Tag Archives: journalism education

Attack by The Australian supports case against ‘enforced self-regulation’ #Finkelstein


The Australian’s associate editor Cameron Stewart has argued that the immediate endorsement of the proposal for a statutory media regulator by some media academics was indicative of the irrelevance, ineptitude and Leftist bias of journalism educators generally.

Like any piece of attack journalism, it used carefully selected truths and sources to develop a positional and very political assault on the journalism education sector and the former (and current) journalists who teach, research and publish there. It is an old and flawed argument.

While I disagree with this kind of journalism and its use by a leading masthead, I think it presents a unique lesson on why Finkelstein’s core proposal for a News Media Council with statutory powers to order corrections and apologies is so wrong.

Journalism educators have quite rightly taken umbrage at the article in the Weekend Australian and, as I blog, are composing a unified response to the attack.

This is the right course of action – to first seek redress and a right of reply from the publisher of the offending article.

If the identified individuals felt strongly enough about the imputations it contained about them – and if they had the resources available to them – they might take legal advice and perhaps sue for defamation.

For reasons I have outlined previously in Crikey, most principled journalists and editors do not resort to this measure because they value the free exchange of ideas too highly and do not wish to set such an example for others.

If the aggrieved journalism educators are dissatisfied with The Australian’s response, under the current regime they might instead make a complaint to the Australian Press Council over any unfairness, bias or inaccuracies in Stewart’s article they feel breaches that body’s Statement of Principles.

If the Council is unable to mediate a resolution, this would then be adjudicated by its complaints panel of (mainly) non-affiliated citizens and journalists, chaired by legal academic Julian Disney (or its vice-chair).

If the Council found The Australian had indeed been unfair, biased or inaccurate, or had unfairly refused to run a right of reply, the Council might decide to uphold the complaint and demand The Australian run its adjudication in full. As that newspaper’s parent company, News Limited, is an abiding member of the Council, it is likely that adjudication would be published. If not, it would at least appear on the Council’s website and among its regular releases on adjudications.

As outlined in several submissions to the Finkelstein inquiry, and noted at length in its final report, these processes could do with considerable improvement.

But consider the course of events under the proposed statutory body detailed in the report.

The early steps in the process would be fairly similar to the Council’s system, although the proposal would have the whole matter conducted ‘on the papers’, without legal representation, within a few days.

The ‘independent’ panel would be chaired by a retired judge or eminent lawyer appointed by the government of the day, and would have a different constituency with fewer media members.

However, rather than being told to publish the decision, The Australian might well be ordered under statutory powers to publish a correction, apology, retraction or right of reply.

The Australian might feel so strongly about its claims that it refuses to do so. After all, to ‘correct’, ‘apologise’ or ‘retract’ something over which you hold the heartfelt belief is true, however misguided, is itself an affront to those who hold such beliefs so strongly. Indeed, to be forced to apologise when you do not mean it is to be compelled to state a falsity.

The Australian’s refusal would be the disobedience of a statutory body and, under the Finkelstein proposals, would trigger a charge of contempt to be adjudicated by a court of law, with the usual penalties for contempt available to a judge – a fine or a jail term. (The report flags some opportunity to appeal the Council’s decision within that process – with all the accompanying legal costs for both sides.)

Some of my journalism education colleagues might be feeling so angry about the article that they might want Stewart or his editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell fined or jailed over this story. I suspect, however, that most would share my disdain for the possibility of such an outcome in a free democratic society which has no protection for free expression in its Constitution or Bill of Rights.

However, no matter how misleading and misplaced we may feel Cameron Stewart’s piece may be, there is no disputing the fact that some journalism academics immediately supported the proposal for a statutory regulator with such powers and potential consequences.

The ground seems to be shifting somewhat on that front. One of those attacked, Johan Lidberg from Monash University, initially (cautiously) supported the core recommendation but now states “A statutory based media regulator is highly problematic” (email to journalism educators, 10.3.12).

UTS Professor Wendy Bacon, and Swinburne’s Margaret Simons, have each written strong and well documented endorsements of Finkelstein’s criticisms of the mainstream media’s ineffective self-regulation, but have stopped short of endorsing the statutory enforcement option.

And so they should.

Wind the clock back to late 2010, and we had this very editor-in-chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell, threatening to sue journalism educator Julie Posetti for defamation over her tweets covering comments made by a former staffer from The Australian at a Journalism Education Association conference – the now infamous #twitdef episode.

