Tag Archives: Code of Ethics

New Australian Press Council standards start August 1

Guest report from JASMINE LINCOLN, Griffith University media freedom intern

THE Australian Press Council (APC) has released its new Statement of General Principles as part of its Standards Project where it is reviewing its Standards of Practice and creating new ones.

It applies to all print and online news material from August 1, 2014.

Mark Pearson ( ) recently had the chance to interview Australian Press Council chair Professor Julian Disney on the role and direction of the Council.

In this interview he discussed the recent reforms to the Council, the move to improve its editorial standards, and the future for media ‘self-regulation’ as broadcast, print, online and social media formats continue to converge.

(12 mins, recorded 17 March 2014). Apologies for some audio sync issues!

The Council states on its site:

The revised Statement of General Principles does not seek to change substantially the general approach which has been taken previously by the Council. The main purposes are to ensure that the Principles accurately reflect that approach, are as clear as possible and are succinct.

Amongst other things, the new Statement of General Principles clarifies

• the principle that reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that factual material is accurate and not misleading applies to material of that kind in all types of article;

• the principle of reasonable fairness and balance applies to presentation of facts (including presentation of other people’s opinions) but not to writers’ expressions of their own opinion.

The Principles focus on four sets of key values:

• accuracy and clarity;

• fairness and balance;

• privacy and avoidance of harm;

• integrity and transparency.

The first phase of the Council’s ongoing changes has involved a review of the General Principles and the development of Specific Standards.

The next phase of the project includes a number of developments, including reviews of Privacy Principles and new Specific Standards on technological media outlets.

Also amongst these developments is a “systemic monitoring of compliance” (Australian Press Council, 2014) regarding the practice of the new standards.

This will directly affect the work of journalists because they will have their articles examined by the APC.

According to Press Council chair Professor Julian Disney, there are two main reasons for this Standards Project: so that the Standards of Practice are clearer and so they appropriately reflect the modern media context.

As a result of this project, the APC hopes that the new standards “will deal more effectively” with numerous complaints that they receive each year.

Sources:

Australian Press Council (2014). The Standards Project. Retrieved from: http://www.presscouncil.org.au/the-standards-project/

Robin, M (July 2014). Higher standards for opinion writing as Press Council refocuses for digital age. Retrieved from: http://www.crikey.com.au/2014/07/22/higher-standards-for-opinion-writing-as-press-council-refocuses-for-digital-age/

© Jasmine Lincoln 2014

Disclaimer: While this blog is 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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Australian Government’s latest national security bill to stifle debate

By MARK PEARSON

The Australian Government has opted for censorship and secrecy over scrutiny and natural justice with its latest national security bill introduced in the Senate last week.

haneefcover

Haneef – A Question of Character, by Jacqui Ewart

The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 extends security agencies’ powers to search and use surveillance devices in the new communication environment, introduces a new ‘multiple warrants’ regime, offers immunity to intelligence personnel who break all but the most serious laws, while increasing penalties for whistleblowing and criminalising the reporting of leaked intelligence-related information.

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis introduced the legislation on Thursday (July 17).

The crucial section affecting journalists and bloggers is straightforward:

35P Unauthorised disclosure of information

(1)  A person commits an offence if:

(a)  the person discloses information; and

(b)  the information relates to a special intelligence operation.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 5 years.

It continues to set a 10 year jail term if the disclosure is deemed to “endanger the health or safety of any person or prejudice the effective conduct of a special intelligence operation.” A selective list of exemptions makes no mention of material being published in the public interest.

The provision is clearly aimed at preventing Wikileaks or Snowden-style leaks of recent years and their broad publication in the world’s media and across social media, to the embarrassment of governments including Australia’s.

As I detailed in my recent Walkley Magazine article, ‘Terror on the books’ (May 29, 2014), Australian governments from both Labor and the conservative parties have contributed to the enactment of more than 50 pieces of legislation at national level (and many more at state level) since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, many of which have impacted free expression and reportage. Colleagues Dr Jacqui Ewart, Joshua Lessing and I detailed this trend in a recent article in the Journal of Media Law.

