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Addressing the Sri Lankan Press Council on media law and mindful journalism

By MARK PEARSON

For the past two weeks I have been in Sri Lanka, where my speaking and interview schedule has been arranged by Dr Sugath Senarath, my co-author of our book Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (Shelton Gunaratne, Mark Pearson and Sugath Senarath eds; Routledge, NY, 2015).

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Professor Mark Pearson (@journlaw) at the Sri Lanka Press Council event. Photo: Julie Pearson

The highlight was my address to the Sri Lankan Press Council last Wednesday (August 31) on the topic “Designing free expression models in communication with special reference to Commonwealth countries – a mindful Australian perspective”.

I offer the full text of the address to you here. [Please note that sections are excerpted from earlier work, including The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (co-authored with Mark Polden, Allen & Unwin, 2015), Mindful Journalism (reference above) and my unpublished 2013 address to the Timor Leste National Congress for Journalists.]


Press Commissioner, Press Council Chair and board members, co-author and host Dr Sugath Senarath, academic and media colleagues, journalism and media students and young reporters and other honored guests…

Thank you sincerely for having me here today to talk about the important topic of free expression – a fundamental feature in a working democracy.

It is important that all citizens – particularly journalists and politicians – have a grasp of the principles of free expression, media freedom and their historical context.

Origins of free expression

The free expression of certain facts and views has always been a dangerous practice, with countless people put to death for expressing religious or political views throughout history. Many more have been imprisoned, tortured or punished for such expression. Socrates in 399 BCE elected to drink a poison—hemlock—rather than recant his philosophical questioning (Brasch and Ulloth, 1986, p. 9). The history of freedom of expression is as much a history of censorship, because when free expression has been threatened, intellectuals have been called upon to defend it. It was Johann Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in about 1450 and the massive growth in the publishing industry over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the form of newsbooks and the activities of ‘pamphleteers’ that first triggered repressive laws, and then the movement for press freedom (Feather, 1988: 46). (It is interesting that these individuals were the forerunners of the citizen journalists and bloggers we know today—often highly opinionated and quick to publish speculation and rumour.)

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Delivering the Sri Lankan Press Council address in Colombo. Photo: Julie Pearson

The pamphleteers took umbrage at government attempts to impose a licensing system for printers from the mid-sixteenth century (Overbeck, 2001: 34). Political philosopher and poet John Milton took aim at this in 1644 with Areopagitica, a speech to the parliament appealing for freedom of the presses. He went on to utter the famous free speech principle: ‘Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.’ (Patrides, 1985: 241). Milton inscribed his name on the title page of his unlicensed work, in defiance of the law he was criticising. The notion of free expression had spawned its offspring: press freedom.

Part of Milton’s argument centred on the ‘marketplace of ideas’—the belief that truth will win over falsehood when the two compete. This proposition of a contest between truth and falsehood was often used during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to justify freedom of expression (Smith, 1988: 31). It continues in public discourse today.

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Two of the co-authors of ‘Mindful Journalism’, Professor Mark Pearson (left) and Dr Sugath Senarath from the University of Colombo.

Philosopher and political theorist John Locke took up the fight after Milton’s death. Under his social contract theory, governments are there to serve the people, and central to this is freedom of expression (Overbeck, 2001: 36).

Like Milton, Locke campaigned for the end of the English printing licence system, which expired in 1694 (Overbeck, 2001: 36). Those to speak out against restrictions on press freedom at the turn of the eighteenth century included novelist and journalist Daniel Defoe, who wrote ‘An Essay Upon the Regulation of the Press’ around 1704 (Brasch and Ulloth, 1986: 62), and John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon who, under the pen name ‘Cato’, wrote a series of letters about freedom in the 1720s (Brasch and Ulloth, 1986: 64–8).

England’s foremost philosopher of the late nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill, articulated the need for free speech in a liberal democratic society in On Liberty, first published in 1859 (Mill, 1991). He wrote:

The time, it is to be hoped, is gone by, when any defence would be necessary of the ‘liberty of the press’ as one of the securities against corrupt or tyrannical government. No argument, we may suppose, can now be needed, against permitting a legislature or an executive, not identified in interest with the people, to prescribe opinions to them, and determine what doctrines or what arguments they shall be allowed to hear. (1991: 20)

Mill’s On Liberty built on Milton’s ‘marketplace of ideas’ to define the boundaries of freedom of expression in the modern nation-state. One of the great legal minds of the eighteenth century, Sir William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, had a great impact on the evolution of press freedom by defining it as the absence of ‘previous restraints upon publications’ (Blackstone, 1765–69: 151–2).

Blackstone’s notion of ‘prior restraint’ has underscored the development of media law in the United States. The idea was that freedom of the press could tolerate no restrictions before publication, such as licensing and taxes that had been imposed in Britain, but that the law should take its course after publication to punish those who abused this freedom. Publications should be tax and licence free, but subject to laws like defamation and contempt once published. In both Britain and its colonies, a common weapon for silencing the press had been the crime of ‘seditious libel’—any serious criticism of government or the Crown, whether or not the criticism was truthful. William Murray, Lord Chief Justice and Earl of Mansfield (1704–93), had coined the expression ‘the greater the truth, the greater the libel’ (Whitton, 1998), ensuring that truth would not stand up as a defence to seditious libel.

Despite these restrictions, basic press freedom had taken hold in Britain. Some thought the press had gone too far. In this context, the expression ‘the Fourth Estate’ was coined. At that time, there were said to be three ‘estates of the realm’—the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Lords Common. In 1790, English statesman Edmund Burke is said to have pointed to the press gallery in parliament and said: ‘There are three estates in Parliament but in the reporters’ gallery yonder sits a fourth estate more important far than they all.’ (Inglebart, 1987: 143).

The libertarian ideals on which press freedom is based were not confined to Britain. The movement for civil rights and individual liberties spread throughout Western Europe during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, epitomised by the French Revolution in 1789, leaving a legacy of press freedom throughout that region and its colonial outposts.

In Western democratic societies, journalists often take their liberties for granted. But there has never been utterly unshackled free speech or a completely free media: we operate on an international and historical continuum of free expression through to censorship. It is only over the past half-century that the notion of free expression and a free media has gained traction on a broader international scale.

