Category Archives: terrorism

INFORRM a highly recommended resource for journalists and media law students #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON

Congratulations to UK-based media law blog INFORRM (INternational Forum for Responsible Media) on reaching an impressive 4 million hits since it started seven years ago.

The site – international but with an understandable UK orientation – boasts more than 5,500 followers including  3,500 on Twitter @inforrm.

INFORRM has just listed its Top Twenty Posts of all time (in descending order of popularity):

From time to time over recent years they have been kind enough to repost my blogs or commentary pieces, including these:

Australia: Whither media reform under Abbott? – Mark Pearson

25 11 2013

Where will the new Liberal-National Coalition government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott head with the reform of media regulation? Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis were vocal opponents of the former Gillard Government’s proposals to merge press self-regulation with broadcast co-regulation into a new framework.

Read the rest of this entry »

Privacy in Australia – a timeline from colonial capers to racecourse snooping, possum perving and delving drones – Mark Pearson

13 10 2013

Australia MapThe interplay between the Australian media and privacy laws has always been a struggle between free expression and the ordinary citizen’s desire for privacy. I have developed this timeline to illustrate that tension. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Privacy On Parade – Mark Pearson

12 05 2012

The right to privacy is a relatively modern international legal concept. Until the late 19th century gentlemen used the strictly codified practice of the duel to settle their disputes over embarrassing exposés of their private lives.

The first celebrity to convert his personal affront into a legal suit was the author of The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas père, who in 1867 sued a photographer who had attempted to register copyright in some steamy images of Dumas with the ‘Paris Hilton’ of the day – 32-year-old actress Adah Isaacs Menken. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Australia: News Media Council proposal: be careful what you wish for – Mark Pearson

10 03 2012

The Finkelstein (and Ricketson) Independent Media Inquiry report released on 28 February 2012 is a substantial and well researched document with a dangerously flawed core recommendation.

An impressive distillation of legal, philosophical and media scholarship (compulsory reading for journalism students) and worthy recommendations for simpler codes and more sensitivity to the needs of the vulnerable are overshadowed by the proposal that an ‘independent’ News Media Council be established, bankrolled by at least Aus$2 million of government funding annually. Read the rest of this entry »

 

Consumer law holds solution to grossly irresponsible journalism – Mark Pearson

9 11 2011

This post originally appeared on the Australian Journlaw blog.  It suggests an interesting new approach to media regulation which, as far as we know, has not been suggested in debates in this country.  We are reproducing it with permission and thanks to provide a further perspective on those debates.

Australia does not need a media tribunal with regulatory powers to punish ethical transgressions.  It already has one – in the form of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (“ACCC”). Read the rest of this entry »


… as well as occasional snippets in their useful Law and Media Roundup section and this review of my book Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued by media lawyer Leanne O’Donnell:

Book Review: Mark Pearson “Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued” – Leanne O’Donnell

11 04 2012

Professor Mark Pearson’s Blogging & Tweeting Without Getting Sued will be welcomed by anyone writing online … Melbourne media lawyer Leanne O’Donnell reviews this timely legal guide to a rapidly evolving media landscape

Mark Pearson’s new book Blogging & Tweeting Without Getting Sued: A global guide to the law for anyone writing online – is very accessible guide to laws relevant to the all those writing online. Read the rest of this entry »


I find the INFORRM “Blogroll” is a particularly useful resource – regularly updated and featuring these media law blogs from throughout the world. Together they provide a wonderful resource for media law students, journalists and researchers. (Thanks for including journlaw.com,  INFORRM!)

Surely sufficient bedtime reading for even the most avid media law geek!

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, citizen journalism, contempt of court, courts, defamation, free expression, Freedom of Information, intellectual property, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, Media freedom, media law, Media regulation, Press freedom, Privacy, social media, sub judice, suppression, terrorism

Helping identify a risky media law situation

By MARK PEARSON

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.