The Haneef case in 2007 showed how national security laws could be used to restrict media access to information in an anti-terrorism matter. In that case, the accused was ultimately acquitted after a leak to the media showed how little evidence there really was against him. If this new law was in place, journalists might face jail for reporting such an injustice.

The proposed law is so draconian that it has prompted a release from Paris-Based Reporters Without Borders.

Without a bill of rights or constitutional amendment to protect free expression or media freedom in this country, it is left to those who care about free speech to make their objections clear. Please write to the Federal Attorney-General at senator.brandis@aph.gov.au opposing this legislation. Please also make submissions stating any concerns to parliamentary committees reviewing the legislation when it reaches the committee stage. Sadly, in Australia there will be no formal review of the free expression implications of the bill.

© 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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Australian Press Council Chair Julian Disney with @journlaw

By MARK PEARSON

I recently had the chance to interview Australian Press Council chair Professor Julian Disney on the role and direction of the Council.

In this interview he discusses the recent reforms to the Council, the move to improve its editorial standards, and the future for media ‘self-regulation’ as broadcast, print, online and social media formats continue to converge.

(12 mins, recorded 17 March 2014). Apologies for some audio sync issues!

© 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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National security and anti-terror laws continue to threaten journalism

By MARK PEARSON

* This article was first published as ‘Terror on the books’ in the Walkley Magazine on May 29, 2014.

Walkley

More than 50 anti-terror laws have been introduced by the Australian government since the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001, and they continue to impact on our coverage of national security issues and place journalists and their sources at risk.

No Australian journalist would want to see lives lost in a terrorist attack, but there is evidence that existing laws give police, security agencies and the courts too much power in monitoring media activities and suppressing reports that are in the public interest. Two major reports now confirm some of these existing laws are over-reaching.

The long overdue Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Review of Counter-Terrorism Legislation was released in 2013.

As well as recommending changes to basic definitions of terrorist threats and harm, it proposes there be more opportunity for judicial reviews of the agencies’ search and seizure powers, and introducing some safeguards to the control order system (a control order restricts where a person goes and who they can meet).

The committee suggested that the communications restrictions be eased to allow a person subject to a control order access to a mobile phone, a landline phone and a computer with internet access.

Most importantly for journalists, the review recommended the repeal of Section 102.8 of the Criminal Code dealing with “associating with terrorist organisations”. This reform would put beyond any doubt the likelihood of a journalist being convicted of this serious offence by just undertaking normal reporting duties.

Another major report came in November 2013 from Bret Walker SC, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM). It was his third report since being appointed to the review role in 2011.Walker repeated his earlier recommendation that ASIO’s questioning and detention warrants should be abolished and suggested improvements to the definition of a “terrorist act”.

He called for a simpler system of listing terrorist organisations and inserting an exception to the “associating with terrorist organisations” provisions for humanitarian groups such as the Red Cross.

While both reports focused on issues of natural justice and human rights, neither the COAG review nor the INSLM addressed the stifling of journalism in the anti-terror laws.

Sadly, there was little in the way of media lobbying to do so either. The COAG counterterror review received 30 submissions which it posted to its website, none of which were from media-related companies or journalism or free expression organisations.

The ripples of international security operations were also felt in Australia. In 2013 the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance wrote to Prime Minister Tony Abbott asking for a review of the extent of metadata surveillance conducted by governments in the wake of former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations.

There was good reason to be concerned. At least three cases in recent years have shown how the confidentiality of journalists’ sources can be compromised by surveillance by security agencies or anti-terror operations.

The retrial of “Jihad” Jack Thomas on terrorism charges in 2008 was based partly on interview materials gathered by Sally Neighbour from Four Corners and The Age’s Ian Munro and subpoenaed by the prosecution.

It emerged in the trial that up to 20 telephone calls between Neighbour and Thomas had been monitored by an ASIO agent.

The issue of confidentiality of whistleblowers’ identities also arose in the aftermath of the convictions of the Holsworthy Barracks bomb plot conspirators in 2011. The Australian had published an exclusive account on the raids in the hours before they occurred. (The three convicted plotters lost their appeals against their 18-year jail sentences last year.)

