Tag Archives: public relations

‘Dinosaur Wrangler’ sacked from ‘Jurassic Park’: Fair Work Commission upholds dismissal over Facebook abuse

By MARK PEARSON

Australia’s Fair Work Commission  this week (December 10) added to its developing body of social media case law by upholding the sacking of a worker who described himself as a ‘dinosaur wrangler’ at ‘Jurassic Park’.

The latest is cited as:

Cameron Little v. Credit Corp Group Ltd [2013] FWC 9642 (U2013/11522) 10 December 2013. < http://decisions.fwc.gov.au/ >

jurassic

‘Dinosaur Wrangler’ sacked from ‘Jurassic Park’. Photo: Flickr (free to use or share)

C.L. had worked as a customer relationship manager for Credit Corp Group for three years when in June 2013 he used his personal Facebook account to criticise an organisation he dealt with on behalf of his employer (Christians Against Poverty (CAP)) and to make sexually suggestive comments about a new colleague. L. had listed his employment on his Facebook account as a ‘Dinosaur Wrangler’ at ‘Jurassic Park’ but other details on his page made it possible to identify him as an employee of the Credit Corp Group. He dealt with Christians Against Poverty when the not-for-profit group was negotiating new debt arrangements with Credit Corp on behalf of their clients. He posted to their page:

‘For reals bro, you should put a little more of funding into educating consumers on how the world works rather than just weaseling them out of debt, blah blah blah, give a man a fish/teach a man to fish.’

and

‘No thanks, just take my advice and try to educate people about things like ‘interest’ and ‘liability’ rather than just weasel them out of contracts. #simple’

L. posted the following comment about his new work colleague:

 ‘On behalf of all the staff at The Credit Corp Group I would like to welcome our newest victim of butt rape, [colleague’s name]. I’m looking Forward to sexually harassing you behind the stationary cupboard big boy.’

The day after the posts came to the attention of his employer, he was called to a meeting where his employment was terminated. Two weeks later he filed a claim for unfair dismissal.

Fair Work Commission Deputy President Peter Sams ruled the dismissal had been fair, pointing to the following relevant factors:

  • L. had been issued with the Employee Handbook and the Employee Code of Conduct and made aware of their contents.
  • He had attended an induction at the commencement of his employment in 2010 and a ‘Working Together’ module in August 2012.
  • His employment contract stated that the company’s policies and procedures were directions from the employer to the employee.
  • He had the ability to access and change the privacy settings for his account.
  • It was irrelevant that L. had created the social media posts out of work hours.
  • It was implausible that L. believed his Facebook page was ‘private’ and he did not understand how Facebook worked.
  • He had been formally warned about an earlier incident where he had posted an inappropriate comment to a website.

The decision affirmed earlier Fair Work decisions in the Good Guys case (2011) and the Linfox case (2012). Those in the position of employer need to ensure all staff are fully aware of – and trained in – your organisation’s social media policy and that it is fair and up to date. Employees need to keep abreast of their organisation’s social media policy and ensure their social media accounts are set to private and that they do not post material related in any way to their work – and certainly not anything that is discriminatory or critical of colleagues, management or clients. This applies both during work hours and when off duty.

Co-author Mark Polden and I will be using this as a Key Case in a new chapter on Law for PR, Freelancers and New Media Entrepreneurs in our forthcoming fifth edition of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law (Allen & Unwin, 2014), due for release mid-year.

© 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media regulation, Uncategorized

Beware the co-regulators … key bodies wielding power over publishers

By MARK PEARSON

Several self-regulatory and co-regulatory bodies hold powers that can impinge on the work of journalists, PR consultants and new media entrepreneurs. They include:

