulation, as well as the special challenges of commenting on criminal allegations and trials. Recent cases and examples from social media, journalism and public relations are used to illustrate key points and new developments.

One of the most exciting aspects of media law is its dynamic and ever-evolving nature. It is shaped by the changing face of communication careers, rapid developments in technologies and the social dynamics of politics, economics and culture.

In no period of human history have such changes come about as quickly as in these first two decades of the twenty-first century. We have updated this book to reflect the many changes that have occurred in media law and its interpretation since our last edition in 2015.

Our target audience has broadened with each edition as technologies such as the internet and social media have combined to transform journalism and its allied professional communication careers, including public relations, strategic communication, social media management, professional blogging and their many hybrids.

While the book is Australian in its orientation, media law is now international in its application as the internet and its resultant communication platforms leave Australian communicators and their employers subject to publishing laws across hundreds of jurisdictions internationally. The book tries to offer a taste of such risks faced by those working internationally, while still detailing the most important restrictions and defences in Australia’s nine jurisdictions at the national, state and territory levels.

Professional communicators are now working in the so-called ‘gig economy’. Their contract work might see them working as a freelance journalist on one assignment, as a media adviser in the next stage of their career, or perhaps as a new media entrepreneur hosting public comments on some innovative news platform. At a secondary level, they are also in a ‘gig economy’ because their outputs can involve many gigabytes of communication in an instant—presenting dangers for those ignorant of the laws and regulations that might apply.

The new edition retains the basic chapter structure of its predecessor, but the content within those chapters has been revised to include fresh and ground-breaking new cases, legislative amendments and important new laws and interpretations of some issues. Recent research has shown that media law is no longer a contest between large media organisations and the rich and famous of society. There is a much larger proportion of litigation between ordinary citizens over what they have said about each other on social media or on private websites. This is also reflected in the kinds of cases we profile.

Some highlights of important new content covered in the sixth edition include:

  • consideration of several recent High Court decisions impacting on free expression, publication and media law defences

  • legal implications of ‘fake’ or false news

  • a new table summarising the mindful approach to media law practice, mapping situations against approaches

  • major criminal cases challenging the boundaries of open justice, including those involving high profile church figures and celebrities

  • new case studies in navigating crime reporting with a focus on the Yahoo!7 story that prompted the discharge of a jury in a murder trial

  • significant developments in defamation law, including record damages awards to actor Rebel Wilson (reduced after appeal) and barrister Lloyd Rayney, and litigation involving actor Geoffrey Rush

  • important new research showing that many more defamation actions are being brought by private individuals over internet and social media publications, as distinct from celebrities suing the media

  • examination of publisher liability for the comments of third parties in the wake of several new cases, with some holding publishers responsible

  • an update on confidentiality of sources, including some new breach of confidence actions and some cases testing the limits of new shield laws for journalists

  • a review of the suite of new anti-terrorism laws impacting the media’s reporting of crime and national security and jeopardising the confidentiality of their sources

  • key new intellectual property cases that have shed light on the media’s use of material sourced from the internet and social media

  • significant cases showing the rapidly developing body of privacy law in the digital era

  • new material in the law of freelancing, public relations and new media entrepreneurship showing the growing legal risks and responsibilities at the business end of communication practice.

There is also an increased emphasis on the higher pressure and pace of the 24/7 news cycle across a range of media, exacerbating the risks to communicators and publishers through their own work and the contributions of third-party commenters on their social media feeds and sites.

Like earlier editions, the book aims to give professional communicators and students a basic working understanding of the key areas of media law and ethical regulation likely to affect them in their research, writing and publishing across media platforms. It tries to do this by introducing the basic legal concepts while exploring the ways in which a professional communicator’s work practices can be adapted to withstand legal challenges.

If you wish to request a copy for course inspection or media review please contact the publisher, Allen & Unwin, who will have printed copies available from late November.