ML1

ML3 ML2

ML4

 

 


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

By MARK PEARSON

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 www.reportingislam.org ]. 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

By MARK PEARSON

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

By MARK PEARSON

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

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

Designing a media law course for reflection in action

By MARK PEARSON

 

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

Leave a comment

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

Scandalising the court – backgrounding the recent Victorian Court of Appeal matter

By MARK PEARSON

The ancient contempt charge of ‘scandalising the court’ appeared alive and well last month when the Victorian Court of Appeal formally stated its concerns about criticisms made by three Australian government Ministers, published in the national daily newspaper The Australian.

The statement noted:

Given that the court’s decisions in both cases were pending, the court is concerned that the attributed statements were impermissible at law and improperly made in an attempt to influence the court in its decision or decisions. Further, the court is concerned that some of the statements purported to scandalise the court. That is by being calculated to improperly undermine public confidence in the administration of justice in this state in respect of the disposition of the appeals that the court has presently under consideration.

The court was further concerned that the attributed statements were made by three ministers of the Crown. The statements on their face:

  • Fail to respect the doctrine of separation of powers;

  • Breach the principle of sub judice; and

  • Reflect a lack of proper understanding of the importance to our democracy of the independence of the judiciary from the political arms of government.

The newspaper and the three ministers narrowly escaped contempt by apologising for their comments criticising the judiciary in the midst of two major terrorism trials.

Given the fact that the contempt charge of scandalising the court was front and centre in the debate, I reproduce here my 2008 article from the Pacific Journalism Review explaining that charge, its origins, and recent application.


Pearson, M. (2008, April). Scandalising media freedom: Resurrection of an ancient contempt. Pacific Journalism Review, 14(1), 64-78.

Abstract

The ancient charge of “scandalising the court” (publications aiming at lowering the authority of the court) has had a resurgence in Australia over the past decade, at the very time judges and magistrates have developed an inclination to sue for defamation. The combined effect is to send a warning to media organisations to take care when criticising judicial officers or the judicial process, particularly if that involves implying some improper motive on the part of a judge or magistrate. In New Zealand there have been some isolated but significant threats and cases, particularly in the volatile area of family law. This paper reviews some recent Australian and New Zealand cases where a charge of scandalising the court has been either threatened or enforced and considers the implications for freedom of media expression in a new era of anti-terrorism when important questions are being asked about the fairness of justice processes.

The form of contempt of court known as ‘scandalising the court’ – defined as ‘any act done or writing published calculated to bring the court or a judge of the court into contempt or to lower his authority’ (R v. Gray, 1900) – has long been used by small African and Pacific Island states as a mechanism for silencing media criticism of the judicial process. (See, for example, Attorney-General v. Namoa, 2000; and Chaudhary v Attorney-General, 1999; where it was used recently in Tonga and Fiji). In Canada the offence has been found incompatible with that country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in the United Kingdom it has not been prosecuted successfully against the media since 1931 and in the United States it does not exist at all (Weisenhaus, 2007, pp. 74-75). Sadly, it has been revitalised in Australia over the past decade at the very time members of the judiciary have begun to sue for defamation, presenting a dual affront to media freedom. It has also been used in a notable case in New Zealand and threatened in another. This is despite the fact that the legislature in New Zealand and the High Court in Australia have made moves to enshrine freedom of communication, in New Zealand with a Bill of Rights and in Australia within a series of decisions through the 1990s guaranteeing free speech on governmental and political matters. This paper considers briefly the background to scandalising contempt before reviewing the key cases in the field and considering the resulting implications for judicial critique in the media.

Background to scandalising the court

One of the most famous examples of scandalising the court was the attack in the Birmingham Daily Argus upon Crown Court Justice Darling at the turn of the last century. Editor Howard Alexander Gray was convicted of contempt for his tirade against the good justice, describing him as an “impudent little man in horse-hair, a microcosm of conceit and empty-headedness” (R. v. Gray, 1900).

The term ‘scandalising’ was described in the Australian High Court in 1935 as applying to:

publications which tend to detract from the authority and influence of judicial determinations, publications calculated to impair the confidence of the people in the Court’s judgments because the matter published aims at lowering the authority of the Court as a whole or that of its judges and excites misgivings as to the integrity, propriety and impartiality brought to the exercise of the judicial office

(R. v. Dunbabin; Ex parte Williams, 1935, p. 442).

