Tag Archives: censorship

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Guide to Media Law (co-authored with Mark Polden, Allen & Unwin, 2015), Mindful Journalism (reference above) and my unpublished 2013 address to the Timor Leste National Congress for Journalists.]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.

———–

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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Investigative reporter and foreign correspondent Jess Hill (@jessradio) talks media law and censorship

By MARK PEARSON

We were honoured to have investigative reporter and former Middle East correspondent Jess Hill (@jessradio) visit Griffith University to talk about foreign correspondence and the use of social media in journalism.

She was obliging enough to agree to this studio interview with me on media law, censorship and freedom of the press.

Thanks to Bevan Bache and Ashil Ranpara for their camera work, production and technical support.

[Recorded 2.4.14, 11:13 mins].

© 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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How reliable are world press freedom indices?

By MARK PEARSON

The recent special edition of Pacific Journalism Review included an article I co-authored with Associate Professor Joseph Fernandez (@DrJM_Fernandez) from Curtin University looking at censorship in Australia.

It was titled “Censorship in Australia: Intrusions into media freedom flying beneath the international free expression radar.”

Part of the article considered the reliability of world press indices collated each year by international organisations like Reporters Without Borders and the Freedom Forum.

Here is a short abridged extract of our article to give you a background to the RSF approach and a sense of our argument:

Two main media freedom indices are cited internationally as indicators of the relative state of press freedom and free expression internationally. They are issued by the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF – Reporters Without Borders) and by the US-based Freedom House. Each has fine-tuned its rankings system over time and we summarise their methodologies here. The RSF World Press Freedom Index was first published in 2002. On its launch it explained:

The index was drawn up by asking journalists, researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about the whole range of press freedom violations (such as murders or arrests of journalists, censorship, pressure, state monopolies in various fields, punishment of press law offences and regulation of the media). The final list includes 139 countries. The others were not included in the absence of reliable information (RSF, 2002a).

It went on to detail its methodology as essentially a qualitative one based on its contacts in each country assessed and its headquarters staff. The index measured the ‘amount of [media] freedom’ in each country and the respective governments’ efforts to observe that freedom (RSF, 2002b). Its questionnaire sought details on: direct attacks on journalists (e.g. murders, imprisonment, physical assaults and threats) and on the media (e.g. censorship, confiscation, searches and other pressure); the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations; the legal environment for the media (e.g. punishment for press offences, state monopoly and existence of a regulatory body); the state’s behavior towards the public media and the foreign press; threats to information flow on the Internet; and the activities of armed movements and other groups that threaten press freedom (ibid).

Clearly, RSF’s emphasis from that early stage was on clear physical threats against journalists and major legal measures taken against the media in the surveyed countries. Australia ranked 12 out of 139 countries ranked in that first survey. New Zealand and other Pacific Island nations were not ranked because of a lack of information collected on them. The following year New Zealand debuted at position 17, while Australia had been demoted to 50 of 166 nations ranked (RSF, 2003).

RSF changed its ranking methodology significantly in 2013, when it ranked Australia at 28 out of 179 countries, and it is that revised approach which will be used for our discussion here about the potential assessment of Australia’s performance. It explained a shift to a new questionnaire and approach, with Paris-based staff quantifying the numbers of journalists killed, jailed, exiled, attacked or arrested, and the number of outlets directly censored (RSF, 2013). Other important criteria formed the basis of questionnaires sent to outside experts and members of the RSF network, including ‘the degree to which news providers censor themselves, government interference in editorial content, or the transparency of government decision-making’. Legislation and its effectiveness, concentration of media ownership, favouritism in subsidies and state advertising and discrimination in access to journalism and training were the subject of more detailed questions (RSF, 2013).