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 2018

 

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Filed under citizen journalism, contempt of court, free expression, journalism, local government, media ethics, media law, Media regulation, social media, sub judice

Be wary of the legal risks of a media conference

By MARK PEARSON

Press conferences might seem fairly straightforward opportunities for a source or client to get their side of the story across, but they can have considerable legal risks attached.

We explore these situations in the forthcoming sixth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2019) and I share some of those here.

Words uttered at media conferences in Adelaide and Perth were at the centre of defamation actions in 2012 and 2017. In the Nightclub case, a Hindley Street nightclub owner called a press conference to announce an initiative to increase public safety and reduce violence in the central Adelaide precinct. Almost two years later, he sued a neighbouring travel agency operator over a statement he alleged she had uttered in the midst of that media conference. He claimed the travel agency owner had announced loudly to the media gathered at the conference that he—the nightclub owner—was responsible for all the violence in Hindley Street. After hearing from several witnesses (including the nightclub’s public relations consultant), the District Court judge found for the defendant. He said it was more likely the interjector had not made such a blatant defamatory allegation against the nightclub owner and, even if she had, he would only have awarded $7500 in damages. There was no evidence of a recording having been made of the words she had spoken.

However, words spoken by a detective in a media conference resulted in Western Australia’s highest award of defamation damages in 2017. Detective Senior Sergeant Jack Lee had described Perth barrister Lloyd Rayney as the ‘prime’ and ‘only’ suspect in widely broadcast press conferences about the investigation into his wife Corryn’s 2007 murder (Barrister’s wife case, 2017). Rayney was acquitted of her murder in 2012 in one of the state’s highest profile cases. He then proceeded to sue the state over the detective’s comments in those media conferences back in 2007 and won $2.623 million in damages. The Western Australian Supreme Court held that the state should not qualify for the qualified privilege defence because Detective Lee had gone far beyond what was appropriate in the circumstances with which he was confronted, and, especially having regards to the seriousness of the offence being investigated and the obvious professional damage that loose language would inflict on Mr Rayney (para. 165). Errors and misstatements meant the detective had not exercised reasonable care in his responses to questions, losing the statutory qualified privilege defence, and went beyond a police officer’s duty to keep the public informed, thus forfeiting the common law qualified privilege defence (para. 173). (The quantum of damages may be subject to appeal.)

This followed the line of reasoning by the South Australian Supreme Court’s Full Court when it rejected the SA Police use of the qualified privilege defence in a defamation case brought by a former newspaper photographer who was a suspect in a murder (Murder suspect case, 2015). The court held that a media release and a press conference hosted by police ‘fell wholly outside the interest or duty of the police to provide information necessary to obtain such assistance from the public as may potentially be available and outside the interest of members of the public to receive such information’. There was no public interest to be served by police going into the details of the crime or the state of their investigation or the fact of their suspicions at that time in relation to the suspect (at paras 437–8).

The NSW Supreme Court held in the Councillor’s case (2017) that giving an interview to a journalist or hosting a press conference renders whoever is speaking responsible for any defamatory material conveyed in that interview or press conference because they ‘both intended its republication and understood it would be republished, either in whole or in part’ (at para. 64). The court ruled that, ‘In the circumstances of a press conference, or interview by the press, express authority or a request to publish is not necessary’ (at para. 65).

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 2018

 

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Social media developments have legal implications and require a new literacy

By MARK PEARSON

Every new development in Internet and social media communication renders countless new people ‘publishers’ –  exposed to risky media law situations they might never have anticipated. 


Advances in communication technology in this new millennium have redefined the ways in which most of us share news and information. Industry upheaval and technological disruption have prompted many journalists to retool as bloggers, public relations consultants, multimedia producers and social media editors.

These roles add exciting new dimensions to journalism and strategic communications—including conversations and engagement with audiences and instant global publishing at the press of a button. But they also present new legal risks that most professional communicators – and even ordinary citizens – did not envisage in the twentieth century.

The changes have been so profound that they have impacted the ways we live and organise our lives and work practices. It is only when we review some of the milestones of the internet and Web 2.0, together with the legal and regulatory changes they have prompted, that we start to appreciate the need for all professional communicators to be knowledgeable about media law.