Free expression internationally

There is no enforceable worldwide agreement on free expression as a fundamental human right, although some nations and regions have entrenched free expression in their constitutions. The key international document is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in 1948 enshrined free expression at Article 19:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

At face value, this statement seems to give all the world’s citizens a right to free expression. While a declaration of a lofty goal, it has many limitations, as we will see.

Stronger protections came internationally in 1966 when the United Nations (UN) adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, prompting a series of binding treaties. The covenant introduces a right to free expression for the world’s citizens, again at Article 19.

However, the right is limited because the covenant also recognises duties, responsibilities and restrictions covering respect for the rights and reputations of others, and the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals. Add to this the fact that many countries either have not ratified the covenant, or have not incorporated its provisions to make them part of their domestic law—as in the case of Australia.

At least three major democratic English-speaking nations in addition to the United States have bills of rights enshrining free speech. British and European liberal ideals found their way into the wording of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, the US Constitution in 1789 and its Bill of Rights in 1791. Central to the Bill of Rights was the First Amendment to the US Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

US government attempts to restrain publications in the national interest have usually failed on First Amendment grounds.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), like the US First Amendment, recognises freedom of the press as part of section 2(b), which confers upon every citizen the following freedoms: ‘freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication’. The United Kingdom and New Zealand legislation does not mention media freedom, opting instead for the broader term ‘freedom of expression’.

New Zealand’s Bill of Rights, enacted in 1990, states at section 14:Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form’. In 2011, the New Zealand Supreme Court found that the right protected Valerie Morse, an anti-war protester who burned her country’s flag during a dawn memorial service in Wellington. Her conviction for offensive behaviour was set aside.

Despite this, there are many nations with such a free expression clauses in their constitutions where their governments have chosen to ignore them to advance their own interests or to prevent scrutiny of their actions. This has sometimes led to the harassment, assault, imprisonment and even murder of journalists. I note that the Sri Lankan Constitution also enshrines “freedom of speech and expression including publication” and it is encouraging that your new government has taken some first steps towards honouring that right which appears to have been neglected in recent decades. The recent passage of a Right to Information Act is one such encouraging step. Of course, such freedom of information instruments in many countries are ineffective because of the large numbers of exemptions to the release of documents available to governments, the cost of making applications, and the glacial speed with which bureaucracies approve requests for government information – using refusals and appeals to wear down the journalists rightfully seeking facts and information on behalf of the citizenry.

For many truth-seekers and truth-tellers, the commitment to free expression has taken the form of physical injury or danger—even death. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) lists more than 1200 journalists confirmed as killed in the course of their work since 1992, including 27 in 2016 to date. As a former correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, I must highlight the fact that the world is watching the new Sri Lankan government to see how enthusiastically it pursues and prosecutes those responsible for the murder of 19 journalists in this country since 1992 – criminals who it seems have been able to conduct their assassination of this democracy’s messengers with complete impunity. I suggest the Press Council might consider keeping this issue on the agenda in the interests of media freedom and as a tribute to those who have paid the ultimate price for exercising their Constitutional right to free expression.

Throughout the Asia-Pacific region, many others have died, suffered violence or have been imprisoned for what they report. Some have suffered in other ways, as the victims of lawsuits by those who set out to gag them.

Australia

Australia’s early history was marked by considerable censorship of its media, although an early battle between Governor Darling and the Chief Justice in 1827 prevented the licensing of newspapers.

Australia has no equivalent to the US First Amendment enshrining freedom of the press. However, in recent decades the High Court of Australia has recognised an implied freedom to communicate on matters of politics and government.

Press systems and ethical frameworks are on the agenda in all societies, and we are challenged to accommodate free expression and its close relative, press freedom, within new regulatory, technological and cultural contexts.

Recent inquiries into media regulation in the United Kingdom (Leveson, 2012), Australia (Finkelstein, 2012) and New Zealand (Law Commission, 2013) have recommended major changes to the regulation of media corporations and the ethical practices of journalists. Their motivation stems, at least ostensibly, from public angst—and subsequent political pressure—over a litany of unethical breaches of citizens’ privacy over several years in the United Kingdom, culminating in the News of the World scandal and the subsequent revelations at the Leveson Inquiry (2012), all of which had an undoubted ripple effect in Australia.

Two major inquiries into the Australian news media in 2011 and 2012 prompted a necessary debate over the extent to which rapidly converging and globalised news businesses and platforms might require statutory regulation at a national level. Four regulatory models emerged—a News Media Council backed by recourse to the contempt powers of courts; a super self-regulatory body with legislative incentives to join; a strengthened Australian Press Council policing both print and online media; and a government-appointed Public Interest Media Advocate.

All proposals for any such government intervention with media freedom by such a controlling body by a Press Council or News Council were rejected after considerable pressure from media organisations as anathema to free expression.

Both inquiries acknowledged—and rejected—the notion of a revamped Australian Press Council, proposed in various submissions and in appearances by its then chair. The Australian Press Council was established in 1976 as a newspaper industry ‘self-regulatory’ body—a purely voluntary entity with no powers under law.) Nevertheless, both during and after these two reports, and with new support from most of its members, the Press Council moved quickly to ramp up its purview and powers to address many of its documented shortcomings, such as the refusal of some member newspapers to publish its findings and the threat of withdrawal of funding from others (Simpson, 2012). It locked its members into four-year commitments and established an independent panel to advise on a review of content standards.

At the same time as these changes to media regulation were being proposed, several reformulations of existing media laws were being considered by state, territory and federal governments and their respective law-reform bodies. They covered such topics as privacy law, media classification, intellectual property, cyber-bullying, shield laws and national security laws. Of these, new shield laws have subsequently been introduced in most Australian jurisdictions. Media law and regulation constitute a field subject to continual scrutiny and change, which makes it all the more important for students and professional communicators to keep pace with developments.

It is noteworthy that the self-regulatory institution journal­ists fear most – more than the Press Council and other self-regulation tribunals, is the ABC’s weekly program Media Watch, which was first screened in 1989. Its website promotes it as follows: ‘Everyone loves it until they’re on it’ (www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/). Criticised for being sometimes trite, and often bitchy, Media Watch has exposed some of the nation’s most spectacular ethical breaches over the past two decades. These include blatant instances of plagiarism and privacy invasion and, most famously, an exposé of secret payments being made to talkback radio stars for their endorsement of products and services without the knowledge of their listeners. While Media Watch itself has no sanctions available, the power of the program lies in the fact that ethical breaches and glaring errors are screened on national television, when journalists know their colleagues are watching. The ultimate tool of media self-regulation can indeed be the media itself!