RSF then uses a complex algorithm to assign a score out of 100 to every country, drawing first on six general criteria of pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency and infrastructure; and then factoring in a special ‘violence score’ with a weighting of 20 per cent, calculated using a formula taking account of violence against journalists in the following declining weightings: death of journalists, imprisonments, kidnappings, media outlets attacked and ransacked, journalists who have fled the country, arrests, and attacks (RSF, 2013). An additional co-efficient takes account of respect for freedom of information in a foreign territory. In short, the algorithm strives to add quantitative mathematical rigour to a process that is largely qualitative, with a stronger weighting on acts of violence than upon legislative and systemic anti-media features. The approach incorporates difficult and problematic comparisons of the value of the murder of a journalist vis a vis laws of censorship.

[The article then backgrounds the Freedom House ‘Freedom of the Press’ reports methodology.]

The respective RSF and Freedom House indices are cited internationally in political speeches and academic works (Burgess, 2010, p. 4). For example, Belgian scholar Dirk Voorhoof linked high media freedom rankings with global reputation for human rights protection when he wrote:… the countries with a high level of press freedom, as shown in the international ratings of Reporters without Borders (RSF) or Freedom House, are countries in which democracy, transparency, respect for human rights and the rule of law is strongly rooted, institutionalised and integrated in society (2009).

However, despite assurances from both RSF and Freedom House that their reports and indices were undertaken with independence and rigor, they have come in for criticism from some quarters. For example, Schönfeld (2014) took issue with Russia’s rankings in both indices on the basis of a potential Western bias. She cited rumours that the Freedom House index was sponsored by the US government (p. 99):

The whole questionnaire presumes a comprehensive concept of media freedom, claiming that the media have to be embedded in a democratic society (p. 100).

She raised similar concerns about the RSF index, again citing a rumour that ‘the organisation contents itself with three or four completed questionnaires per country to the same target group’ (p. 100). She drew comparisons between the RSF and Freedom House approaches:

The conformity between these two indices is not astonishing, as the underlying concept of media freedom, methodology, and the target group are nearly the same (Schönfeld, 2014, p. 100).

Burgess (2010) canvassed the academic literature on media freedom indices and found a host of criticisms, including poor survey design, and recommended they ‘should continue to work to increase technical sophistication, validity across time, and transparency of sourcing, wherever possible without creating threats to the security of people who help in compiling them’ (Burgess, 2010, p. 50). Pearson (2012a) offered reasons as to why the RSF index could not be a precise scientific measure.

It could never be, given the enormous variables at stake, and has to rely on an element of expert qualitative judgment when making the final determinations of a country’s comparative ranking. If it was purely quantitative, for example, there would be an in-built bias against the world’s most populous countries because the sheer numbers of journalists and media organisations involved would increase the statistical likelihood media freedom breaches or incidents involving journalists.

Further, the individual rankings of countries in any particular year are subject to the performance of the nations above and below them. In fact, a country might well decline in the real state of its media freedom but be promoted in an index because of the even worse performance of countries ranked above it the year prior. As Burgess noted, however, the indices were cited widely on their release each year and thus represented a useful tool for promoting the value of media freedom internationally (Burgess, 2010, pp. 6-7). Pearson (2012a) stated:

Governments might take issue with the methodology and argue over their precise rankings, but the index draws on the energies and acumen of experts in RSF’s Paris headquarters and throughout the world; and is thus taken seriously in international circles. It serves to raise awareness about media and Internet freedom, which cannot be a bad thing in an age of government spin.

Of course, any press freedom index is really only a continuum because media freedom is not an absolute, scientifically measureable criterion and there is no haven of free expression or press freedom internationally. Indeed, established international instruments reflect the non-absolute nature of free speech. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has a right to freedom of expression (Article 19). However, this right is qualified. For example, Article 12 provides that noone no one shall be subjected to attacks upon ‘honour and reputation’. Likewise, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights qualifies the freedom of expression right in Article 19(2), with a provision stipulating that that freedom ‘carries with it special duties. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions…such as are provided by law and are necessary’.

Interested? Here is the citation for the full article. Order your PJR copy now.