While the worldwide connection of computers, giving rise to the phenomenon we know as the internet, dates back to the early 1980s, it did not start to impact the lives of ordinary citizens until the mid-1990s. Melbourne’s Age newspaper became one of the first in the world to offer an online edition in 1995 (van Niekerk, 2005). Over the ensuing years, entrepreneurs started to embrace the commercial potential of the World Wide Web, just as consumers began to use it to source products and services, and students began to engage with it as an educational tool—predominantly from their desktop computers.

By the end of 2016, there were approximately 13.5 million internet subscribers in Australia (ABS, 2017). It was not until August 2003 that the first major social networking platform, MySpace, was launched in California. It was the leading social networking site in the world from 2005 until 2008, when it was surpassed in popularity by Facebook, which by 2017 had almost two billion monthly users, including 15 million in Australia (Media Watch, 2017). In the six months to June 2016, 93 per cent of internet users aged 18 to 24 used social networking sites (ACMA, 2016:  58). Streaming of entertainment and news has also become part of daily life.

In June 2016, 39 per cent of Australian adults had watched Netflix in the previous seven days, while 27 per cent had watched professional content on YouTube and 16 per cent had viewed the pay television service Foxtel (ACMA, 2016: 82). In the United States by 2017, six out of ten young adults were primarily using online streaming to watch television (Rainie, 2017). Associated with this was the remarkable uptake of the mobile telephone and other devices. The iPhone was only launched in 2007, but by 2016 more than three-quarters of Australians owned a smartphone (ACMA, 2016: 18). The iPad was born in mid-2010 into a market segment that many experts thought did not exist, but by 2016 more than half of Australians used or owned a tablet device (ACMA, 2016: 55).

Even more technologies are unfolding rapidly, with implications for both the media and the law, with the increasing use of drone devices for news-gathering purposes and the awe-inspiring Internet of Things (IoT), where everyday devices are all interconnected, offering novel news-gathering and delivery systems for the media but also complex legal ramifications—particularly in the realm of privacy and security law.

Governments, courts and other regulators have been forced to decide on the various rights and interests affected by these new media forms, and some of their decisions have taken private enterprise by surprise. It is a far more difficult task, however, to educate the broader community about social media legal risks.

The core message is that we are all publishers in the eyes of the law when we publish a blog or post to a social media platform, and in that role all citizens are subject to the same laws that have affected journalists and publishers for centuries.

Further, the instantaneous and global nature of the media means that we may also be the subject of foreign laws of countries other than Australia—particularly if we work for a multinational corporation, or choose to travel to, or have had material we wrote downloaded in, a place where our posts might have broken the law or infringed upon someone’s rights. These laws include defamation, contempt of court, intellectual property, confidentiality, privacy, discrimination and national security.

All this makes a strong argument for greater social media literacy among professional communicators and the wider community.

[Excerpted from Pearson, M. and Polden, M. (2019, 6th edition, forthcoming). The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law. A Legal Handbook for Digital Communicators. (Allen & Unwin, Sydney).]

References

Australian Associated Press (AAP) 2017, ‘Changes to media ownership laws’, SBS, 14 September, <www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/09/14/changes-media-ownership-laws>.

Australian Bureau of Statistics] 2017, Internet Activity, Australia, December 2016, cat. no. 8153, ABS, Canberra, <www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8153.0>.

Australian Communications and Media Authority] 2016, Communications Report 2015–2016. ACMA, Sydney, <www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/Library/researchacma/Research-reports/communications-report-2015-16>.

van Niekerk, M. 2005, ‘Online to the future’, The Age, 28 January, <www.theage.com.au/news/National/Online-to-the-future/2005/01/27/1106415726255.html>.


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 2018

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Defamation research and social media mean it’s time to consider reform

By MARK PEARSON

The Sydney Morning Herald recently published my commentary welcoming the NSW Government’s rethink of defamation law in the light of recent research showing a large number of cases involve ordinary citizens (rather than celebrities) and social media posts (as distinct from media publications).