The Australian’s Victoria Police source, Simon Artz, paid for his leaks to the newspaper in the Victorian County Court with a four-month suspended sentence for unauthorised disclosure of information.

It was not a good year for whistleblowers internationally. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is holed up indefinitely in Ecuador’s embassy in London as he avoids extradition to Sweden on sex charges (and feared extradition to the US over security leaks). His US Army source – Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning – was sentenced by a military court to 35 years in jail for leaking classified documents. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden had fled to Russia to avoid prosecution over his leaks.

The whistleblower’s revelations about the extent of government surveillance continue to cause embarrassment, including in Australia where Prime Minister Tony Abbott reacted by attacking the ABC over its reportage. In an interview in early 2014, Abbott voiced his disapproval that the ABC had run stories about security services eavesdropping on Indonesian leaders’ phone conversations, a fact revealed by Snowden’s leaks.

The ABC then faced an “efficiency study”. It seems the Abbott government’s approach is to put the budgetary microscope on the ABC’s operations rather than wind back national security laws in the interests of media freedom.

The suppression of reporting on terrorism-related trials or evidence tendered in national security cases is an ongoing issue. The use of a closed court – combined with government media management – was central to the misplaced prosecution of Gold Coast Hospital registrar Dr Mohamed Haneef in 2007.

More than 30 suppression orders under anti-terror powers were imposed during the Benbrika trials in 2008 and 2009. In that case, Abdul Benbrika and 11 other Muslim men from Melbourne were charged with intentionally being members of a terrorist organisation. Their arrests in 2005 followed Operation Pendennis, a 16-month surveillance operation by Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police and ASIO.

While by 2014 legislation covering suppression and non-publication orders had been introduced into only the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian jurisdictions, it appears that other states and territories are following suit to harmonise the laws.

© 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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How the ABC cuts will damage media freedom in the region

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

[Thanks to press freedom intern Eve Soliman for her research assistance here.]

One of the saddest aspects of Tuesday’s budget cuts to the ABC and SBS and the axing of the $220 million Australia Network contract is the impact on media freedom in the Asia-Pacific region.

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 11.13.07 AMAmong the Australian values the Australia Network has advocated to neighbouring countries has been the effective operation of a genuinely independent national broadcaster – funded by the government yet producing high quality Fourth Estate journalism exposing corruption and questioning policy in the public interest.

Its current affairs schedule has included top shelf news and current affairs programs like 7.30, Dateline, Lateline, Foreign Correspondent, Q&A, The World This Week and of course ABC News Breakfast. Add to that the online curation via the Australian News Network website and you have a showcase of the media playing a watchdog role in a functioning democracy.

Many of the countries receiving the Australia Network fare much worse than Australia’s 28th position on Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, including Vietnam (174th), Singapore (150th) and Malaysia (147th).

These are nations where ‘public broadcasting’ means something quite different and journalists are subjected to licensing regimes and even jail, with 232 imprisoned in Vietnam in 2012 and, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more this month.

Our quality public broadcasting content has operated as an exemplar of how journalism can work in a properly functioning democracy.

The Australia Network commitment was one of the few budgetary investments in media freedom made by this country – and now it is gone.

So too will many journalism jobs if ABC management is unable to find further cuts in its tight administrative budget – which is unlikely according to managing director Mark Scott.

The Budget announcement that the ABC was suffering only a 1 per cent cut over four years might not sound much, but this needs to be combined with inflation of around 3 per cent increasing operating costs.

Anyone familiar with compound interest would understand that this 4 per cent annual deterioration represents an escalating erosion of the ABC’s budget over that period – down to 96% of its current budget in the first year, 92% in the second, 88% in its third, and 84.5% in the fourth.

You can see how – when combined with inflation – the 1 per cent haircut actually becomes a 15% decrease over those four years.

That means either fewer staff, fewer programs, or low cost junior personnel replacing experienced colleagues at the public broadcasters in coming years.

Australia Network viewers seem less likely to have the opportunity to view some of the Walkley Award winning reportage brought to them through its programming in recent years.