There are several ways journalists in other countries considering regulatory models can learn from this recent experience in Australia.

  1. Comparisons can be dangerous. Even in a democracy with a long history of relatively free expression politicians and governments will seek out and seize any opportunity to regulate the media. International comparisons can be dangerous because we operate within different political and cultural frameworks. When they were arguing for their media reforms, Ministers cited RSF’s World Press Freedom Index, using the argument that Finland remained in number one position there despite having a statutory mechanism for its press regulation. They failed to mention that Finland also has a section in its Constitution guaranteeing free expression and the free flow of information so all laws are formed and applied against that backdrop. It also lacks the hundreds of other media laws that impact on free expression in other countries like Australia.
  2. Beware of regulation creep. Existing laws such as defamation and contempt that apply to all citizens go a long way towards controlling media behavior. I have seen few serious ethical breaches that could not be handled by the existing laws. Once media laws have been introduced it is hard to wind those laws back to re-establish eroded freedoms. Australia passed more than 60 new anti-terror laws after the September 2001 attacks on the US – many impacting on the media – and few of those have been wound back. Media regulation is hard to undo because governments like to have that power.
  3. Don’t trade press freedom. Well meaning journalists and academics are sometimes willing to sacrifice media freedom because of the misbehavior of some media personnel. When you offer governments new powers to control the misbehaviour of some elements in the media you need to accept that those same powers might be used against you at some later stage.
  4. Beware de facto licensing. There is the temptation to issue journalists with accreditation and registration in actual or de facto licensing schemes. While journalists might like the idea of carrying an official card with privileged access, the narrow defining of journalists and journalism by governments presents a real danger to free expression because it privileges some citizens over others as communicators. This gives those issuing and revoking such licenses influence over the message itself. It is even less appropriate in a new era of blogging and social media because the nature of news and journalism is even harder to define. Citizens might become reporters temporarily because of the scale of an event or issue or on an ongoing basis in a narrow field of interest that might momentarily become of broader public interest. It is inappropriate that they should have to seek registration or licensing as a journalist or that they should be punished for reporting without such official licence. Rather, their words or actions should be subject only to the communication limitations placed on all citizens, and in a working democracy they should be limited to only extreme breaches.
  5. Judge a proposed law by its ultimate possible sanction. The best test when trying to gauge the potential impact of new media regulations is not the assurances of their proponents that they will be used only rarely and only in extreme cases, or perhaps not used against journalists. The real test is to look at the ultimate maximum sanctions available and if these involve the potential jailing or fining of journalists then they are anathema to press freedom in a democracy.
  6. Media freedom is above politics. Media regulation was certainly a long overdue debate in Australia, but it was politicised from the outset which undermined the likelihood of the implementation of any of the proposals. Some political parties supported tougher regulation of the media because they had been the target of adverse coverage. A basic human right like free expression should be above politics in a democracy, yet most governments will strive to limit it.
  7. Media freedom is above commercial interest. Opponents of media regulation need to be careful they are not being seen as simply protecting their own commercial enterprises. Criticism of the recommendations by the larger Australian media groups on free expression grounds – particularly by Murdoch executives – were dismissed as a defence of their vested interests (Meade and Canning, 2012). It helps to recruit other senior intellectuals in defence of media freedom – including academics, business leaders and other public intellectuals.
  8. Be wary of ethics codes imposed by governments. Too often governments use ethics codes as a Trojan Horse to push through tougher restrictions on journalists. Ethical codes should be SELF regulatory systems, not legally enforceable instruments carrying potential fines and jail terms.
  9. Training and education in law and ethics is crucial. Media outlets need to be more pro-active in developing better in-house processes for assessing ethical decisions and in explaining those decisions to their audiences. All reforms will, of course, need to be supplemented with better training of journalists about their rights and responsibilities and broader education of ordinary citizens to raise their understanding of the important role of the media in a democracy.
  10. Educate the community about free expression and a free media. The constitutional right to press freedom and free expression need to be part of every school’s civics curriculum and media organisations need to remind their audiences of this constitutional right and its important history at every opportunity.

Mindful Journalism

Just as important as external regulatory and legal systems are the internal processes of journalists’ decision-making – their internal ‘moral compasses’. I have explored this phenomenon in developing the concept of ‘mindful journalism’ with colleagues Shelton Gunaratne and Sugath Senarath in a recent book – Mindful Journalism – published by Routledge in New York last year.

We explore the possibilities of applying some of Buddhism’s core principles to the secular phenomenon of journalism. It must be accepted that Buddhist practices such as ‘mindfulness’ and meditation have been adopted broadly in Western society in recent decades and have been embraced by the cognitive sciences in adapted therapeutic ways (Segal et al 2012).

Each of the constituent steps of the Noble Eightfold Path – understanding free of superstition, kindly and truthful speech, right conduct, doing no harm, perseverance, mindfulness and contemplation – has an application to the modern-day practice of truth-seeking and truth-telling – whether that be by a journalist working in a traditional media context, a citizen journalist or a serious blogger reporting and commenting upon news and current affairs.

We do not propose a definitive fix-all solution to the shortcomings in journalism ethics or their regulation. Rather, ‘mindful journalism’ is an acknowledgment that the basic teachings of one of the world’s major religions can offer guidance in identifying a common – and secular – moral compass that might inform our journalism practice as technology and globalization place our old ethical models under stress. Media coverage can be vastly improved with the application of such principles – working towards a journalism of wisdom and compassion.

One of the problems with emerging citizen journalism and news websites is that their proponents do not necessarily ascribe to traditional journalists’ ethical codes. In a global and multicultural publishing environment the challenge is to develop models that might be embraced more broadly than a particular country’s repackaging of a journalists’ code. However, codes of ethics have often failed to work effectively in guiding the ethics of the traditional journalists for whom they were designed, let alone the litany of new hybrids including citizen journalists, bloggers, and the avid users of other emerging news platforms. Core human moral principles from key classical teachings like the Noble Eightfold Path could form the basis of a more relevant and broadly applicable model for the practice of ‘mindful journalism’.

