Category Archives: media ethics

Danish expert explains European media law #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

Danish School of Media and Journalism media law associate professor Thomas Pallesen visited us at Griffith University this month and delivered guest lectures to my media law classes.

We recorded this interview where he explained the European approach to media law, particularly how courts strike a balance between the rights to free expression and privacy.

View the interview here [10 mins 05 secs, produced by Shenil Ranpura, Griffith University].

 

© Mark Pearson 2018

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.

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John Stuart Mill predicted the likes of Trump and the echo chamber #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

A passage by the great philosopher John Stuart Mill in his seminal work ‘On Liberty’ seems prescient almost 160 years after it was published. It offers insights into ‘false news’ in a ‘post-truth era’.

Much has been written about the sycophants who surround some leaders of politics and business, too fearful to suggest that their views might just be wrong or misguided.

In modern times some have suggested that nobody in the White House would dare question or debate the assertions US President Donald Trump emits daily via Twitter and at rallies of supporters. They have called it the “Emperor with no Clothes” phenomenon.

Related to this is the suggestion that social media and modern means of communication adds to the “echo chamber” where we accept as truth the rumours and assertions of those we “follow” or of commentators on the media channels that best suit our world view.

Again, it is said that the echo chamber for Trump and his supporters centres upon information and commentary in Fox News, which he has excluded from his rants against what he labels ‘fake news’ in other media.

While the communication media might have changed since 1859, there is nothing new about this, because Mill warned us of both phenomena in his landmark text.

I stumbled upon the passage this week when researching an address for a conference session and thought it was timely to share it with you here.

It offers important insights into our conceptions of “truth” and adds credence to better education in fact checking and source assessment, not just for journalists but also for the broader citizenry:

Absolute princes, or others who are accustomed to unlimited deference, usually feel this complete confidence in their own opinions on nearly all subjects. People more happily situated … place the same unbounded reliance only on such of their opinions as are shared by all who surround them, or to whom they habitually defer: for in proportion to a man’s want of confidence in his own solitary judgment, does he usually repose, with implicit trust, on the infallibility of “the world” in general. And the world, to each individual, means the part of it with which he comes in contact; his party, his sect, his church, his class of society … Nor is his faith in this collective authority at all shaken by his being aware that other ages, countries, sects, churches, classes, and parties have thought, and even now think, the exact reverse. He devolves upon his own world the responsibility of being in the right against the dissentient worlds of other people; … Yet it is as evident in itself as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals; every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present.” – John Stuart Mill (1859). On Liberty. London: John W. Parker and Son. [underscore added by author]

 

© Mark Pearson 2018 and John Stuart Mill 1859

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.

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Why study media law? #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

More than 200 new media law students embark on our seven week summer intensive course next week, so I thought it timely to reflect upon what might be gained from studying media law.

About two thirds will be attending classes in person, while the balance will be undertaking the course online. The cohort is almost evenly divided between journalism, law and communication students, with a few others taking it as an elective.

Here are 10 key benefits of media law study:

  1. Identifying and assessing risks in publishing is the new digital literacy. Traditionally only journalists and some lawyers really needed to know about media law, but now every citizen must know the risks of publishing because we are all now publishers as we post to social media, send emails and release our blogs, videos, films, games, software and images.
  2. Many areas of the law coalesce in ‘media law’, making it an excellent introduction to the legal system for journalists and public relations practitioners and a fertile field of revision and practice for law students.
  3. Media law presents a wonderful opportunity to explore the many competing rights and interests in society as the rights to free expression, information, and a free media compete with other important rights including reputation, a fair trial, privacy, confidentiality, intellectual property and national security, along with the right to be free from discrimination in all its forms.
  4. It affords us a superb showcase of the role of the news media in the varied political systems internationally as governments select different points where free expression should be curtailed. You learn that free expression is a continuum, with fewer restrictions in some nations and alarming censorship in others. International students get to compare Australia’s media laws with those in their home countries.
  5. Just as truth might be shackled by some governments and individuals, media law offers insights into so-called ‘fake news’ and ‘false news’ by demonstrating how fair and accurate reporting and publications can earn special protections and how ethical research and reporting can be rewarded by the courts.
  6. Media law cases are often fascinating portrayals of human foibles, egos and temptations and sometimes have elements of the Shakespearean tragedy where good reporting exposes the abuse of power.
  7. The laws and examples encourage the exercise of mindfulness in communication practice. A few moments spent reflecting upon risk and harm before publication might save you many dollars in fines or damages and perhaps even time in jail. Also, many a media law case could have been avoided by a simple utterance of the word ‘sorry’ and a heart-felt offer of amends (both on legal advice!).
  8. Problem-based media law learning offers a vivid insight into how a prickly legal situation might arise, and helps you navigate a course of action after assessing the legal risks. Robust and truthful journalism can still be produced within the bounds of the law, in some countries at least.
  9. Media law cases and reforms are in the news on a regular basis, adding relevance and topicality to your studies as you watch cases involving real people contested in the courts and covered in the news media.
  10. Finally, you learn that all laws can be improved, so you engage with the continuous process of media law reform. You learn about the reform process, access historical reform recommendations in your research, and have the opportunity to recommend your own reforms in areas of your interest. You are even encouraged to make submissions to current law reform commission and parliamentary inquiries.

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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Article 10 expert discusses free expression as a human right #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

It was a pleasure hosting two esteemed European media and law colleagues over summer.

Recently retired colleagues Emeritus Professor Dirk Voorhoof (University of Ghent) and Dr Inger Høedt-Rasmussen (University of Copenhagen) toured Australia and New Zealand, visiting law schools and media law colleagues along the way.

They recently formed the Legal Human Academy, an organisation based online from Denmark critiquing media law, human rights and legal education issues.

Professor Voorhoof is an acknowledged expert in Article 10 (free expression) rights and cases in Europe, so I took the opportunity to interview him about this for the benefit of media law students.

View the interview here [14 mins 41 secs, produced by Bevan Bache, Griffith University].

 

© Mark Pearson 2018

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.

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Filed under journalism, journalism education, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, Press freedom