  • The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). < http://www.acma.gov.au/ > The broadcast regulator’s powers can impact upon public relations consultants, freelancers and new media entrepreneurs in a range of ways. PR consultants need to ensure their audio packages and video news releases (VNRs) comply with the code of conduct and classification requirements of the particular broadcast media they are targeting (community, commercial radio, pay television etc). The ACMA also administers the national Do Not Call Register where citizens withdraw their phone numbers from telemarketing dial-ups. It also polices the Spam Act 2003 – the legislation ensuring you can unsubscribe from junk mail posts to your email, mobile phone and messaging services. It is important public relations consultants and new media startups work within the bounds of this legislation or they could face heavy fines. For example, in 2013 Cellarmaster Wines received a $110,000 infringement notice from the ACMA for sending marketing messages in breach of the Spam Act. Some of the messages were sent without an opt-out choice, while others were sent to customers who had earlier selected to opt out of the company’s email promotions (ACMA, 2013).
  • The Classification Board. < http://www.classification.gov.au/About/Pages/Classification-Board.aspx >. This is a unified system of classification of films, video games and some publications, established under the Classification Act 1995. Public relations consultants and new media entrepreneurs need to be aware of its requirements because almost all films and computer games have to be classified before they are legally permitted to be made available. The Board decides which of the classifications such as violence, sex, language, themes, drug use and nudity should apply. The Board also classifies material submitted by the police, Customs and the ACMA including internet sites, imported publications, films and computer games.
  • Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB). <http://www.adstandards.com.auThe Advertising Standards Bureau administers a national system of advertising self-regulation through the Advertising Standards Board and the Advertising Claims Board.  The ASB handles consumer complaints about advertisements across a range of media. For example, a complaint about the Facebook page for the beer Victoria Bitter in 2012 was upheld on the grounds that people had posted comments to the social networking site that were in breach of advertising standards. They included coarse language, sexual references and comments demeaning of women and homosexual people. Comments on the page were managed by an agency under the supervision of the Carlton and United Breweries marketing team which agreed to improve its frequency and effectiveness of comment moderation after the decision (ASB, 2012) [pdf file].
  • Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). < http://www.tga.gov.au/ > The TGA is a Commonwealth Government agency with the power to regulate therapeutic goods (medicines, medical devices and blood products). Some advertisements directed at consumers require approval before they can be broadcast or published while advertising prescription-only and some pharmacist-only medicines to the general public is prohibited. The term ‘advertisement is defined broadly in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 to include “any statement, pictorial representation or design, however made, that is intended, whether directly or indirectly, to promote the use or supply of the goods”. This can cover public relations material and advertorials so freelance health writers and public relations consultants to pharmaceutical companies need to be well versed in its requirements and restrictions.
  • Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). < http://asic.gov.au/ >. ASIC is an independent Commonwealth entity operating as Australia’s corporate, markets and financial services regulator. Its role is to ensure Australia’s financial markets are fair and transparent, supported by confident and informed investors and consumers. It is set up under the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 (ASIC Act), and enforces large sections of the Corporations Act. Public relations consultants, freelance financial reporters and new media entrepreneurs need to be especially cautious about its restrictions on ‘rumourtrage’ – the spreading of false or misleading rumours about a company’s float or performance  which are associated with market manipulation – and its policing of the powers and duties of company directors. It also has tough requirements that advertisements for financial products do not mislead. For example, in August 2013 ASIC investigated advertisements for a 1% interest discount on a specified home loan package offered by Credit Union Australia Limited (CUA), run on television, in cinemas, on the company’s website and on public transport in major cities. However, it had not specified some of the terms and conditions of the discount in its ads. ASIC accepted ‘enforceable undertakings’ from CUA that it would honour the discount to all customers on the package as an alternative to court action (ASIC, 2013).

© 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Media regulation, Uncategorized

A taste of PR law #publicrelations #auslaw

By MARK PEARSON

I have just completed a legal chapter for a public relations text edited by colleague Jane Johnston. In researching the chapter I came across several Australian cases where PR practitioners had found themselves in legal tangles. Here is a taste of them, but you’ll have to wait for Jane’s new book to get more detail!

According to the Australasian Legal Information Institute (www.austlii.edu.au), the term ‘public relations’ has only been spoken 10 times in High Court judgments, with none of the cases having public relations as a key factor in the decision-making. The mentions did, however, give some indication of the way our leading justices viewed the profession and some hints of the legalities of PR. For example, the 2004 case of Zhu v Treasurer of NSW [2004] 218 CLR 530 involved a dispute between the Sydney Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG) in 2000 and a sub-contractor who had been licensed to market an “Olympics Club” package to residents of China. ‘Public relations’ formed part of the intellectual property he was licensed to use, which included “letterheads, stationery, display materials and other advertising, promotional and public relations materials approved by SOCOG to promote the Olympic Club” (para 59).  The case establishes both contract law and intellectual property law as important to the role of PR professionals.