It was titled ‘Social media gives people a wider audience for their bile – and defamation laws must reflect that’.

Here is the extended unedited version for those with a special interest:

The decision to review NSW defamation laws announced yesterday is overdue, and changes need to address several aspects of the legislation as well as the very human flaws of vindictive remarks, fragile egos and ignorance of the law.

NSW District Court defamation expert Judge Judith Gibson called for reform this week, pointing to the rise of Internet-related defamation cases, a phenomenon unanticipated when uniform defamation laws were introduced throughout Australia in a landmark 2005 reform.

Her argument was underscored by research released last week by the UTS Centre for Media Transition which found that more than half of defamation cases over the past five years involved reputational damage in a digital medium, up from 17 per cent in 2007 when social media was in its infancy.

The common perception that defamation cases typically involve celebrities suing the media for millions of dollars – like recent litigants Rebel Wilson and Geoffrey Rush – is a myth. The study showed that among the 189 decided cases from 2013-2017, only one third of defendants were media companies, and only about one fifth of those bringing the action were celebrities or public figures.

When you read the detail on the cases, it becomes clear that most defamation cases are contests between ordinary citizens over negative remarks they have made about each other on social media, websites, emails and other means of digital communication.

With the advent of social media, everyone is a publisher in the eyes of defamation law – and many more people in far-flung places can see or hear the nasty things we say about each other.

Broken friendships, business disagreements and political or moral debates escalate and get vindictive and personal.

There was the first Twitter case where a misguided former student posted a social media character assassination against a school teacher because he mistakenly thought she had cost his father his job.

And the disgruntled businessman who used the social media platform WeChat and targeted emails to tell the world a meat trader was a conman, corrupt and a criminal, with no factual basis.

And the Victorian junior football umpire with Asperger’s Syndrome who was taunted on a US autism website with falsities that he was a pedophile and was faking his condition.

For centuries there have been some people inclined to write poison pen letters, spread nasty rumours and to post sick messages on public noticeboards and toilet walls. The Internet and social media has given them a wide audience for their bile and some of these now result in defamation trials.

Prior to the 2005 reforms, defamation law in Australia was a complicated mess. Major variations existed across the states and territories on a host of issues, including the limitation periods in which people could bring an action and the defences available. ‘Forum shopping’ was rife, with plaintiffs selecting the jurisdiction where the law best suited their case.

The reforms were remarkable in that attorneys-general in eight states and territories reached agreement and forged the changes through their parliaments.

But those laws are desperately in need of reform if they are to catch up with the social and technological changes of the past decade.

The ‘offer of amends’ system introduced with the last reforms was a novel initiative to keep actions out of court with encouragement for an early offer of damages and an apology. But it is complex, often appealed, and other mediation incentives should be put in place to educate parties about settling their differences earlier to avoid the public and personal expense and distress of litigation. Alternative remedies to damages and injunctions would be a bonus.

The triviality defence is flawed and needs to include something of the flavor of the UK’s “serious harm” test – requiring serious reputational harm as a prerequisite to an action.

Changes also need to encourage public interest journalism rather than punish it.

Journalists deserve a stronger public interest (qualified privilege) defence which does not fail when they refuse to reveal their confidential sources and allows for minor errors in important exposés.

And the truth defence should be narrowed to focus on the single most obvious defamatory meaning to give certainty to the reportage so that lawyers do not generate more obscure meanings a journalist might never have anticipated when researching a story.

The implied freedom to communicate on matters of government – a welcome but technical initiative of the High Court – should be enshrined as a formal statutory defence and satirists should get their own defence to better protect robust political critique via parody and satire.

But in tandem with defamation reforms we need government investment in digital legal literacy. School and adult learning curricula must include the basic legalities of social media and Internet use – stressing the key risks posed by defamatory and contemptuous posts.

Teachers might use some of those moral aphorisms our mothers used to tell us.