Pearson, M., and Fernandez, J. M. (2015). Censorship in Australia: Intrusions into media freedom flying beneath the international free expression radar. Pacific Journalism Review, 21(1): 40-60.

© 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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West Papua – the Indonesian media gag on Australia’s doorstep

Global Day of Action for Access to West Papua unites protestors across 20 cities

REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS / REPORTERS SANS FRONTIERES
PRESS RELEASE / COMMUNIQUÉ DE PRESSE

04.29.2015

ENG : http://en.rsf.org/indonesia-global-day-of-action-for-access-to-29-04-2015,47828.html

INDONESIA
Joint statement Published on Wednesday 29 April 2015.

See the the open letter to President Joko Widodo here.

London, 29 April 2014 – Dozens of demonstrators dressed in black gathered outside the Indonesian Embassy today to lead the global protest against West Papua’s 50-year long isolation. The demonstration was organised by TAPOL and Survival International, supported by Amnesty UK and the Free West Papua Campaign. The rally was one of 22 protests around the world calling for free and open access to Indonesia’s most secretive region. Since West Papua’s annexation in 1963, Indonesia has imposed a media blackout on the contested, resource-rich territory, allowing perpetrators of human rights violations to act with total impunity. West Papua is one of the world’s most isolated conflict spots. For decades, Indonesian security forces have brutally suppressed Papuan pro-independence movements.

The ‘Global Day of Action for Free and Open Access to Papua’ has sparked rallies in West Papua, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, Scotland, Germany, France, Italy and Spain. Protests in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are planned to take place later today. This global coordinated effort, the first of its kind, shows that worldwide solidarity for West Papua has reached unprecedented levels.

Esther Cann from TAPOL, a London-based NGO coordinating the rally said, “This is the first time we’ve seen anything like this level of support for West Papua. NGOs, parliamentarians and solidarity groups all around the world are telling Indonesia that human rights abuses in Papua can no longer be ignored. Papuan voices must be heard. In this age of information, it’s astounding that there are blackspot regions like West Papua.

From the Solomon Islands to Scotland to San Francisco, hundreds of demonstrators from 22 cities in 10 different countries united to call for a free and open West Papua. Demonstrators wore black, representing the ongoing media blackout in West Papua. They gathered to demand that President Joko Widodo fulfill his presidential campaign promise of opening West Papua to international journalists, humanitarian and human rights organisations. A three-minute silence was observed to symbolize the silencing of the media in West Papua.

President Jokowi himself has said that there is nothing to hide in Papua. So why is it still virtually impossible for journalists and NGOs to report on Papua? We know that serious human rights violations are happening in Papua, but we still have no idea of the scale of the killings and torture over the last 50 years,” said Cann.

This global day of action is our way of telling the Indonesian government that the world is watching. Even though they’ve kept West Papua isolated for 50 years, the world has not forgotten. The truth must and will come out,” said human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who took part in the protest.

At the end of the demonstration, a joint letter to President Jokowi signed by 52 Papuan, Indonesian and international groups and parliamentarians was delivered to the Indonesian Embassy in London. The letter pointed out that ‘the media blackout denies the Papuan people the right to have their voices heard and allows human rights violations such as killings, torture and arbitrary arrests, to continue with impunity … The de-facto ban on foreign journalists, NGOs and humanitarian organisations contributes to the isolation of local journalists, and makes independent investigation and corroboration virtually impossible’. An Avaaz petition calling for media freedom in West Papua, launched by the Free West Papua Campaign and signed by over 47,000 people was delivered to President Jokowi by Papuan students in Jakarta today.

Reporters without Borders, a co-signatory to the joint letter, criticised Indonesia’s decline in media freedom. Benjamin Ismail, the Head of the Asia-Pacific Desk at Reporters without Borders said, “Indonesia’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has worsened dramatically in the last four years. In 2015, it ranked 138 out of 180 countries. This year’s position is mainly the result of the media blackout in West Papua orchestrated by the authorities.

