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Narrow escape for a fragile freedom #medialaws

By MARK PEARSON (@journlaw)

[Here is a taste of my commentary in The Conversation today.]

It is just a week since the Gillard government withdrew the four media reform bills for which it could not garner the necessary support from the crossbench MPs.

The proposal that concerned me most as a media law scholar and free expression advocate was the News Media (Self-regulation) Bill. This would have given an individual the power to deregister bodies, like the Australian Press Council, if they failed to police effectively the ethical standards of their newspaper and online members.

The big stick the so-called Public Interest Media Advocate would have wielded was the withdrawal of media companies’ journalism exemption from the Privacy Act – a penalty that stood to send newspapers broke through its demands of bureaucratic compliance. I detailed this problem in a blog republished on The Conversation last week, describing it as a defacto form of licensing. Many vested political and commercial interests were at stake in this debate.

There are lessons for all to learn from the events of the past fortnight and from the broader media regulation debate of the preceding year. Free expression is often described as a “fragile freedom”, perpetually at risk in a democracy like Australia where it lacks any explicit constitutional protection.

It is a mistake to view free expression through the lens of your own political allegiances. My observation after more than two decades researching in the area and several years as Australia’s correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, is that governments of all political persuasions can present major threats to media freedom.

This week’s blog was commissioned by The Conversation. Read more at http://theconversation.com/media-reforms-lessons-from-a-narrow-escape-to-a-fragile-freedom-13123

© Mark Pearson 2013

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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