This type of contempt can be committed by publishing material scandalising the courts or judges by abusing them in scurrilous terms, alleging they are corrupt or lack integrity, or that they have bowed to outside influences in reaching their decisions (Pearson, 2007, p. 109). Historically, the courts have been tolerant of reasonable criticism. Lord Atkin summed up the approach with this quote in 1936: ‘Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, though outspoken, comments of ordinary men’ (Ambard v. Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago, p. 335). This statement reinforced the fact that in Britain the offence was considered to have become obsolete in 1899, as Butler and Rodrick note (2004, p. 282). But, they continue:

This declaration turned out to be premature. The offence remains extant in England, although it has been described as quiescent, as there have been no convictions for scandalising contempt for almost 70 years. In Australia there is no doubt that the offence continues to exist. In fact, prosecutions are relatively common.

As this paper sets out to establish, scandalising charges have become even more common in recent years, a disturbing development for media freedom.

The two best-known cases in this area in Australia in the late 20th century were called the ‘BLF cases’, as both involved officials of the militant union, the Builders’ Labourers Federation — Jack Mundey and Norm Gallagher — a decade apart. In each case, the accused had made comments (picked up by the media) implying that judges had bowed to union pressure in reaching their decisions. The first, Attorney-General (NSW) v. Mundey (1972), occurred during the heat of the anti-apartheid protests against South Africa in the early 1970s. Members of the Builders’ Labourers Federation had sawn off the goalposts at the Sydney Cricket Ground in the prelude to a rugby Test match between Australia and South Africa’s Springboks. After their trials, a union official, Jack Mundey, told the media the judge should have allowed evidence of broader political material in their defence, such as United Nations documentation on South Africa’s race policies. Mundey claimed there had been a miscarriage of justice and that the judge was a racist. Mundey was charged with contempt for these comments, but the charges were dismissed in the Supreme Court because Mundey’s comments about the judge being a racist needed to be considered in the broader context of his comments about racism throughout Australian society. The court ruled that Mundey would have been in contempt if he had implied that the judge had been motivated by some racist bias against the accused in reaching his decision.

The second BLF case, Gallagher v. Durack (1983), a decade later, had a different result. There, Builders’ Labourers Federation federal secretary Norm Gallagher won a Federal Court appeal against one contempt charge, but his comments about the judicial process landed him in contempt on a new charge of scandalising the court. Gallagher told the media that industrial action by his union members had exerted enough pressure to force the court to reverse the decision to jail him over the first contempt charge. He told one television channel: ‘the rank and file of the union … has shown such fine support of the officials of the union and I believe that by their actions in demonstrating in walking off jobs … I believe that has been the main reason for the court changing its mind’ (Gallagher v. Durack, 1983, p. 239). The Federal Court held that the statement was contemptuous and sentenced Gallagher to three months’ jail. (The court justified the jail sentence on the basis that Gallagher had boasted that if he had been fined the union would pay it for him.) The decision was appealed to the High Court, which upheld the contempt conviction. The court said the whole area of scandalising involved balancing the principle of free speech against the need to maintain public confidence in the judicial system. Gallagher’s insinuation that the Federal Court had bowed to outside pressure in reaching its decision was calculated to undermine public confidence in the Federal Court. Justice Murphy dissented, saying the case raised important principles of both free speech and justice.

In a more recent case, the Anissa Pty Ltd v. Simon Harry Parsons on application of the Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Victoria, (1999, at para. 19), Justice Cummins of the Supreme Court of Victoria summed up the three basic principles of contempt by scandalising the court:

First, proceeding for contempt of court is not and must not be in diminution of free speech. Second, proceeding for contempt of court is to preserve the administration of justice. Third, proceeding for contempt of court is not to protect the individual person of the judge.

A turning point in the law of scandalising was reached with one of the Australian High Court’s famous free speech decisions in 1992 — Nationwide News Pty Ltd v. Wills. There, a newspaper group challenged the federal government’s power to legislate against criticism of the Industrial Relations Commission or its members. The High Court held there was an implied constitutional right to criticise important public institutions and that this legislation infringed that right. However, the court also ruled that the crime of scandalising the court was not obsolete and that two defences applied to it: truth and fair comment (Chesterman 2000: 68). (In other words, it would be a defence to a charge of scandalising the court if you could prove that the substance of your criticisms was true or that your criticisms were made in good faith, were honestly held, fairly conducted and did not imply improper motives on the part of the judiciary.)