The recent international inquiries triggered by poor journalism ethical practices have demonstrated that journalism within the libertarian model appears to have lost its moral compass and we need to explore new ways to recapture this. We should educate journalists, serious bloggers and citizen journalists to adopt a mindful approach to their news and commentary accommodating a reflection upon the implications of their truth-seeking and truth-telling as a routine part of the process. They would be prompted to pause and think carefully about the consequences of their reportage and commentary for the stakeholders involved, including their audiences. Truth-seeking and truth-telling would still be the primary goal, but only after gauging the social good that might come from doing so.

Journalists must tell uncomfortable truths for the benefit of society and for the proper functioning of democracies. Politicians particularly need to have thick skins in recognition of the transparency and accountability of the public positions they hold. Before they attack the media they need to reflect upon whether they are acting through craving, attachment or ego.

Even the Buddha allowed for such uncomfortable truths to be spoken. In the Abhaya Sutta, the Buddha addressed Prince Abhaya on the qualities of Right Speech. He related to the prince six criteria for deciding what is worth saying. The third represents how the mindful journalist might approach such criticism of public figures:

[3] “In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing and disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

Mindful journalists should strive to get their timing correct, but there is no doubt that painful truths sometimes must be spoken. This requires reflection, meditation and insight in the planning and execution of a story to help alleviate suffering. A functioning democracy requires that such unendearing and disagreeable statements sometimes be made about our fellow citizens – particularly those entrusted with the public purse and special powers. It is no less than the role of the Fourth Estate to fulfil this function, and it is heartening to see that Sri Lanka is again investing in the fundamental freedoms that allow journalists to do so. I am sure the Sri Lankan Press Council can play an important role in advocating for press freedom and encouraging a robust journalism of truth, wisdom and compassion.

Thank you.

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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 2016

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Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media

Ethical lessons from the 60 Minutes abduction saga

By MARK PEARSON

International readers of this blog might be unaware of the national debate in Australia over the involvement of an Australian 60 Minutes television current affairs crew in last month’s abduction of two children in Lebanon who were the subject of a parental custody dispute.

The Australian mother of the child – Sally Faulkner – and the reporter Tara Brown and her three crew were jailed for two weeks along with the alleged abduction contractor Adam Whittington who remained in jail seeking bail this week.

The Nine Entertainment Company announced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding its flagship current affairs program’s involvement in the failed abduction attempt.

Following that announcement (April 21, 2016) ABC Gold Coast’s Matt Webber interviewed me about the ethical dimensions of the saga.

Here is the recording of that interview. [Transcription below by Virginia Leighton-Jackson].

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Interview with ABC Gold Coast’s Matt Webber

Matt Webber: Let’s concentrate on the Nine Network for now. What are the main questions it needs to answer?

Mark Pearson (@journlaw): Well Matt, I think in your introduction you started to hit upon the main questions, and I think they’re questions that need [answering] – I mean hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s very easy for an academic like me to be looking at this in hindsight and saying all the things that should have been done. But the sorts of questions that you were just asking [are relevant] – Who is involved? Who are the stakeholders? Who are those who might get hurt through such a story? The first thing Channel Nine should be doing, I believe, is setting up accountable systems where those questions are actually asked before stories are embarked upon. And that involves…

MW: Are we naive to think that wouldn’t happen?

MP: I don’t think so; I think people would get carried away, and particularly in a highly emotionally charged story like a custody battle it’s very easy to hear one party’s side of the story. Another issue here is of course is the simple fact of obeying laws. Now, there seems to be like a cultural view that has come through this story that going to another place, the ‘other’, a place like Lebanon, excuses journalists from doing what would be absolutely illegal for them to be doing here in Australia. I mean only a couple of years ago one of the leading news stories was a custody battle over children in Queensland where the Italian father had won custody of the children, and the family – the grandparents and the mother – were fighting the order of the court that the children be taken back to Italy. What if that had happened in that case? Just say the order had gone the other way and the father and an Italian TV crew was here and the children were grabbed on the streets of the Gold Coast and taken, and the plan was to take them to a boat at Southport, and somehow the TV crew had helped fund the abduction. Can people imagine what would have happened there? So what Channel Nine needs to be asking is what is going on there culturally in their mindset about these sorts of stories to think that it’s okay to do that in Lebanon, but it’s not okay to do it in Australia. What’s their view of another country’s legal system that allows that to happen?

Now there’s still a lot of this story to come out, facts that we will hear about – you just played a part of the father’s version of whether or not people are being paid or whatever. The truth of all of that will eventually come out. But I think what Channel Nine needs to do is actually follow the privacy guidelines of ACMA, the Broadcasting Authority, but follow them to the letter. They are not obligatory, but they need to actually look at them; where it says that children are more vulnerable, and the privacy of children is something that really needs close scrutiny. And in public interest – what they might call public interest doesn’t outweigh the rights of children to be considered. A story like this has ripple effects across a whole range of stakeholders, and they need to actually have a formalised process which goes through considering the potential impact on all of those involved – including in this case, the news crew.

MW: Indeed. Mark Pearson, a professor in journalism at Griffith University. Often ‘journalistic ethics’ is a pair of words that is tossed around fairly liberally. The Code of Ethics that journalists need to adhere to, are they sufficiently aware of it? Or are they far too ignorant of it, either wilfully or otherwise?

MP: Well, journalists do know about the Code of Ethics, and most journalists these days have been through some journalism program, like a degree or whatever and have learned about the Code of Ethics. But the big problem with the Australian journalists’ Code of Ethics, and most others, is that there is a whopping ‘get-out’ clause. What it says is that all of these are things that should be strived for, but if the public interest, or if the story is of such public concern then that excuses journalists, outweighing those ethical considerations. But it does make specific reference to chequebook journalism – now I’m not saying that’s happened in this case, is it chequebook journalism to help fund an operation? Well, that’s something we’ll be able to discuss once more facts come out. But also things like dealing with children and the vulnerable, and thinking of those potential implications.

So I think it’s more than just journalists’ ethics: it’s a basic moral code that most humans think twice before they do something that is related to or can impact badly on children’s lives. And so if anything comes of this, I would hope that people take special care, and newsrooms implement practices that ring extra alarm bells if there are going to be children involved in any story.

MW: What about those who will argue that look, commercial television is, particularly commercial TV Current Affairs, is a wild and woolly old world, boundaries will always be pushed; that’s the nature of capitalism in many regards. This shouldn’t come as any surprise that this sort of thing is happening. What do you say to those types?