Access for UN human rights observers has been closed for eight years. In recent years, international humanitarian agencies and NGOs have been pressured to close their field offices and leave Papua. International journalists and NGOs seeking to visit and work in Papua are currently required to undergo a stringent visa application process involving the unanimous approval of 18 separate government agencies known as the Clearing House committee.

In October last year, two French journalists were sentenced to 11 weeks in detention under immigration charges because they had tried to report the Papua conflict. During a UN Human Rights Council event last month, Valentine Bourrat, one of the two journalists detained stated that “…keeping Papua closed to journalists means that the Indonesian authorities are hiding human rights violations. As journalists we cannot let a murderous silence prevail.

Independent reporting by local and national journalists in Papua is dangerous and sometimes lethal. According to the Papuan branch of Indonesia’s Alliance of Independent Journalists (Aliansi Jurnalis Independen, AJI), in 2014 there were 20 reported cases of violence and intimidation against journalists in Papua.

Journalists must be able to work without intimidation, threats or restriction. We should be able to report independently and without fear for our security. Why is this not guaranteed to journalists in Papua? As Indonesian citizens, why are our rights not safeguarded?” said Oktovianus Pogau, a journalist with Suara Papua, a Papuan news site.

During his presidential campaign, President Jokowi publically stated that there was nothing to hide in Papua and promised to open the region. Yet six months into his presidency, Papua remains closed off to the international community. While President Jokowi has pledged his commitment to resolve past rights abuses, the execution of eight people for alleged drug trafficking offences less than 24 hours ago puts the future direction of Indonesia’s human rights into serious question.

Contact: Esther Cann, Coordinator, TAPOL, +44 7503 400308 esther.cann@tapol.org For photos of demonstrations in other cities please email campaigns@tapol.org

MORE INFO :

PACIFIC MEDIA CENTRE : WEST PAPUA: Open access now ’vital’, say NZ journalists, rights activists

WEST PAPUA MEDIA ALERTS : The Eyes of the Papuans: A video advocacy process

Benjamin Ismaïl
Head of Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Without Borders
CS 90247
75083 PARIS CEDEX 02
France
+33 1 44 83 84 70

Websites :
https://en.rsf.org/asia,2.html
https://surveillance.rsf.org/en/
http://index.rsf.org
https://www.wefightcensorship.org/index.html
Twitter :
@RSFAsiaPacific
@RSF_Asia (中文)
Facebook : facebook.com/reporterssansfrontieres
Skype : rsfasia
PGP : 0632 C9C7 8AC0 621A 92CC 9FEC 362F A254 1A54 54D7
KEY : 1A5454D7

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Forthcoming Pacific Journalism Review covers political journalism in the region

By MARK PEARSON

The May special edition of Pacific Journalism Review will include revised and refereed papers from the PJR2014 conference held in Auckland last November.

I was honoured to collaborate with Associate Professor Joseph Fernandez (@DrJM_Fernandez) from Curtin University on two of the articles in this forthcoming edition –  one on censorship in Australia and the reflection of this in world press freedom indices; and the other on recent developments in shield laws in Australia and on journalists’ attitudes to them and their confidential sources.

Interested? Here are the abstracts and citation details for both articles. Order your PJR copy now.


Pearson, M., and Fernandez, J. M. (2015). Censorship in Australia: Intrusions into media freedom flying beneath the international free expression radar. Pacific Journalism Review, 21(1): 40-60.

Australia has ranked among the top 30 nations in recent world press freedom surveys published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Freedom House and is broadly regarded as a substantially free Western liberal democracy. This article considers how the methodologies of those organisations assess the impact upon media freedom of a range of recent decisions and actions by Australian politicians, judges and government agencies. There is considerable evidence of a shift towards official secrecy and suppression of information flow. However, according to this analysis such developments are unlikely to impact significantly on Australia’s international ranking in media freedom indices. This article uses the methodologies of RSF and Freedom House to explore whether the international free expression organisations’ criteria are justifiably weighted towards violence against journalists, their imprisonment and formal anti-press laws and might allow for a nuanced comparison of other evidence of constraints on the news media in developed democracies.