Allow me a little licence with the scenario because the Finkelstein reforms might not cover tweets and the actual case was contentious partly because of its twitter brevity.

But let’s say a UTS student had reported the comments in that university’s student newspaper, and Mitchell had not sued, but had instead complained to the proposed ‘independent’ News Media Council about the article, on the same grounds of unfairness, inaccuracy and bias.

And what if, like Posetti, the student newspaper had stood by its article and refused to publish a retraction, correction or apology?

Well – assuming the newspaper met the definitional criteria of the new body as ‘news media’ which are far from clear – then we might well be facing the prospect of a journalism student or editor being jailed for what would otherwise may have been a defamation damages payment, and for which a defamation defence might well have applied.

Hypotheticals I know, but you need them to flesh out the potential implications of a new media regulator that would instantly convert ethical codes into punishable laws.

Only by using examples close to home can we understand the intransigence of both complainants and publishers. An analysis of both APC and ACMA complaints over recent years will reveal complaints over political views – a disproportionate number related to the Israel-Palestine dispute – where opinions are held so strongly that some proponents would face jail rather than retract or apologise.

One of the academics informing the Finkelstein inquiry, Denis Muller, has written a defence of the proposal on smh.com.au. It is worth quoting his final two paragraphs in full:

“It is proposed that the new council would have power to order corrections, apologies and rights of reply, and say where they should be published. The question of fairness arises here: if wrongful harm was done in a page one story, why shouldn’t at least the first two or three paragraphs of the remedial material also appear on page one? If a sanction was ignored or refused, the council would have the right to apply to a court for an order of compliance. The media company concerned could argue its case. Only if it lost and still refused to comply would it become legally liable — not to the council but to the court for contempt.

“Ideally, the media would do all this themselves: make a legally binding arrangement to set up an accountability body, properly funded, with transparent processes, credible sanctions and agreement to comply. History tells us it is unlikely, but maybe this report will act like a cattle prod on their collective hide.”

I might be wrong, but I read that final sentence as a hint that the whole statutory regulator proposal might be a trumped up threat to the mainstream media to get their regulatory house in order – not unlike David Calcutt’s 1990 warning to the British tabloids that they were ‘drinking at the last chance saloon’.

That may well be the case, and if so it seems to be already having an effect, with publishers meeting last week to discuss a revamp of the Press Council.

But if it is true, what a shame that Finkelstein should send such a message of endorsement of statutory media regulation to the regimes throughout the world who have already adopted it.


Mark Pearson is professor of journalism at Bond University and Australian correspondent for Reporters Without Borders. His views here do not purport to represent those of either of those organisations.

© Mark Pearson 2012

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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A Journalist’s ‘If’ (with apologies to Kipling)


Way back in 1975 the Sydney television newsreader Roger Climpson delivered a memorable rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s inspirational poem ‘If’ at my Caringbah High School speech night.

It prompted me to buy a poster of the famous verse and hang it next to Kahlil Gibran’s ‘Desiderata’ on my bedroom wall.

Thirty years later I was moved to bend and stretch Kipling’s precious words for the benefit of my Newspaper Reporting class. Each year I start my first lecture for that subject with its recital.

Today I share the product of that desecration of rhyme and meter with my Journlaw.com readers.

Perhaps your own J-students or junior colleagues might be inspired – if they can forgive my literary sins.

Or maybe you’d like to add a verse by way of ‘Comment’?


A JOURNALIST’S ‘IF’ (with apologies to Rudyard Kipling)

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

If you can make some sense out of a complicated mess

And craft a bright, clear lead of 20 words or less

If you can take pride in the words that stand beneath your name

But know a byline carries more responsibility than fame


If you can stay well beyond your shift and burn the midnight oil

Just to get the story done, expecting nothing for your toil

When all your friends are partying the wee small hours away

While you’re still at the office – just because you want to stay.


If you can realise journalism holds a place for every type,

The quiet golden retriever and the terrier with its bark and hype

That there are many ways to chase a story and do our very best

We match our methods to our type and aim to beat the rest.


If you can drive to work not knowing where you’ll finish up that day

And accept that some disaster might be just an hour away

Or that you might be with a sporting star or chatting with Tom Cruise

Or editing the tidal charts and checking crossword clues.


If you can interview a president and then a homeless soul

And learn to listen to them both to make your story whole

Because listening and questioning are the golden pair

Then accuracy, a nose for news, and a commitment to be fair.


If you learn writing is important, but it’s not the florid kind

“Keep it simple stupid” is the motto to bear in mind.