MP: Well if there is a commercial or a capitalism argument for breaching ethics I think you can counter that with another equally commercial or capitalist argument: and that is the only thing that journalism has left these days, compared with its internet rivals, compared with the jungle of news breakers out there who might be citizen journalists or people doing it simply for a commercial imperative, the only thing that we have remaining to sell news is credibility and respect in the community. And that comes through having an ethical code that journalists adhere to. I think 60 Minutes has lost a lot of credibility out of this, and I think Channel Nine will be reviewing that because there is a commercial loss involved when you’ve overstepped the mark and you lose respect in the eyes of the community. 60 Minutes used to be a wonderful news brand, and Channel Nine will be asking what’s happened to that in the wake of this episode.

MW: Interesting observations, Mark Pearson, I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

MP: Thanks Matt

MW: Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism and Social Media at Griffith University’s School of Humanities (Languages, and Social Science).

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RELATED:

Our book Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (Shelton Gunaratne, Mark Pearson and Sugath Senarath eds; Routledge, NY, 2015)  explored the possibilities of applying mindfulness techniques to journalism practice.

Interested? You can listen to my 10 minute interview on Radio National’s Media Report here.

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See also my account of the basic principles of mindful journalism in the journal Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, and the editors have been kind enough to make that article available for free viewing as a feature item on their website here. You might also want to explore some of their other fascinating articles on media ethics here and perhaps subscribe.

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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 2016

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Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media

Lessons in ‘Right Speech’ and mindful communication in Queensland defamation case

By MARK PEARSON

THE comedians on the Ten network’s ‘The Project’ had some fun with defamation last Friday when they used a fairly sobering Queensland case as the reason to interview me on the basics of that law.

First up, a clarification. Near the end of the segment they seemed to imply quite incorrectly that I am a lawyer which, of course, I am not!

Mark Pearson (@journlaw) interviewed on The Project about defamation 24.4.15 [At 33 mins 15 secs]

Mark Pearson (@journlaw) interviewed on The Project about defamation 24.4.15 [At 33 mins 15 secs]

There is a serious side to this. The Queensland case they used as the segue to my very rudimentary explanation of defamation law was Sierocki & Anor v Klerck & Ors (No 2) [2015] QSC 092 where Justice Flanagan had ordered a total of $260,000 in damages be awarded to the plaintiff and his company over various Internet slurs against them by his former business partner and others.

The defendants had earlier failed in their attempt to prove the truth of the imputations that the plaintiff was fraudulent; was a conman; had committed adultery; had used illegal drugs; was evil; was a thief; was a liar; and preyed on the innocent and that his company’s services were disreputable; unprofessional and encouraged threatening behaviour. Quite a slur indeed.

33671_GAZThe Courier Mail reported earlier that the plaintiff was also suing Google for $2.6 million over its search results linking him to the sites containing those imputations.

The case is interesting for media law students for a range of reasons – the large award of damages, the fact that they were Internet publications, and for the proposed action against Google.

But I find the most instructive lesson is the extent to which a dispute between business partners can escalate so far out of control that one should take to the Internet to cast these kinds of aspersions against the other.

Justice Flanagan noted in the judgment that the cause of the original dispute was unknown, but the result has been enormous financial and emotional cost to all parties.

Our new book Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (Shelton Gunaratne, Mark Pearson and Sugath Senarath eds; Routledge, NY) examined some of the causes of such disputes and the damage that language can cause to reputations and relationships.

I take this further in a forthcoming article in a special issue of the academic journal International Communication Gazette, edited by my Mindful Journalism lead editor Shelton Gunaratne.

In that article I examine the religious origins of defamation law and proceed to link it to the Buddhist concept of “Right Speech”, writing:

In this globalised, multi-cultural and multi-jurisdictional Web 2.0 era there should be no reason why the Judeo-Christian lens should have a monopoly on our examination of communication law. A mindful reading of defamation law benefits from a consideration of both Right Speech principles and concepts of necessary truth-telling. While it is far-fetched to expect judges and legislators in the West would turn to Buddhism for the reform of defamation law, an effort to abide by truth-telling and Right Speech principles could operate effectively when professional communicators are attempting to avoid libel litigation when pursuing their stories. Further, they present excellent tools for an alternative analysis.

The basic premise of Right Speech in Buddhism is that words should not be spoken (or written or published) if they are not factual or true, or if they are unbeneficial, unendearing or disagreeable to others. All of these elements seemed to apply in this case, or at least that was the tenor of the judgment. Of course, sometimes hard truths do need to be told, but we need to ensure they are provable as true or that we can operate under some other defence excusing their publication.

The Internet offers inordinate opportunities to those seeking to defame others. This is the latest in a series of judgments demonstrating that even when one side wins a record damages payout for defamation, nobody is really a winner when reputations are damaged for no defensible reason.

We need to look to our moral compass when speaking or writing ill of others and ask whether we have an ethical foundation for doing so.

———–

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 2015

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Stakeholder theory as a way of viewing social media policies and risk

By MARK PEARSON

My Skype guest of the week for our Social Media Law and Risk Management course this week is Professor Andrew Crane from York University in Toronto, Canada, the author of one of our key readings for the week on stakeholder theory.

The article is co-authored with Trish Ruebottom and is titled ‘Stakeholder Theory and Social Identity: Rethinking Stakeholder Identification’, Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 102, Supplement 1: Ethics, Corporations, and Governance (2011), pp. 77-87

We discussed the application of stakeholder theory to social media risk management and policy development. Professor Crane starts by explaining the basics of stakeholder theory (video and transcript below). Enjoy!

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Mark Pearson (@Journlaw): I am delighted to be joined here today by Professor Andrew Crane who is the George R Gardiner Professor of Business Ethics and Director of the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business at the Schulich School of Business in the York University in Toronto, Canada. Welcome Andy.

Professor Andrew Crane: Thank you Mark, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

MP: Well you’ve done a lot of research and writing in Stakeholder Theory, and my students have actually been reading one of your co-authored articles on the topic. And for postgrad students who are relatively new to this theory, would you mind just giving a nutshell summary for them?