Fernandez, J. M., and Pearson, M. (2015). Shield laws in Australia: Legal and ethical implications for journalists and their confidential sources. Pacific Journalism Review, 21(1): 61-78.

This article examines whether Australia’s current shield law regime meets journalists’ expectations and whistleblower needs in an era of unprecedented official surveillance capabilities. According to the peak journalists’ organisation, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), two recent Australian court cases ‘despite their welcome outcome for our members, clearly demonstrate Australia’s patchy and disparate journalist shields fail to do their job’ (MEAA, 2014a). Journalists’ recent court experiences exposed particular shield law inadequacies, including curious omissions or ambiguities in legislative drafting (Fernandez, 2014c, p. 131); the ‘unusual difficulty’ that a case may present (Hancock Prospecting No 2, 2014, para 7); the absence of definitive statutory protection in three jurisdictions—Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory (Fernandez, 2014b, p. 26); and the absence of uniform shield laws where such law is available (Fernandez, 2014b, pp. 26-28). This article examines the following key findings of a national survey of practising journalists: (a) participants’ general profile (b) familiarity with shield laws: (c) perceptions of shield law effectiveness and coverage: (d) perceptions of story outcomes when relying on confidential sources; and (e) concerns about official surveillance and enforcement. The conclusion briefly considers the significance and limitations of this research; future research directions; some reform and training directions; and notes that the considerable efforts to secure shield laws in Australia might be jeopardised without better training of journalists about the laws themselves and how surveillance technologies and powers might compromise source confidentiality.


© 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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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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Threats to media freedom in Australia so far in 2014

This semester I have had the privilege of working with two capable press freedom interns who have been helping me research my reports to Reporters Without Borders in Paris as their Australian correspondent.

Reporters-Without-BordersHere is a summary of the posts from TONI MACKEY and EVE SOLIMAN:

13/03/2014

ABC’s Two Independent Audits Clear Accusation of Biased Coverage

There were two cases where ABC was accused of having a biased coverage. These cases were the news coverage of the 2013 Election against the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the news coverage on Australian Asylum Seeker issues. Andrea Wills conducted an audit of 23 items that involved radio coverage of the 2013 election and found the items all followed the ABC’s Editorial Policies found in section 4. Gerald Stone conducted the audit on the asylum seeker issue and analysed 97 reports. He found the 93 were unbiased and followed ABC’s Editorial Policies. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/audits-exonerate-abc-over-bias-claims/story-e6frg996-1226852398864

Malcolm Turnbull’s Media Reform

Malcolm Turnbull is proposing media reforms however Labor is opposing them because they are worried that it will affect local TV news. These reforms could affect Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media and the Ten Network in preventing them owning regional affiliates. Turnbull is also considering repealing the laws that prevent anyone from owning two out of three media outlets in the one market. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/12/malcolm-turnbull-has-opened-a-can-of-worms-on-media-reform-labor

 18/03/2014

Rinehart’s Court Order to help the introduction of uniform shield laws

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart demanded Adele Ferguson to release her sources, however a court has ruled in Ferguson’s favour with Rinehart’s business having to pay all of her court costs. This case is also being used in support of uniform shield laws for journalists throughout Australia. There have been several previous cases in Australia where journalists have been threatened and charged over not releasing sources. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-15/rinehart-ordered-to-pay-journalist27s-costs/5323084

Politician warned over releasing media statements regarding the military unless given permission

Defence Chief General David Hurley has warned the newly elected Jacqui Lambie against using the media to criticise the military. This was after she released a statement about abuse being an intractable problem in the forces. He sent her a letter stating that if she had any problems with the military then she should take them up with him and not via the media. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-14/tasmanian-senator-elect-jacquie-lambie-labels-a-letter-from-the/5320106?section=tas