In Nationwide News Pty Ltd v. Wills, Mason CJ described scandalising as a ‘well recognised form of criminal contempt’ (at para 21) but suggested there was no contempt at common law ‘if all that the defendant does is to exercise his or her ordinary right to criticise, in good faith, the conduct of the court or the judge’ (at para 21). He stated the judiciary should be open to criticism and cited US Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black stating in Bridges v. California in 1941:

The assumption that respect for the judiciary can be won by
shielding judges from published criticism wrongly appraises the
character of American public opinion. … an enforced silence, however
limited, solely in the name of preserving the dignity of the bench,
would probably engender resentment, suspicion, and contempt much more
than it would enhance respect (pp. 270-271).

Burrows and Cheer (2005, pp. 384-387) offer six danger zones for scandalising the court:

  • Extravagant and scurrilous language;
  • Vendettas against judges;
  • Criticism based on inaccuracies;
  • Accusations of bias or impartiality on the part of the judiciary;
  • Suggestions judges are susceptible to pressure; and
  • The social conditions of the times.

The key recent New Zealand case of scandalising the court, Solicitor-General for NZ v. Smith (2004), also raised issues of free expression in relation to that country’s Bill of Rights Act. The case was explained well by Cheer (2004). The High Court found MP Nick Smith had made several inflammatory media statements about a custody dispute before the Family Court which undermined public confidence in the court and had the potential to interfere with the administration of justice by placing public pressure upon the court. As Burrows and Cheer (2005, p. 386) noted, ‘whichever way the Family Court judge decided the case, the public perception would be affected by seeing the pressure that had been so publicly applied’. It also convicted TV3 and Radio NZ of the same charge and found the freedom expression provisions of section 14 of the Bill of Rights did not offer protection against a charge of scandalising the court. Justices Wild and MacKenzie stated:

We do not accept that the offence of scandalising the Court cannot be justified as a reasonable limitation upon freedom of expression… The rights guaranteed by the BORA [Bill of Rights Act] depend upon the rule of law, the upholding of which is the function of the Courts. Courts can only effectively discharge that function if they command the authority and respect of the public. A limit upon conduct which undermines that authority and respect is thus not only commensurate with the rights and freedoms contained in the BORA, but is ultimately necessary to ensure that they are upheld. (Solicitor-General for NZ v. Smith, 2004, p. 568, cited in Burrows and Cheer, 2005, p. 384).

Thus, in both countries, despite the legislature and the highest courts enshrining free expression about politics and government, the courts have decided this ancient punishment should still be available to the judiciary.

 

The resurgence of scandalising the court

Over the past 10 years in Australia and New Zealand there have been several charges or threats of scandalising the court involving the media in a variety of ways, all containing extreme statements about the judiciary. These include:

  • Re South Australian Telecasters Limited (1998). The Family Court of Australia stopped Channel Seven in Adelaide from broadcasting a current affairs story about a custody battle between the natural parents of two children and their foster mother. As well as identification issues related to the dispute taking place in a small semi-rural town, and the risk of sub judice contempt related to the upcoming custody hearing, Chief Justice Nicholson expressed concern about the potential for scandalising the court. He said the report risked bringing the court into contempt and lowering its authority.
  • Alice in Wonderland case (2001). As Burrows and Cheer (2005, p. 387) report, an Environment Court judge asked counsel for argument over whether a contempt by scandalising had been committed when a local body politician criticised an Environment Court decision as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in an issued statement. He also called upon landowners to state their disapproval to the judge. The matter was eventually resolved with an apology where the politician withdrew the comments.
  • Hoser & Kotabi Pty Ltd v. The Queen (2003). The author of two books about police corruption in Victoria was fined $3000 and his publishing company fined $2000 for making malicious and baseless allegations of bias and impropriety against two County Court judges who had tried earlier cases involving the author. A defence that the statements were fair comment made in good faith failed.
  • Bell v. Umina Beach Bowling Club Ltd (No 2) (2003). Directors of a New South Wales bowls club were disgruntled that their suspension of a fellow director had been ruled void by NSW Chief Judge in Equity Justice Young. The Central Coast Herald wrote a report of the decision, ending with the sentence: ‘Two of the club directors indicated an appeal against Justice Young who they accused of bias.’ The judge warned the comment was a contempt by scandalising, but handled it with a warning. Justice Young said: ‘Of course there is a wide range of legitimate criticism that can be made of courts and their decisions. However a statement to a newspaper of wide circulation that the only reason the spokesman lost was because the judge was biased goes beyond legitimate criticism, weakens the authority of the court in the eyes of the public and is a contempt.’
  • Website case (2003). A New Zealand-based web site listed 14 judges it was purportedly investigating for ‘corruption, incompetence and suspect character’ and threatened to release further information proving these allegations. Burrows and Cheer (2005, p. 385) report that the publication prompted a letter from the Solicitor-General and the material was subsequently removed from the site.
  • Attorney-General for State of Queensland v. Colin Lovitt QC (2003). Barrister Colin Lovitt was so frustrated with a Queensland magistrate’s ruling in a high-profile case, he turned to journalists covering the hearing and declared: ‘This bloke’s a complete cretin. Surely they can’t all be like this.’ The comments were reported and journalists testified they had heard him. Queensland Supreme Court Justice Richard Chesterman fined him $10000, saying the statement constituted both ‘scurrilous abuse and an attack upon the authority of the court’.
  • Mills & Ors v. Townsville City Council & Anor (No. 2) (2003). Planning and Environment Court Judge Clive Wall considered charging three Townsville councillors with contempt by scandalising when they were quoted criticising his decision to reject their approval of a nursing home development. One accused him of making decisions on design and aesthetics and another suggested the judge had ‘usurped the role of council’. Mayor Tony Mooney was quoted as saying: ‘Those appointed to the bench are not appointed by divine intervention [and] they don’t always get it right.’ Judge Wall decided the comments did not amount to contempt by scandalising because they could not be said to be of a character calculated to interfere with the administration of justice or to undermine the public confidence in the proper functioning of the Courts’. ‘Courts should not rush to be overly critical of criticism, even discourteous, wrong and mistaken criticism, as the present is’, he said.
  • Solicitor-General v. Smith (2004). MP Nick Smith was fined $5000, TV3 $25,000 and Radio New Zealand $5000 by the New Zealand High Court over comments he made about a Family Court custody case which were broadcast on the television and radio stations. The comments were inaccurate, applied pressure on the court, undermined confidence in the judicial process and had the potential to interfere with the administration of justice, the court held.
  • DPP v. Francis & Anor (No. 2) (2006). Veteran Adelaide broadcaster Bob Francis was given a nine week suspended jail sentence and fined $20,000 over a 2005 program in which he criticised a magistrate for considering granting bail to a man accused of possessing child pornography. (Magistrate Gary Gumpl was obliged under legislation to hear a bail application.) Francis told his audience: ‘Oh, smash the judge’s face in.’ The magistrate also settled out of court for a reported $110,000 defamation payout (McGarry 2006).
  • Environment Protection Authority v. Pannowitz (2006). Steepleton Pty Ltd and its director Kenneth Pannowitz were convicted and fined by the Environment Protection Authority in New South Wales for unlawful transport and disposal of waste. Part of their sentence was an order to place an advertisement in the Newcastle Herald newspaper with stipulated wording announcing their conviction. The director changed the notice in various ways and added the sentence ‘This matter has been referred by Steepleton to ICAC for further investigation’. Land and Environment Court Justice Lloyd found the suggestion that a corruption body was being called upon to investigate the court had ‘an inherent tendency to scandalise the court’. He also ruled Pannowitz had interfered with the course of justice by changing the size, position and wording of the notice.