AC: Sure. Stakeholder Theory is a pretty simple idea in many respects, you know. It’s really about the idea that corporations in particular are not just there to serve the interests of shareholders. So Stakeholder Theory was designed to give us a way of thinking about other ways of understanding both the ownership of corporations, but in particular how decisions should be made. So, who should be involved in decision making, and how should the benefits that are, driven by corporations, the value that is created by them; who should it go to? So Stakeholder Theory is really about those sorts of questions, so who can affect organisations, but also who is affected by them, and what sort of rights do they have in respect to that stake they have, how should they be consulted, how should they be involved in the decision making, and those sorts of things. So it’s a very broad theory, and I saw that in one of your other readings you had the paper What Stakeholder Theory is Not, because there is a whole sort of set of different ways of understanding what it is – you know, it’s a very simple idea: there are multiple constituencies in any organisation, but then when it comes to [the question] of well, who is actually included and what are the implications of that, then it becomes a much broader discussion of the purpose of corporations.

MP: Yes, and we see that at its simplest level, I guess it’s just simply a matter of stakeholders being there to serve the interests of a company, and the main stakeholders being the shareholders and the customers and the corporate directors. But really your article and the other one you mentioned certainly extends that a lot further and it enters that corporate ethics field, where a company and its decisions have so many more stakeholders interests at play.

AC: Exactly

MP: So, coming to your article which starts to talk about social identity and basically presenting a grid which shows some intersection of what might be seen as a traditional role in relation to a corporation, and other social roles someone might play. Would you mind just talking us through the basic principles there and your spin on that?

AC: The basic way we understand stakeholders is the kinds of interactions that they have with the firm; so we think about them as either customers or employees and suppliers, regulators or NGOs or whatever else they might be. That’s typical kind of transactional view of who those different constituencies are. But the reason why different groups may actually mobilise or try and gain legitimacy in relation to firm, how they might press their claims, the kind of stake that they think they have, is not always about those simple transactions that they are engaged with. The reasons that people do things, the reasons people collect together to collaborate and press their claims upon firms are also about who people believe they are, about their social identity. So what are the bonds that connect me to other people that means these are the things that bring people together and make them mobilise in a social movement or some sort of pressure towards companies. So it may well be that I’m a customer of a firm, but I’m might simultaneously also be an employee, I might also hold shares in that firm; and I’ve got all kinds of different relationships with that firm at any one time. What we are trying to do with (Stakeholder) Theory with our paper is to say well, when people actually do try and press their claims, it is often about who we feel connected to that’s important. So the fact that I’m a white, British male for example who lives in Canada, that is very important for why I may be involved, why I might connect with certain firms. For example, it might be very different if I was a woman or a person of colour, or any other kind of quality which might impact on how I connect with companies.

MP: Well it seems, because of that very reason, to lend itself to an examination of social media in relation to a corporation; and particularly in the case of an emerging crisis because people with different social identities might fluctuate more towards social media for different reasons and in different places. Have you thought yourself about the interaction of Stakeholder Theory and social media in the corporation?

AC: I think one of the important ways of connecting up Stakeholder Theory and social media as well if a firm is trying to work out who it should be communicating with through social media; who the constituencies who are important; Stakeholder Theory provides a framework for that, because it gives us a way of thinking through who are the legitimate constituencies that we should be connecting with, how can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate, and also between who are the more powerful or less powerful that we should be connecting with. Stakeholder Theory is often seen in very instrumental terms in that sense; it is a strong instrumental approach there which says firms will care about stakeholders that matter – those that have power, those that have legitimacy, those whose stakes are very urgent. So social media is all about power in many respects; it’s about who you can influence, who you can connect to, how many people in your list of Twitter followers and what have you. So for firms it provides a framework for them to establish who matters in terms of their different constituencies. If we take it in an ethical dimension, take it in a more normative perspective, we say well ‘what rights do those people then have’? What sort of rights do you have as an employee, as a consumer, as a broader stakeholder of an organisation in relation to how it is going to communicate to you – in terms of protection of privacy, protection of various rights in terms of bullying and other things through social media?

MP: Yes – and also I think it can catch some corporations by surprise if they haven’t thought through particular social media stakeholders, or people who are using social media who may be stakeholders. And we see this with these grassroots campaigns against major corporations where they’ve underestimated the power of public momentum and social conscious using social media – which fits with your social identity perspective on that, doesn’t it?

AC: Absolutely. I think one of the interesting things here is that we tend to think of stakeholders in terms of a hub with spokes, right? Here’s the firm, here’s the decision making unit, and here’s the employees, here’s the consumers, here’s the suppliers, here’s the others; but social media is all about interconnections between different stakeholders and between different groups. You can’t think in those terms anymore if you’re trying to understand social media. Stakeholder Theory has limits in its traditional view and understanding it, unless you take it to a much more networked, much more nuanced kind of understanding of the types of environments that firms are interacting with.

MP: Well, while Stakeholder Theory might be very useful in research and the academic and looking at corporations and their interaction with various stakeholders, how useful is it as a practical tool in an organisation? So if you were a marketing manager or a public relations manager and you wished to avert some crisis in your company by trying to ascertain who the various stakeholders are and their respective interests.

AC: It can be very useful. It depends how you use it. It can be very effective at helping firms become prepared for identifying the various constituencies they need to be concerned about. If you take it seriously you need to be creative about trying to imagine who those constituencies are, because it is not just who is going to affect you now, when you think about a particular decision, who is going to be affected further down the line. So it can help you to identify these constituencies, but it can also help you to start thinking about, well, how can we predict what the type of response will be from those constituencies, depending upon how much power they have, how much influence, leverage, whether they are connected to other stakeholders in ways that mean they can leverage even greater influence and those sorts of things. So you can start to predict the kind of responses that may happen based on simple stakeholder framework that then gets into the idea of who has power, who can influence what is going to happen in the firm.

MP: And could you see it fitting in any way into the planning and drafting of a social media policy within an organisation?