26/03/2014

Proposed Legislation Changes Freedoms on Hate Speech

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act –  making it illegal to publicly offend, insult, humiliate on the grounds of race – has been slated for removal in a reform. The proposed legislation states : “it is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if a) the act is reasonably likely (i) to vilify another person or a group of persons; or (ii) to intimidate another person or group of persons.” Section 18D would be repealed and replaced with “ this section does not apply to words, sounds, images, or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.” Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-25/racial-discrimination-act-changes-george-brandis/5343464

01/04/2014

Prime Minister Supports Australian Journalist in Egyptian Jail

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has finally intervened and asked the Egyptian President for the release of journalist Peter Greste. The President has assured Tony Abbott that Greste’s case would be subject to a fair and just trial. He has assured Greste’s family that he would receive all the legal support and assistance that is needed. This comes after a previous article reporting the Opposition Labor Party had pushed for the PM to intervene. They have also declared their support and assistance towards this matter. Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/grestes-family-hail-pms-intervention/story-fni0xqi4-1226867971205?from=herald+sun_rss

02/04/2014

Gag Order involving Gangland Lawyer X by the Victorian Supreme Court placed on Media Outlets

The Herald Sun  in Melbourne has received a gag order from the Victorian Supreme Court. This order is to prevent publication of any information involving Lawyer X which could give away his identity. This order was extended to all media outlets the following day. It is suspected that the lawyer was a police informant from 1996 to 2010. Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/herald-sun-silenced-in-latenight-court-case-from-telling-you-more-about-lawyer-x/story-fni0fit3-1226871611414

 

08/04/2014

Dob in a public servant campaign

Public servants have been urged to dob in their colleagues for posting political criticisms on social media. This comes under the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct and breaches of this act include “harsh or extreme in their criticism of the Government, Government policies, a member of parliament from another political party, or their respective policies, that they could raise questions about the employee’s capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially.” It covers posts that are made on facebook, twitter, youtube, pinterest, flikr, blogs, forums and wikipedia. Source: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/colleagues-told-dob-in-political-web-posts/story-fni0cx12-1226875635588

Seven Network’s reputation damage by the Australian Federal Police

Seven Network suffered damages to its reputation after an Australian Federal Police raid that was looking for evidence of a deal with Schapelle Corby. The network says that even if there was a deal, there was no criminal offence and that because of the raid it has suffered damage to its corporate image from it imply they have committed an offence. They stated that they complied with the instructions to hand over documents to the AFP, however it was implied that there was further material that was being withheld. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/07/seven-network-says-it-suffered-reputational-damage-after-afp-raids

09/04/2014

Mamma Mia Faces Possible Contempt of Court

Mamma Mia journalist Kate Leaver’s article included alleged prejudicial remarks on the Hughes case. At this time however the jury was still in session, the article was published with a headline that did not state the subject of Robert Hughes which meant that the jury members could have been exposed to biased information. Coverage on this possible conviction of contempt of court was banned to be reported on until after the trial was over. The article involved accusations against Hughes’ wife. Judge Zahra referred the matter to the NSW Attorney General Source: http://mumbrella.com.au/mamamia-face-possible-contempt-court-charges-robert-hughes-case-219065

15/04/2014

Clive Palmer may back Cross Media Law Changes

Clive Palmer has said that he is considering voting for the repeal of cross media ownership. This is because of the introduction of new media outlets such as internet. Source: http://www.smh.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/clive-palmer-mulls-vote-for-cross-media-law-change-20140407-368xn.html

Journalist Wins First Round in Court Case

Natalie O’Brien has sued ABC’s Media Watch over defamatory remarks critiquing her reporting. She has won the first round of legal battles. This is in regards to her report over poisonous chemicals detected near a children’s playground in July last year. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/broadcast/journalist-wins-first-round-in-court-case/story-fna045gd-1226883045684#