There’s scope for creativity with the angle, not the facts,

And adjectives and adverbs are bound to get the axe.


If you shelve your own opinions, despite how heartfelt they may be
Allowing others their full say, erasing that word “me”.

Remember readers own the press – it’s not there for you

It’s not your job to impress, but to seek another view.

If you can rise above the pressure of all your precious peers

And snatch a story from beneath their noses which burns their lazy ears

But still realise that sometimes you need to hunt in packs

Ever mindful of the need to keep arm’s length from all the hacks.


If you can take a newsroom full of cynics – crusty, gnarled and tired

And ignite them with that passion for which you have been hired

And see them reinvent themselves and restart their careers

All because your zest for life is music to their ears.


And then if a disaster strikes, if you can set aside your fears

And focus on the story amidst the blood and gore and tears

While many of your readers may be floating upside down

You get the presses rolling with the news to that wet town.


If you can defy the speed of sound and take a steady note

When all around are struggling to record a simple quote

And sit and watch the television replay those words you heard

Quoted on your own front page – exactly word for word.


If you can convince the toughest source you are someone they can trust

And don’t go off the record unless you truly must

And if you do, assure them that your honour will not fail

Even when you’re threatened with a lengthy stay in jail.


If you take yourself to places you would normally not go

In search of fresh new contacts – people you don’t know

Because stories lie in wait of you in clubs and shops and bars

Folks with different interests, who might well come from Mars.


If you can build a contact book others would kill to access

And keep it safe because that may be truer than you guess

Double check the spelling of even the simplest name

Cos even Jonny Smyth might not be spelt the same.


If you know when to knock upon the door of a grieving mother

And, equally, when to leave that same job to another

Yet show her it was worthwhile letting others see her tears

Because that’s the way we change the world and allay each other’s fears.


If you can stand at the dinner table among the chattering classes

And defend the freedom of the press as they snigger in their glasses

As they try to shoot the messenger for all and sundry ills

Remind them that it’s not the pen, but the crooked sword that kills.


And finally, if you can craft a masterpiece, and have it chopped from the end
Yours is the world and everything that’s in it, and – which is more – you’ll be a journalist, my friend!


© Mark Pearson 2005

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How Steve Jobs helped us deliver some ‘NewSense’ and shaped our careers

The Time cover pic of Jobs with the 1987 NewSense article


RIP Steve Jobs. I just laminated the Time magazine cover from October 17, 2011, depicting Jobs sitting on his lounge room floor in 1984, nursing an early Macintosh computer.

As you can see from the image, I’ve also laminated an August 1987 story I wrote for Desktop Publishing Magazine chronicling our experiences launching one of the first university journalism student newspapers using Macs.

I left the national daily The Australian to start my academic career just on a quarter of a century ago next month – at the end of 1986. Earlier that year I had attended an Apple marketing seminar in North Sydney where I was introduced to the magic of desktop publishing on PageMaker from within that tiny box – which appears quite large by today’s iPad standards.

Not long after working with my students to create our desktop newsletter I returned to The Australian to show the editor our creation. “It’ll never take off,” he told me. “It’s Mickey Mouse. Look at those fuzzy edges on the headlines – it just doesn’t look professional enough.” Little did he realise it heralded the start of the greatest challenge newspapers had faced.

Graduates from that program started their successful careers a step ahead of their industry colleagues – and many have remained at the cutting edge ever since.

For the historical record and as a tribute to Steve Jobs, to those students in my first journalism class, and in memory of my late colleague Dr Charles Stuart who initiated the project – I reproduce that article here today. I still have on my filing cabinet the mounted pair of white shoes those students gave me when I left that institution the following year to join the foundation staff here at Bond University. Why the white shoes? Well that’s another very Australian story. Enjoy.


Desktop Publishing Magazine, August 1987: pp. 20-22

Case Study: NewSense – Journalism students get savvy

Mark Pearson, a lecturer in journalism at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education, reports on how journalism students are putting theory into practice – on the desktop…

There’s an adage that you should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Journalism students and lecturers at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education have a new version: “Never let outmoded technology get in the way of a good education.”

It was with that philosophy in mind that we introduced an Apple desktop publishing system last year. The course has not looked back since.

Students use the system in tutorials to write exercises and experiment with sub-editing, layout and newspaper design.

By far the most important practical application of the technology is in the production of a weekly newspaper using desk-top – titled NewSense.

It is produced by nine students in the second and third years of their courses as a practical print media option.