AC: Certainly, yes. Both in terms of identifying who should be included in that policy, but perhaps more importantly, who should actually be involved in even devising the policy. Stakeholder Theory is all about who should be involved in decision making, so the question will be can we just set up a policy and then kind of send it out and everyone is going to abide by it. Well, realistically, that is not how social media works is it? It is a very unruly phenomenon. So it’s also thinking about who should be involved in the decision making. Who are the parties who are affected by this, and with our social identity card on it. So it’s not just ‘okay we need to involve our employees, or we need to involve our consumers’, but what particular subgroups of those employees or consumers might we need to be concerned with? So Facebook had its big issues with lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community a couple of years ago by making sure that everyone had their real name as part of their Facebook profiles. This community was saying that they wanted also to express other identities as part of their names. So if you don’t have those groups involved when you’re setting up that policy in the first place, you’ve got all sorts of problems down the line when you realise you’ve upset core constituencies without thinking what it is that bind us all together in terms of our identity.

MP: Well that’s terrific, thanks Professor Crane. It’s great to have one of the authors of our readings talking to us about the subject matter at hand, and I would really thank you for your time today.

AC: It’s been a pleasure, thank you very much.

© Mark Pearson 2015

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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Presenting the best of @Griffith_Uni student news blogs

By MARK PEARSON

THE greatest reward for a teacher at any level of education is in celebrating your students’ successes. Colleague Mic Smith and I did this today as we announced the winners of various awards to our students in the course Online News Production, where students were assigned to create multimedia news content and post them to their own news blogs.

I hope you agree as you browse the winners’ work that there are some outstanding examples of multimedia journalism and social media engagement here across a host of topics.

Congratulations students on aiming for excellence … and achieving it!

Cheers,

Mark (@journlaw)

NathanWinners2014

Brisbane students of Griffith University celebrate their Online News Production Golden Mouse Awards for excellence in news blogs. Photo: Jimmy Wall

GCwinners2014-2

Gold Coast Griffith University students proudly display their Golden Mouse awards for excellence in news blogging. Photo: Kirsty Schmitt

Golden Mouse Awards 2014 – Brisbane 

Golden Mouse Award for Best Overall Blog

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 1.37.11 PMErin Maclean

Lady Game Bug

http://ladygamebug.wordpress.com/

 

Golden Mouse Award for Best Multimedia News Story

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 1.38.37 PMNatasha Hoppner

‘Police say vested interests will prevent power abuse’

B4G20 blog

http://b4g20.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/84/

 

Golden Mouse Awards – Gold Coast

Golden Mouse Award for Best Overall Blog

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 1.42.41 PMPaul Eyers, James Laidler and Tom Mann

Waterways News Gold Coast

http://waterwaysnewsgoldcoast.wordpress.com/about/

 

Golden Mouse Award for Best Multimedia News Story

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 1.44.21 PMDanielle Laing

‘Food safety, fraud and what it means for organic farming in China’

Organic in China blog

http://organicinchina.tumblr.com/post/98375795557/food-safety-fraud-and-what-it-means-for-organic

 

Other category finalists and winners (Brisbane)

Best education or arts blog finalists

A Reel Film Focus http://areelfilmfocus.wordpress.com/

Jordan Towning, Jane Orme, Joshua Wells, Riley Jackson

Best education or arts blog winner

 Art Student Q : artstudentq.wordpress.com

Tara Ingham

Best human rights / international blog

Tamara Sydenham and Gabrielle Smith

Brisbane Universities Amnesty International Clubs

http://brisuniamnesty.wordpress.com/

Best community blog

Emma McCluney

Ambush the Airwaves

http://communityradiocompanion.wordpress.com/

Most mindful blog on social issues finalist

Jimmy Wall

Fork: Privacy and Cryptography News http://fork.dokterw.me/

 Most mindful blog on social issues winner

Christopher Da Silva and Tim Noyes (NA)

Hard Core Truth Australia

http://hardcoretruthaustralia.wordpress.com/

 Best multicultural or indigenous issues blog

Audrey Courty

Indigenous Pulse
http://
indigenouspulse.wordpress.com

Best mental health blog finalist

Daniel Conaghan: A Different Perspective

http://dcmentalhealth.wordpress.com/

Best mental health blog winner

Talkin‘ About Mental Health 

http://talkinaboutmentalhealth.wordpress.com/

Krystal Gordon and Rachel Harding

Best sports blog

Nickolas Feldon and Jonathan Najarro

Round 13

www.13thround.wordpress.com

Best nature, science or environment blog finalist

Amy Mitchell-Whittington: Fishes for Thought

fishesforthought.wordpress.com

Best nature, science or environment blog winner

Simon Graham: Returning Cuckoo

http://returningcuckoo.wordpress.com/

 

Finalists and winners (Gold Coast)

Best education or arts blog finalists

Lydia Collins Donlon – Chasing Swell – http://chasingswell.wordpress.com/

Phil Kimmins Ubud Letters – ubudletters.com

 Kirsty Schmitt – Educating Alice- http://educatingalice.wordpress.com

 Best education or arts blog winner

 Janis Hanley

Digital storytelling for learning

https://digitalstorytellingforlearning.wordpress.com

Best human rights / international blog finalists

Gold Coast Refugee Australia

 http://goldcoastrefugee.wordpress.com

Pratsiri Setthapong

Best human rights / international blog winner

Africa: The Real Picture

Ruth Goodwin, Uduakobong Etukudo, Ohimai Longe

http://africatherealpicture.wordpress.com/

Best community blog finalist

Sophie Wood 

Do Good Brisbane

dogoodbrisbane.wordpress.com

Best community blog winners

Gabrielle Quinn and Jayde Austin

The Hidden Wonders

thehiddenwonders.squarespace.com/home

Most mindful blog on social issues finalists

Maleika Halpin: appleadayblog.com

Courtney Kelly  and Daphne Maresca: http://boundbyculture.wordpress.com/

Most mindful blog on social issues winner

Samuel Turner:

What are the Odds: Gambling in Australia

http://gamblinginaustralia.wordpress.com/

Best multicultural or indigenous issues finalists

Courtney Kelly – Bound By Culture –  http://boundbyculture.wordpress.com/

Best multicultural or indigenous issues blog winner

Kaylene Lawson

Street Culture

www.stculture.com

Best health, nutrition and fitness blog

Jessica O’Donnell

Healthy Mind and Body

http://healthymindandbodyblog.com/

Best mental health blog finalists

Sarra Davis – Sincerely Sarra http://www.sincerelysarra.wix.com/sincerelysarra  

Crystal-Rose Fleming- Youthful Health – http://youthfulhealth.wordpress.com/

Best mental health blog winners

Jo-Anne Wormald and Emma Lasker (GC)