13/05/2014

Australian Journalist Deported

An Australian journalist was deported from Myanmar. This was because he was covering a press freedom demonstration. The authorities accused him of breaching the terms of his business visa. They believe that he was taking part in the demonstration. This follows a previous journalist working for the same website Democratic Voice of Burma, being sentenced a year in jail. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-09/australian-journalist-deported-from-myanmar/5440830

Photographer attacked

The photographer  Sam Mooy was taking photographs of former boyfriend of previous PM Julia Gillard. Bruce Wilson is reported to have just lashed out and struck the photographer’s equipment, grabbed him by the collar and attempted to strike him. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/julia-gillards-exboyfriend-bruce-wilson-attacks-photographer/story-fn59noo3-1226914699235

20/05/2014

A Senate Inquiry found that the AFP bungled the raid on the Seven Network and that sources should be protected.

A government inquiry has found that the AFP raid on Seven network attempting to gather evidence of chequebook journalism being used in an exclusive interview with Schapelle Corby was incompetent and costly. The inquiry also found that sources should be protected in the case of such raids. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/afp-bungled-seven-network-raid-and-sources-should-be-protected-senate-inquiry-finds/story-e6frg996-1226919836654#mm-premium

21/05/2014

Budget Cuts Get Rid of Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

The Federal Budget has called for the disassembly of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner by 1 January 2014. This is an effort to save $10.2 million a year. This dissolution means the duties will have to be relocated to four other bodies. Source: http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/government-it/abbott-government-uncomfortable-with-freedom-of-information-laws-opposition-20140514-zrc1r.html

27/05/2014

Treasurer Joe Hockey Suing Fairfax

Treasurer Joe Hockey is suing Fairfax over articles published that defamed him. They are about a fundraising event alleging in exchange for donations the donors gained access to him. He believes he has been greatly injured, shunned and avoided. His lawyers say his reputation has been brought into disrepute, odium, ridicule and contempt. He is claiming damages, interest and costs. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/the-media-debate-over-hockey-suing-fairfax/story-e6frg996-1226931129296#

Budget Media Cuts

Treasurer Joe Hockey’s budget contains a 1% cut to ABC and SBS funding for the next four years. Although this may seem minute in reality this also includes the media outlet not benefiting from the 3% inflation rate adjustments and remaining stagnant. The 1% cut amounts to an annual decrease of $9 million the first year, also the complete cancellation of funding for The Australia Network. ACMA (The Australian Communications and Media Authority) also is receiving a $3.3 million cut over four years. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/abc-news-to-feel-effect-of-australia-network-axe/story-e6frg996-1226917173980

Asher Wolf Case

Asher Wolf is a freelance journalist reporting of privacy breaches made by the Department of Immigration. However they then demanded Asher Wolf to hand over the materials relevant to the story. This breach was found on the Department of Immigration’s website where complete personal information of over 10,000 (1/3) of Australia’s asylum seekers with full name, birth date, arrival, placement etc. was accessible to unauthorized personnel. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/19/asylum-seekers-identities-revealed-in-immigration-department-data-lapse

Morcombe’s publicly call for a Change in Laws

Father of murdered schoolboy Daniel Morcombe, Bruce Morcombe,  has publicly pleaded for a change in law to allow juries to know about a defendant’s past crimes when they are on trial. Morcombe believes that “members of the public are smart enough to hear the truth in court”. During the murder trial the jury heard about the past crimes of another suspect, but not of the defendant’s. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/bruce-morcombe-calls-for-jurors-to-hear-past-crimes-of-defendants-after-his-son-daniels-killer-brett-peter-cowan-was-tried-without-his-criminal-history-being-revealed/story-e6frg6n6-1226905141811