 

Family Court criticism

Family law cases can be particularly volatile and the Family Court in both countries has been subject to harsh criticism by both litigants and the media, some of which have led to scandalising contempt charges as noted above in the Re South Australian Telecasters Limited (1998) and Solicitor-General v. Smith (2004). Other scandalising charges have been pursued against Family Court litigants without involving the media. Disaffected fathers who have lost custody of their children have often been scathing in their criticism of the court. As Lane (2000, p. 14) reported, the Family Court brought scandalising charges against four of its strident critics who protested with placards and leaflets outside its building in Melbourne in 1998, but the cases fell over when a judge threw out the case against the first, ‘PT’. In New Zealand, such individuals have faced other charges. For example, Rowan (2007) reports that the founder of the HandsOnEqualParent Trust, Jim Baily, was charged with disorderly conduct over his protest against the Family Court by driving a van with a loudspeaker around the streets of Tauranga. The charges were withdrawn.

Heads of the Family Court in both countries took public stances in 2006 to address such critics. New Zealand’s Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier said the media’s reportage of men’s groups’ gripes about the court’s alleged secrecy, biases and unfair processes was itself often biased and undertaken without reporters actually attending the court proceedings. “The reporting of the father’s groups’ protests shows that the more strident and extreme the claims made the more likely the media will give them publicity – and uncritical publicity,” he said (Boshier, 2006, p.5). In Australia, the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant, went public to counter criticism that her court was biased by announcing the court would be collecting statistics including those showing the percentage of arrangements involving or excluding fathers (Porter, 2006, p. 6).

When magistrates and judges sue

Complicating the scandalising cases is the fact that members of the judiciary have become more inclined to sue for defamation in recent years, as evidenced by the award of $246,500 in damages in 2002 to Victorian Deputy Magistrate Jelena Popovic over a Herald Sun article by Andrew Bolt (Popovic v Herald & Weekly Times Ltd and Anor, 2002), and the 2005 victory over the Sydney Morning Herald by NSW magistrate Pat O’Shane (John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd v O’Shane, 2005). Burrows and Cheer (2005, p. 383 footnote 29) also record a New Zealand newspaper report of a judge settling a defamation action against a media organisation. The propensity of the judiciary to sue means media organisations potentially face both criminal and civil responses to their harsh critique of the administration of justice in the form of a scandalising contempt charge and a defamation suit.

Conclusion and directions

All this is not to say that judges in either country jump at the opportunity to charge media organisations with contempt by scandalising. Media outlets do indeed publish quite harsh criticisms of the judiciary and get away with it. For example, the editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, David Penberthy, almost challenged the courts to charge him with contempt when he reported that District Court Judge Ian Dodd had developed quite a reputation for going to sleep while presiding over cases. Penberthy started his piece as follows:

This might constitute a contempt of court. But we thought we’d run it anyway, as there’s every chance the judge in question will be curled up under his judicial sombrero, oblivious to any slur against his name. (Penberthy, 2005, p. 21).

While Penberthy went ahead and published his humorous exposé of the sleeping judge, the point for this article is more that he was ‘chilled’ enough by the contempt laws to verbalise the risk in his very first sentence. An ancient law hangs like a guillotine over fair and open reportage in the modern era.

Twenty years ago the Australian Law Reform Commission (1987) criticised the law of scandalising on two main grounds and recommended its common law version be abolished. The first criticism was that there was no need to prove the accused intended to impair public confidence in the administration of justice; it was enough that the accused published the remarks intentionally (para 414). Secondly, there was no formal defence of justification available to the accused; the truth or falsity of the published remarks was irrelevant (para 415). Of course, as noted above, the High Court indeed decided truth would be a defence to scandalising in Nationwide News Pty Ltd v. Wills (1992).

While the Commission recommended scandalising be abolished from the common law, it suggested it be replaced by a limited offence which prohibited the publication of an allegation imputing misconduct to a judge if it was likely to cause serious harm to the judge’s reputation in his or her official capacity (para 460). Liability would lie with each officer of the media organisation in a position to exercise control over the publication (para 261) and the initial maker of the scandalising statement if he or she knew, or should have known, the allegation would be published (para 264). The Commission also recommended the defence of justification (if the accused proved the allegation was true or believed it was true on reasonable grounds) and the defence of it being made as part of a fair and accurate report of court or parliament (para 460). The offence would be tried by jury except when all concerned had consented to have it tried summarily by a magistrate (para 476, 479).