Golden Oldies News

www.goldenoldienews.wordpress.com

Best sports blog finalists

Brooke Dalton and Alexandra Purser

SEQ Sports Report

http://seqsportsreport.wordpress.com 

Best sports blog winner

Mathilda Andersson

The Sunny Side of Hockey

http://www.thesunnysideofhockey.wordpress.com

Best nature, science or environment blog finalists

Bjorg Hildrum Saltveit and Tone Skredderbakken

UniUniverse

http://uniuniverse.wordpress.com 

Best nature, science or environment blog winner

Kelly Campbell

Plastic For Fence Sitters
http://kellyanncampbellwp.wordpress.com/

Best fashion or lifestyle finalist

Gabriella Ruiz

Brisbane Fashion Bloom

http://brisbanefashionbloom.wordpress.com/

Best fashion or lifestyle winner

Casey Brown

The Fashion Connection 2014

http://thefashionconnection2014.wordpress.com/

———–

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 2014

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Memo #RSF Paris: Australian media freedom at risk from anti-terror laws

By MARK PEARSON

[Research assistance from media freedom intern Jasmine Lincoln]

Memo to: Benjamin Ismail, Bureau Asie-Pacifique, Reporters sans frontiers (RSF – Reporters Without Borders), Paris.

From: Mark Pearson, RSF correspondent, Australia

RSFlogo-enI regret to advise that several events and policy proposals have impacted negatively on the state of media freedom in Australia.

They are highly likely to threaten Australia’s ranking on your forthcoming RSF World Press Freedom Index.

A raft of new laws and policies proposed by the conservative Abbott Government has placed its stamp on media law and free and open public commentary.

The initiatives follow in the steps of the prior Labor Government that had proposed a new media regulatory regime with potentially crippling obligations under the Privacy Act.

In the course of its first year in office the Abbott Government has:

– imposed a media blackout on vital information on the important human rights issue of the fate of asylum seekers;

– initiated major budget cuts on the publicly funded ABC;

– used anti-terror laws to win a ‘super injunction’ on court proceedings that might damage its international relations (see your earlier RSF release on this, which I cannot legally reproduce here for fear of a contempt charge);

– moved to stop not-for-profits advocating against government policy in their service agreements, meaning they lose funding if they criticise the government;

– slated the Office of the Information Commissioner for abolition, promising tardy FOI appeals;

– proposed the taxing of telcos to pay for its new surveillance measures, potentially a modern version of licensing the press;

– proposed ramped up surveillance powers of national security agencies and banning reporting of security operations (See Prime Minister’s August 5 release here);

– proposed increased jail terms for leaks about security matters (you issued a release on July 22 the impact for whistleblowers);

– mooted a new gag on ‘incitement to terrorism’;

– proposed new laws reversing the onus of proof about the purpose of their journey for anyone, including journalists, travelling to Syria or Iraq.

Major media groups have expressed their alarm at the national security proposals in a joint submission stating that the new surveillance powers and measures against whistleblowers would represent an affront to a free press.

Over the same period the judiciary has presided over the jailing of a journalist for breaching a suppression order, the conviction of a blogger for another breach, and several instances of journalists facing contempt charges over refusal to reveal their sources. There have also been numerous suppression orders issued, including this one over a Victorian gangland trial.

Other disturbing signs have been actions by police and departmental chiefs to intimidate journalists and media outlets.

  • The Australian Federal Police raided the Seven Network headquarters in Sydney in February, purportedly in search of evidence of chequebook journalism, triggering an official apology this week.
  • Defence Chief General David Hurley wrote to newly elected Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie in March, warning her not to use the media to criticise the military.
  • Freelance journalist Asher Wolf received a threatening letter from the secretary for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) Martin Bowles following her co-written article for the Guardian Australia on February  19, 2014 titled ‘Immigration Department data lapse reveals asylum seekers’ personal details.’ The public service mandarin’s letter implied Wolf had obtained the material on which the article was based by ‘dishonest or unfair means’ and demanded Wolf agree not to publish the contents and ‘return all hard and soft copies of the information’ including any her storage devices. See the letter here: WolfDIBP to The Guardian – A Wolf. The Sydney Morning Herald later reported that the DIBP was hiring private contractors to trawl social media and order pro-asylum seeker activists to remove their protesting posts.

I am sure you will agree that these developments are not what we would expect to be unfolding in a Western democracy like Australia where media freedom has previously been at a level respected by the international community.

Kind regards,

Mark Pearson (@journlaw)

—–

Sources for further detail on the national security reforms:

(6 August, 2014). Inquiry into the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 Submission. Retrieved from: file:///C:/Users/jasmine/Downloads/17.%20Joint%20media%20organisations%20(1).pdf.

Criminal Code Act 1995 (Qld) s. 5.4 (Austl.).

Grubb, B. (19 August, 2014). Anti-leak spy laws will only target ‘reckless’ journalists: Attorney-General’s office. Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/antileak-spy-laws-will-only-target-reckless-journalists-attorneygenerals-office-20140818-1059c7.html.

Grubb, B. (30 July, 2014). Edward Snowden’s lawyer blasts Australian law that would jail journalists reporting on spy leaks. Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/consumer-security/edward-snowdens-lawyer-blasts-australian-law-that-would-jail-journalists-reporting-on-spy-leaks-20140730-zyn95.html.

Hopewell, L. (17 July, 2014). New Aussie Security Laws Would Jail Journalists for Reporting on Snowden Style-Leaks. Retrieved from: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2014/07/new-aussie-security-laws-would-jail-journalists-for-reporting-on-snowden-style-leaks/.

Murphy, K. (17 August, 2014). David Leyonhjelm believes security changes restrict ordinary Australians. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/17/david-leyonhjelm-security-changes-restrict-australians.

Parliament of Australia (15 August, 2014). Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, 15/08/2014, National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014. Retrieved from: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;db=COMMITTEES;id=committees%2Fcommjnt%2F2066f963-ee87-4000-9816-ebc418b47eb4%2F0002;orderBy=priority,doc_date-rev;query=Dataset%3AcomJoint;rec=0;resCount=Default.

The Greens (1 August, 2014). Brandis presumption of terror guilt could trap journalists, aid workers. Retrieved from: http://greens.org.au/node/5617.

 

© Mark Pearson 2014

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

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Filed under free expression, national security, Press freedom, terrorism, Uncategorized