Secrets, Confidentiality and Sources

With thanks for contributions from Leanne O’Donnell (@mslods /,  Virginia Leighton-Jackson and Griffith University media freedom interns

Recent news

Data retention proposals

  • The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has said that the proposed data retention laws being debated in parliament could help crackdown on corruption as well as deter crime.
  • Significant concerns as to the definitions within the bill – ‘metadata’ and ‘content’ are ill-defined according in Professor George Williams of the Centre for Public Law at the University of New South Wales; who says the terms could become “whatever the Government defines it to be”.
    • Could be used to access information shared between journalists, and identify their sources. – Head over to “Privacy” for more detail

Clarke, M. 22.01.2015, “ICAC says proposed data retention laws will help stop corruption, but expert worried by lack of detail”, ABC News, <>

Griffiths, E. 31.10.2014, “Federal Government introduces legislation for controversial data retention plan”, ABC News, <>


The Age, the ALP, and the tape recorder

  • In May 2014, senior Age reporter Farrah Tomazin lost her Dictaphone at a Labor state conference. It contained recordings of ‘off-the-record’ briefings to which participants, members of the APL and LNP, had not consented, but the recordings were not intended for broadcast, or to be shared with anyone else.
    • In Victoria, where the Age and the ministers are based, it is not illegal to record private conversations without consent of all parties if the person recording is also a party to the recorded conversation – as is the case in Queensland and the Northern Territory. In ACT, NSW, WA, SA and Tasmania where express consent from all parties is required.
    • Considered an ethical grey area.
      • The Age’s code of conduct does not prohibit the recording, neither does the MEAA’s Code of Ethics; however the Code does state that a journalist should never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practice.
    • The dictaphone was taken from lost property by Kosmos Samaras, the ALP assistant state secretary, who initially said that he listened to the device, heard himself on the tape without him having given consent, and in a fit of rage destroyed the dictaphone and its contents.
    • A recording from the tape in regards to another MP was leaked, after the tape was supposed to have been destroyed.
    • Samaras subsequently admitted that he had taken the dictaphone, listened to it, downloaded its contents onto his computer, made a copy to a USB stick, gave it to a press secretary, and discussed the contents and played the contents to colleagues, before destroying ‘every copy’.
      • Media lawyer Justin Quill told the ABC that Samara’s sharing of the tape may have been illegal.

Virginia Leighton-Jackson

Pearson, Mark. 31.7.14 Andrews’ media accusers have some explaining of their own to do. The Conversation

Robin, M. 29.07.2014, “Lets go to the tape: ethical quandaries in Age Dictaphone saga”, Crikey, <>

ABC. 28.07.2014, “Victorian Labor admits staff destroyed journalists recording device after listening to its contents”, ABC News, <>

Chalkley-Rhoden, S. 28.07.2014, “Victorian Labor party members could have broken law by playing private recordings: media law expert”, ABC News, <>

Other news

Government monitoring in UK and Macedonia

  • The UK has admitted that it has unlawfully monitored legally privileged communications between lawyers and their clients, breaching human rights laws. The monitoring by intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 was revealed following the February ruling which called the sharing of “mass personal intelligence data” with the USA NSA unlawful and a breach of civil rights (the case is due to be heard before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal this month).
    • An updated Interception Code of Practice is hoped to enhance safeguards surrounding surveillance and establish rules for the interception of communications, with warrants to be issues only if there are ‘exceptional and compelling’ circumstances.
  • In Macedonia it has been revealed that over 100 journalists have been under government surveillance, in some cases dating back to 2011. The Media in Macedonia has faced deteriorating press conditions under Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski who came to power in 2006. Journalists have been prosecuted and one television broadcaster forced to shut down by governmental pressure.
    • Journalists who were subject to the surveillance were notified and told to come in a pick up the surveillance transcripts. Some described feeling violated and disgusted, but none were surprised at the revelations.
  • While many EU countries rank quite high in terms of press freedom, with RSF ranking Finland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden as the top five countries, the UK ranks down at 34, and Macedonia at 117 – the fourth worst in Europe, just ahead of Belarus (157), Ukraine (129), and Russia (159), and only five places ahead of Afghanistan (122). Australia has risen to 25, up three places on 2014.
  • The practice of governments monitoring journalists puts increasing pressure on the media to protect their sources, and can make it harder to ensure accuracy of inside information with whistle blowers safety at risk.

Virginia Leighton-Jackson

Mikvska, T. 09.03.2015, “Press apathy over Macedonia wiretaps is symptom of failing democracy”, Committee to Protect Journalists,

Travis, A. & Bowcott, D. 19.02.2015, “UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications”, The Guardian, < >


US: The federal government could be taking pictures of you in your car. | Fusion |

“The intelligence agencies are living in a golden age of surveillance.” — PGP creator Phil Zimmermann. | The Guardian |

In historic ruling, U.K. surveillance secrecy declared unlawful. | The Intercept |  

Government wants metadata laws by March. | The Age |

Examples of how data retention will impact on everyday Australians. | Crikey |

Data retention: too many unknowns, too many unanswered questions. | The Guardian |.  (by me)

Gmail, Facebook, Skype excluded from Australian data retention regime. | ZDNet |

One response to “Secrets, Confidentiality and Sources

  1. Pingback: Journlaw running updates to The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law | journlaw

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