Government Snooping

Accusations have arisen regarding Government bodies snooping on the public’s social media pages. It started from a tweet from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) to a pro-asylum seeker activist that gave the impression that they had seen posts on her private Facebook page. On April 4 2014, the DIBP sent Vanessa Powell a twitter message stating “it’s come to our attention that a Facebook post on your wall contains an offensive remark directed at a staff member”.  The tweets from the DIBP stated “If you do not remove your Facebook post with immediate effect, we will consider our options further” and “Post in question is dated yesterday, with a picture of a bus and contains a comment by George Georgiadis”.  This last tweet is in response to Ms Powell asking what tweet they were referring too. This post has since been removed from Ms Powell’s Facebook page. According to a Sydney Morning Herald article the DIBP hires private contractors who monitor social media every day to determine Australian perceptions on different policies. Source: http://www.smh.com.au/national/public-service/government-cyber-snoops-scouring-social-media-20140410-36gen.html

Australia-based African Defamation Case

Australian- based Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front writer Reason Wafawarova is being sued for defamation by former Zimbabwe Envoy ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila. Zwambila filed for a lawsuit back in 2011 where she claimed that Wafawarova defamed her in an article published in the Zimbabwean state media in 2010. This article claimed that a former Zimbabwean envoy had stripped in front of embassy staff. She has claimed that the article has followed her around, her name had been stigmatised and that it had taken dignity away from the country. Wafawarova has said that he is unable to receive a fair trial because his witnesses are Zimbabwean diplomats that have since been redeployed from the embassy and that their governments had refused his request for their appearances. He has also argued that the article was about something that happened on Zimbabwean soil and in a Zimbabwe newspaper so therefore Australia should have no jurisdiction over the matter. Source: http://www.swradioafrica.com/2014/05/12/former-envoy-sues-zanu-pf-writer-for-200000/

Senator Faulkner and Spy Cameras

Senator Faulkner has accused the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) of spying on him using CCTV cameras, which he says is a breach of parliamentary privilege. The head of DPS has been questioned by Senator Faulkner in a Senate Estimates hearing, where she has admitted to the footage being accessed “to gather evidence in a potential code of conduct case around an individual, yes”. It is believed by media that the reason behind this was to identify a whistleblower who was leaking information to the Senator. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/parliamentary-cameras-monitored-john-faulkner-with-whistleblower/story-fn59niix-1226931722580#

Fairfax Defamation Cases

Nick Di Girolamo who was the former chief executive of Australian Water Holdings is also suing Fairfax media in a $12.5 million defamation suit. He says that his reputation was trashed by stories published in the Sydney Morning Herald. These stories were from 2012 and 2013 and investigated involvement of the corrupt former Labor Minister Eddie Obeid in the water company. Sources: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/23/nick-di-girolamo-launches-125m-defamation-suit-against-fairfax-mediahttp://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/media-diary/obeids-to-sue-fairfax-for-50m/story-fnab9kqj-1226931115298#

Australian journalists face the possibility of extra delays in their freedom of information appeals with Australian federal budget cuts doing away with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) by January 2015.

The cut is meant to save $10.2 million a year, but dissolving  the OAIC will mean the duties that the agency carried out will have to be shifted into four other bodies.

The privacy functions that are carried out by the Privacy Commissioner will continue as an independent legislative position within the Human Rights Commission.

The external examination of Freedom of Information (FOI) will be adopted by the Administrative Affairs Tribunal.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman will take the responsibility of filing and treatment of FOI complaints.

The last function will be divided into the Attorney General’s Department, whose responsibility will include the administering of “FOI guidelines, collecting statistics and providing explanatory material on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982” (Office of the Information Commissioner disbanded as part of budget reforms, Ashurst Australia).

The budget cuts aimed at saving $10.2 million annually but will only save $3.3 million in direct financing this year and the cost of financing the continued duties, once carried out by the federal budget will be passed onto the four separate departments that it absorbed into. Source:

http://www.oaic.gov.au/news-and-events/statements/australian-governments-budget-decision-to-disband-oaic/australian-government-s-budget-decision-to-disband-oaic

© Toni Mackey and Eve Soliman 2014

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