The Commission’s recommendations, the free speech cases in the Australian High Court in the early 1990s, the higher public profile of the judiciary and the fact that more judicial officers were pursuing defamation actions to defend their reputations all raised hopes that the authorities would not pursue charges of scandalising the court. Such hopes were reinforced in 2005 when Federal Court Justice Ronald Sackville delivered the 13th Lucinda Lecture at Monash University (Sackville, 2005). Sackville asked ‘How fragile are the courts?’ and traced the history of criticism of the courts, including a critique of scandalising contempt. He supported the ALRC by suggesting courts should be able to resort to some powers ‘in the rare cases where verbal attacks pose a genuine threat to the standing of the judiciary’. He also suggested that, like politicians and other public officials, judges should be able to sue for defamation where their reputations have been unfairly damaged. He concluded:

But the independence of the judiciary does not justify conferring on judges greater protection than those representatives or officials enjoy. It is to be hoped that the High Court will interpret the scope of the implied freedom of communication more broadly than recent decisions might suggest.  If the High Court does not do so, there is a strong case for legislation to bring the principles governing criticism of the Australian judiciary into line with those of other liberal democracies (Sackville, 2005, p. 24).

Despite Justice Sackville’s refreshing perspective reinforcing the recommendations of the ALRC 20 years ago, it seems that in recent years such charges have had somewhat of a resurgence in Australia and, to a lesser extent, in New Zealand.

Whether or not this has resulted in a debilitating ‘chill’ upon media critique of the courts is a moot point, but journalists certainly need to ensure that any criticism of the judiciary and the legal system is carefully phrased and measured so that it does not unfairly imply any wrongdoing that might erode public confidence. Journalists should note that, while some of the media organisations mentioned above escaped contempt charges when they reported the contemptuous statements of others (such as disgruntled fathers on the steps of the Family Court) it is open to the authorities to prosecute both the individuals who make contemptuous comments (at a press conference, for example) and the media outlet that reported the comments, as they did in Solicitor-General v. Smith (2004) in New Zealand. Litaba (2003) noted that while scandalising the court should not be used to protect individual judges against reputational attacks, there were numerous examples where judges seemed to have ‘stood on their personal dignity’. Further, Litaba questioned whether under the existing law truth as a defence applied, despite the High Court’s statements on the matter in Nationwide News Pty Ltd v. Wills (1992), a disturbing possibility given that part of the democratic process should surely be the right to make legitimate, well founded, criticism of the judicial process.

The slim risk of being charged with scandalising the court should not prevent journalists partaking in fair, well-reasoned criticism of the administration of justice. It is only when the criticism is personal, scurrilous abuse of a judge, which brings the judicial system into disrepute, or when it implies some improper motive on the part of the judiciary that it is more likely to overstep the mark. Nevertheless, all in the media would argue that judges and the judicial process should be open to such criticism. This has been even more the case in recent years when judges themselves have spoken about their decisions in public forums. Family Court and High Court justices, particularly, have been vocal on broader policy issues affecting the workings of the justice system. Many welcome such a public profile of the judiciary, but argue that judges cannot adopt such a stance and later hide behind the protections of ancient laws, such as scandalising the court, to punish those who have publicly disagreed with them.

The need for unshackled critique is even more pressing in an era when anti-terrorism laws leave so many court processes open to criticism and when the sentencing of criminals is such a heated political topic.

Media groups, such as Australia’s Right to Know lobby, and the press councils in both countries, should press for greater clarity in the law of scandalising. It would have the advantage of allowing reasoned public criticism of judges and the court system and sound investigative reporting of suspicious judicial practices without fear of reprisal from an irate judge wielding summary powers. Media freedom should not be held to ransom by impudent little men in horsehair, microcosms of conceit and empty-headedness nor, for that matter, by snoring wigs curled up under their judicial sombreros.

 

References

Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). (1987). Report no. 35 — contempt,

Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. [Electronic version.]

Boshier, P. (2006, August 9). Fair deal for Family Court. Dominion Post, p. 5.