At the start of this year students approached the course as just that – another unit they had to complete to qualify for that mystical piece of paper – an Arts degree.

Within a fortnight their attitude had changed markedly. In just two weeks they were an editorial team, co-operating to produce the first hard news publication seen on campus.

Now, 12 weeks later, each student has experienced at least four editorial roles and the newspaper has even broken important stories later picked up by the established local media.

The roles of editor, chief-of-staff, chief sub-editor, sports editor, production editor and reporters are filled by members of the NewSense team. Junior reporters and sub-editors are recruited from among the 120 other journalism students on campus.

Circulation is just more than 250 each week and cannot grow much beyond this while a photocopier is used for printing. Readership is higher than the circulation figures portray. Copies are sold for five cents each to ensure an interested readership – the philosophy being that people will not buy a copy if they do not intend reading it.

Extra copies are filed in the library and posted on notice boards throughout the Institute for the benefit of those who miss the small distribution run.

Servicing the Institute community with news is only a secondary function of NewSense. Its primary function is an educational one. Even if the circulation was only 10, it would still be serving the primary purpose which is to provide a newsroom training experience for prospective journalists.

We see the technology as a means to the educational end, rather than the end in itself. The oohing and aahing at the wonders of desktop publishing has passed, and the miraculous process of on-screen pagination is largely taken for granted.

The students are products of a compuer generation and are not taken aback by the wonders of desktop publishing as an innovation. For them, the Apple Macs and the LaserWriter are simply pieces of electronic machinery which help them put out their weekly publication.

All are highly intelligent human beings, but none fully comprehend the time being saved each time they change the column width on their page and place another leg of text into a pre-determined layout.

Yes, pre-determined layout. I believe one of the pitfalls of desktop publishing is the temptation to leave the page design process until the copy is being placed on the page.

Students are encouraged to put traditional pen-to-paper layout skills into action before going near the pagemaking facilities.

Sure, things may not fit perfectly to plan, but to leave such important decisions to the technological end leads to a jigsaw puzzle mentality rather than a carefully designed, aesthetic news layout.

The same applies to typefaces.

We have all seen the typographical nightmares created by people let loose on a desktop publishing system for the first time. These do not occur on NewSense.  The students stick to standard Times face for all headings and text.

Some Geneva is used in the newspaper’s flag, and experiments with other faces are allowed in advertisements, cartoons and pointer boxes. However, the all-pervading Times face gives a sense of design uniformity to the production and reinforces recognition for the readers.

Photocopying is by no means the best form of printing, but we have learned to adapt the technology to suit the method.

We have found that solid reverses wash out badly on photocopying, while 80 per cent screens remain fairly well in tact.

We find we occasionally lose 20 per cent screens, but anything between the 20 per cent and the 80 per cent seriously diminishes legibility.

The Apple system is in a specially designated computer laboratory.

The networked system includes five Fat Macs, two Macintosh Plus terminals with disk drives, an Image Writer and an Apple LaserWriter.

A Cleveland translator allows text transfer between a large bank of IBM PCs and the desktop publishing system.

The course has had an AAP news wire service in operation in its newsroom for the past 10 years.

The next step is to have this connected to the IBMs and Macs to allow students to emulate the copy tasting and story placement processes of a daily newspaper.

As it stands, any AAP copy the students wish to use in NewSense must be keyed into the system before it can be handled on screen.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it encourages students to carefully vet the AAP copy rather than accepting it carte blanche.

The long-term plan is to expand NewSense to a daily newspaper with a broader circulation base. There are 12 tertiary institutions in Australia offering journalism degrees. The Darling Downs Institute is the first to introduce a desktop publishing system.

One side benefit of NewSense is that it adds a dimension to students’ cuttings files to show prospective employers. Although it is “only a campus newspaper”, a laser-printed cutting in a portfolio looks much more impressive when job-hunting than a standard old typewritten cutting from a stencilled publication.

In many ways the system puts students ahead of their prospective employers. They may be able to teach them a little about pagination when they enter the workforce, since industrial demarcation has prevented full pagination being introduced into daily newspapers.

Another Imagewriter is on order so a Thunderscan program can be implemented to allow photographs and line graphics to be inserted.

The desktop publishing system allows a reinforcement of the basic skills of spelling, writing, layout and sub-editing – all essential features of a journalism course. It also puts the printing process in the domain of the journalist, thus making him or her much more aware of the reasons behind deadline constraints.

Speaking of which, you’ll have to excuse me. Our weekly news conference is just about to start.

© Mark Pearson 1987 and 2011

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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