They would scold us over our nasty comments with “Do not say to others what you would not want said to you”.

And they would soothe our fragile egos:  and “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

Education and mediation encouraging mindful communication might resolve some defamation actions before they even start.

 


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 2018

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Making the case for a discipline [Book Review from Australian Journalism Review]

By MARK PEARSON

There has been much debate over many years about the place of journalism education in the academy,  whether journalism is even a ‘discipline’ on a par with others, and whether a journalism methodology should be considered ‘academic’ research.

Chris Nash offers a refreshing and thoughtful perspective on these issues in his recent book What is journalism?: The art and politics of a rupture (2016), London, Palgrave MacMillan, which I reviewed for the December 2017 issue of Australian Journalism Review.

Here, I offer the unedited version of that review as submitted.

Making the case for a discipline [Book Review]

Australian Journalism Review
Volume 39 Issue 2 (Dec 2017)

Pearson, Mark (Reviewed by)
Abstract: Review(s) of: What is journalism?: The art and politics of a rupture, by Nash, C. (2016), London, Palgrave MacMillan, ISBN 9781137399335 hbk, 9781137399342 ebk, hbk, ebk, 247pp, $136 hbk, $116 ebk.

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To cite this article: Pearson, Mark. Making the case for a discipline [Book Review] [online]. Australian Journalism Review, Vol. 39, No. 2, Dec 2017: 213-214. Availability: <https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=360615283766665;res=IELLCC&gt; ISSN: 0810-2686. [cited 16 Feb 18].

Personal Author: Pearson, Mark; Source: Australian Journalism Review, Vol. 39, No. 2, Dec 2017: 213-214 Document Type: Journal Article, Book Review ISSN: 0810-2686 Subject: Journalism; Journalistic ethics; Mass media–Social aspects;

 

Nash, C. (2016). What is Journalism? The Art and Politics of a Rupture. London: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-137-39933-5 hdbk / ISBN 978-1-137-39934-2 ebook; pp. 247; RRP $136 hdbk / $116 ebook

Reviewed by Mark Pearson

Chris Nash reaffirms his place as a leading intellectual in Australian journalism education with this book exploring the theoretical and methodological status of journalism in the academy.

While the main title – What is Journalism? – might be suggestive of an introductory undergraduate text or even a careers guide, the subtitle The Art and Politics of a Rupture establishes Nash’s higher purpose – to develop and map a status for quality journalism as an academic method and discipline in its own right rather than mere fodder for ‘true’ academic disciplines like history, sociology, philosophy and media studies.

“As far as other disciplines are largely concerned, there is no issue to discuss; there is scholarship, there is journalism, and they are different,” Nash writes. “Journalist scholars are being crushed in a glacial silence, caught between the continuing innovations and achievements in professional practice and the wall of resistance in the academic world. The position is untenable. (p. 236).

This is a book targeted at the academy and graduate journalism students, particularly those experienced journalists undertaking doctoral research degrees in journalism.

In a precise yet accessible narrative, Nash centres his argument upon the fulcrum of an epistemological ‘rupture’ – when artist Hans Haacke’s exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 1971 was cancelled by the museum director because three of the works were “not art but journalism” – in a “high-profile act of repudiation” (pp. 1 and 203).

Nash juxtaposes this case study (and suspends the question of whether journalism can, in fact, be art) against an analysis of two works of non-fiction by I.F. Stone, regarded as among the greatest journalists of the twentieth century – one critiquing the US role in the Korean War and the other using available artefacts to revisit the events surrounding the ancient Trial of Socrates.

Nash proceeds to elicit frameworks (some presented as conceptual matrices) – drawn from Pierre Bourdieu, David Harvey, Henri Lefebvre, Michel-Rolph Trouillot and Gaye Tuchman – to identify key components of what might constitute journalism, including space, time, social relations and imagination. He treats as methodological challenges journalism’s purported shortcomings as an academically acceptable research output – the elusive notion of ‘news sense’, the focus on a present without context and the unquestioning dependence on powerful establishment sources.