Burrows, J. and & Cheer, U. (2005). Media law in New Zealand. (5th ed.). South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Butler, D. & Rodrick, S. (2004). Australian media law. (2nd ed). Sydney: Thomson Law Book Company.

Chesterman, M. (2000) Freedom of speech in Australian law: A delicate plant. Aldershot: Ashgate Dartmouth.

Cheer, U. (2004). New Zealand media law update. Recent developments – defamation, censorship and contempt. Media and Arts Law Review. 9 (3): 237-246.

Lane, B. (2000, March 8). Street protester beats judges at own game. The Australian. p. 14.

Litaba, O. (2003). Does the ‘offence’ of contempt by scandalising the court have a valid place in the law of modern day Australia? [Electronic version]. DeakinLRev 6.

McGarry, A. (2006, 3 August) Jail for Bob the broadcaster? The Australian,

  1. 14.

Pearson, M. (2007). The journalist’s guide to media law. Dealing with legal and ethical issues. (3rd ed.). Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Porter, L. (2006, December 24). Family Court fights back over bias claims. Sunday Age. P. 6.

Rowan, J. (2007, January 26). Family Court protester avoids conviction. New Zealand Herald.

Sackville, Justice R. (2005). How fragile are the courts? Freedom of speech and criticism of the judiciary. 13th Lucinda Lecture. Monash University, 29 August 2005. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from http://www.wbde.org/documents/2005_Aug_29_Justice_Sackvill_%20Re_Criticism_of_Judiciary.pdf

Weisenhaus, D. (2007). Hong Kong media law. A guide for journalists and media professionals. Hong Kong: HK University Press.

 

Cases cited

Ambard v. Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago [1936] AC 322.

Anissa Pty Ltd v. Simon Harry Parsons on application of the Prothonotary of the Supreme Court of Victoria [1999] VSC 430. Retrieved March 10, 2008 from www.austlii.edu.au//cgi-bin/disp.pl/au/cases/vic/VSC/1999/430.html.

Attorney-General v. Namoa [2000] TOSC 13 Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.paclii.org/to/cases/TOSC/2000/13.html.

Attorney-General NSW v. Mundey [1972] 2 NSWLR 887.

Attorney-General for State of Queensland v. Colin Lovitt QC [2003] QSC 279. Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/qld/QSC/2003/279.html.

Bell v. Umina Beach Bowling Club Ltd (No 2) [2003] NSWSC

846 Retrieved March 10, 2008 from www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/nsw/supreme_ct/2003/846.html.

Bridges v. California (1941) 314 US 252.

Chaudhary v Attorney-General [1999] FJCA 23, [17] (Fiji Court of Appeal). Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.paclii.org/fj/cases/FJCA/1999/27.html.

DPP v. Francis & Anor (No. 2) [2006] SASC 261 Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/sa/SASC/2006/261.html.

Environment Protection Authority v. Pannowitz [2006] NSWLEC 219 Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/nsw/NSWLEC/2006/219.html.

Gallagher v. Durack (1983) 152 CLR 238.

Hoser & Kotabi Pty Ltd v. The Queen (ex parte The Attorney-General for the State of Victoria); The Queen (ex parte The Attorney-General for the State of Victoria) v. Hoser & Kotabi Pty Ltd [2003] VSCA 194 Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/disp.pl/au/cases/vic/VSCA/2003/194.html.

John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd v O’Shane [2005] NSWCA 164. Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/nsw/NSWCA/2005/164.html.

Mills & Ors v. Townsville City Council & Anor (No. 2) [2003] QPEC 18 Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/qld/QPEC/2003/18.html.

Nationwide News Pty Ltd v. Wills (1992) 177 CLR 1.

Popovic v Herald & Weekly Times Ltd and Anor [2002] VSC 174 Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/vic/VICSC/2002/174.html.

Re South Australian Telecasters Limited (Publication Injunction) [1998] FamCA 117 Retrieved March 10, 2008 from www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/disp.pl/au/cases/cth/family_ct/1998/117.html

R v. Dunbabin; Ex parte Williams (1935) 53 CLR 419.

R v. Gray [1900] 2 QB 36.

Solicitor-General v. Smith [2004] 2 NZLR 540.

 

© Mark Pearson 2008 & 2017

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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