Our Asian and Pacific neighbours have been witness – via the Australia Network – to corruption being exposed in all quarters by leading Australian journalists whose media organizations are now under threat.

The network also relayed other news stemming from the work of Kate McClymont of the Sydney Morning Herald which led to many of the recent revelations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

They have also heard news of the Royal Commission into Child Abuse – also triggered by top notch investigative reporting by the Newcastle Herald’s Joanne McCarthy.

But recent Fairfax redundancies and pressures on other news organizations combines with this Budget decision to send a somber message to the region  – the quality and quantity of news and current affairs in this Western democracy is on the decline.

It will be interesting to see how this development feeds into Australia’s ranking in the 2015 RSF World Press Freedom Index.

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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Why Australians should care about World Press Freedom Day: My blog for No Fibs

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

CITIZEN journalism site No Fibs has just posted my latest blog on today’s international marking of World Press Freedom Day.

It got a nice nod from Paul Barry of ABC’s Media Watch. Cheers Paul!

You can view the full piece here, but here is a taste:

—-

Readers of the NoFibs site reap the rewards of citizen journalists expressing their news and views with a high level of free expression by world standards.

So why should Australians care about media freedom on World Press Freedom Day 2014?

Quite simply, because it is a ‘fragile freedom’ – continually under threat and only noticed by most people once they have lost it.

Just ask any of the refugees who have fled to Australia over the past century from regimes that have robbed them of their human rights. One of their first responses is typically that they love their new home country because it is ‘free’ and they can express themselves freely here.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 4.50.16 PMWhen you look at international indices of media freedom like that of Reporters Without Borders, Australia (ranked 28th) sits in stark contrast to the censorship and intimidation of journalists in many other countries like Vietnam (174th), China (175th) and Somalia (176th).

Journalists are not usually jailed in this country (although Melbourne broadcaster and blogger Derryn Hinch was a recent exception) – and they are certainly not tortured or murdered for exercising their right to free expression here.

At least in Hinch’s case he was duly tried and convicted (for breach of a suppression order) in a legal system that is open, just and in accordance with the rule of law.

The same cannot be said of another jailed Australian journalist, Peter Greste, who remains in jail in Egypt after 130 days along with five of his Al Jazeera media colleagues (and 14 others) on trumped up charges of defaming the country and of consorting with the Muslim Brotherhood.

While Greste’s plight has been highlighted here because of his nationality, he is just one of 168 journalists jailed throughout the world this year for just doing their job. The expression ‘shoot the messenger’ takes on a chilling reality when you also consider the 25 journalists, bloggers and citizen journalists killed already in 2014.

Australia’s relatively good performance in these press freedom rankings belies the fact that there are ongoing and emerging threats to free expression.

… and that’s just half of it. Read the full blog at No Fibs.

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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Journalists revert to age-old methods to protect sources, says @camstewarttheoz

By MARK PEARSON

National security reporter and associate editor at The Australian Cameron Stewart (@camstewarttheoz) says investigative journalists have to leave their smartphones back at their office when they are meeting confidential sources.

Stewart said the surveillance powers of national security agencies under anti-terror laws, combined with the geo-navigational features of Web 2.0 technologies, meant investigative reporters were reverting to 1970s techniques like those of Watergate reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward used when they met their famous source ‘Deep Throat’ in an underground car park.

“That is actually still the best way to get your information,” Stewart told me in the interview below.

“The thing I’ve got to my ear now [a smartphone] is your biggest enemy in every single sense as the Snowden revelations have shown.

“The ability of authorities to track movements of journalists is really of great concern as far as protecting sources goes.

“What they’re doing is quietly authorising metadata searches and things like that. What that does is give them every phone call you’ve made and I think they can piece together through your iPhone for example what your movements are over time.

“It’s not rocket science to work out what your movements are over a certain period of time and who you’ve been speaking to and who sources might be.”

Here Cameron Stewart talks with Professor Mark Pearson of Griffith University (@journlaw) about the impact of anti-terror laws on the reporting of national security issues. Stewart shares some of the methods he uses as a reporter when dealing with off the record information provided by whistleblowers  [15 minutes, recorded 1-5-14]

© 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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