The result is a novel and important contribution to the debate about the constituent components of journalism at its best.

‘News sense’ is that opaque quality, a sixth sense for identifying newsworthiness in a given set of facts that might make it a story – a facility journalists are meant to either possess innately or learn on the job. In Australian journalism education it was so closely identified with what it meant to be a journalist that Adelaide Advertiser cadet trainer Bob Jervis adopted it as the title of his leading craft-oriented journalism textbook in 1985.

Nash elevates this ‘nose for news’ beyond its trade school status by building it into “a theory that validated the reflexivity of what appears to be intuition” and links it to spatiotemporarity (p. 109). To do so, he invokes Bourdieu’s field theory and its incumbent concept of ‘habitus’ as a metatheoretical framework.

As predominantly a media law scholar, I am in awe of Nash’s command of the body of intellectual literature that backgrounds his argument – which he explains in his clear and erudite style and then weaves it meticulously into his model (not a ‘theory’, he insists) of what journalism truly is.

In an era of technologically, economically and culturally disrupted journalism, Nash might have found more room to flesh out the important question of journalistic identity – in both the form of self-identity of those who practice journalism and the acknowledgement of others (peers and audiences) that the work produced is indeed journalism. Self-identity involves journalists’ self-labelling as ‘journalists’ rather than as historians, artists, strategic communicators, PR practitioners or sociologists. It was a crucial distinction between the two main protagonists in his study – Haacke who produced works of ‘journalism’ but who identified as an artist, and Stone who identified as a journalist but produced incisive historical and political analysis yet eschewed the academy.

There are parallels with indigenous identity here – genetics alone are not enough. And this is where peer and audience acceptance plays a role in who might be a journalist and whether the work they produce might be accepted as ‘journalism’, whether or not it meets the Nash criteria for journalism of such a high quality and standard of reflexivity that it might also stand as acceptable academic research.

Linked here is the journalist’s sense of audience, which Nash acknowledges:

This public morality sits well with journalism because a defining element of journalism is its public voice. It is possible for scholars in other disciplines to directly address only one another through academic texts and conference presentations, but journalism must always directly address a notional public and use a public voice. (p. 227).

All of this has practical implications for pragmatic issues like government agencies’ proffering a field of research code to journalism and universities’ acceptance of works of journalism as academic research outputs. In short, Nash has offered tools for such debates with this important addition to the international literature on journalism epistemology, theory and methodology.

The global positioning and application of his thesis is a crucial component of his achievement. It is heartening to see an Australian journalism educator take the world stage with this impressive scholarly contribution.


The review sits within an excellent edition of AJR – the last edited by my esteemed colleague Professor Ian Richards – recently retired from the University of South Australia. A heartfelt welcome to  new editor, Dr Kathryn Bowd from the University of Adelaide.

Here are the contents of Ian’s final edition. I recommend it to you and your libraries for subscription.

Australian Journalism Review

Volume 39 Issue 2 (Dec 2017)

Publisher: Journalism Education AssociationISSN: 0810-2686Publication Type: JournalSubjects: Media; Newspapers; Journalism Coverage: Volume 31, Issue 1 (July 2009) – onwards (Comprehensive)Peer Reviewed: Yes

Database: Literature & Culture Collection

Editorial
Obituaries
Health Journalism
10

Outlining a model of social journalism for health

Sweet, Melissa; Geia, Lynore; Dudgeon, Pat; McCallum, Kerry; Finlay, Summer May; Williams, Megan; McInerney, Marie; Armstrong, Ruth; Doggett, Jennifer; Coopes, Amy; Ward, Mitchell J; Senior, Tim; Ricketson, Matthew

11

#JustJustice: Rewriting the roles of journalism in Indigenous health

Williams, Megan; Finlay, Summer May; Sweet, Melissa; McInerney, Marie

Articles
Emerging Scholars
Book Reviews
22

Cogent account of media influence

Spurgeon, Christina

Contributor Notes
Ethics Statement

 

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 2018

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