In Sankey v Whitlam (1978) 142 CLR 1, the High Court identified the importance of keeping secrets and confidentiality in government media relations.  Acting Chief Justice Gibbs quoted an earlier British case where Chief Justice Lord Widgery had acknowledged the practice of ‘leaking’ as a PR tool: “To leak a Cabinet decision a day or so before it is officially announced is an accepted exercise in public relations, but to identify the Ministers who voted one way or another is objectionable.”(para 41).

The term ‘public relations’ has been used much more frequently in other courts and tribunals, with Austlii returning 1387 mentions of the term across all its case law databases. It was used in a host of contexts, including defamation, confidentiality, industrial relations, PR advice as lawyer-client privilege and whether public relations expenses could be claimed as part of a damages claim.

Here is a sampler:

Defamation

Words spoken at a media conference in Adelaide were at the centre of a defamation action in 2012. A Hindley Street nightclub owner sued a neighbouring travel agency operator over a statement she had uttered almost two years earlier in the midst of a media conference he had called to announce an initiative to increase public safety and reduce violence in the central Adelaide precinct. He alleged the travel agency owner had announced loudly to the media gathered at the conference that he – the nightclub owner – was responsible for all the violence in Hindley Street. After hearing from several witnesses (including the nightclub’s public relations consultant) the District Court judge found for the defendant. He said it was more likely the interjector had not made such a blatant defamatory allegation against the nightclub owner and, even if she had, he would only have awarded $7500 in damages. There was no evidence of any actual recording of the words she had spoken despite numerous media representatives being present at the time: Tropeano v. Karidis [2012] SADC 29.

In a Western Australian case in 2006, the consultancy Professional Public Relations (PPR) was ordered to provide all records they had about a DVD recording criticising a proposed brickworks which the director of a building materials company claimed made defamatory statements about him and his company. He suspected a rival building materials company – a client of PPR – was behind the production, and wanted this confirmed so that he could commence legal action: Bgc (Australia) Pty Ltd v Professional  Public Relations  Pty Ltd & Anor [2006] WASC 175.

Contempt

The most famous sub judice breach in a PR context came in 1987 when former NSW Premier Neville Wran called a media conference where he stated that he believed his friend – High Court Justice Lionel Murphy – was innocent of serious charges he was facing. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph published the comments under the heading ‘Murphy innocent—Wran. Court orders retrial’. Both Wran and the Daily Telegraph were convicted of contempt, with Wran fined $25,000 and the newspaper $200,000: Director of Public Prosecutions (Cth) v. Wran (1987) 7 NSWLR 616.

Trespass

Nine Network’s A Current Affair program had to pay $25,000 in damages to a property owner in 2002 after they had been invited by the Environment Protection Authority to accompany them when raiding his property for suspected environmental offences. The crew had cameras rolling as they entered the property and confronted the owner. The court held there was an implied licence for journalists to enter the land to request permission to film, but not to film without permission. The court also warned public authorities not to invite journalists on such raids, known as ‘ride-alongs’: TCN Channel Nine Pty Ltd v. Anning [2002] NSWCA 82.

Contract law

A West Australian District Court case involved a consultant to a South African mining company considering buyouts or mergers with other mining companies. The dispute surrounded a “partly written, partly oral and partly implied” agreement to provide “public relations, lobbying, consulting, networking, facilitating and co-ordinating” services: Newshore Nominees Pty Ltd as trustee for the Commercial and Equities Trust v. Durvan Roodepoort Deep, Limited [2004] WADC 57. The problem was that very little was detailed in the agreement, forcing the judge to look at previous work done by the consultant and to come to an estimate of the number of hours he had worked and their value on this occasion. He accepted that an agreement had been reached, and concluded that $250 per hour was a reasonable sum for the services provided, but could not accept that the consultant had worked 14 hour days for 64 days. Instead, he awarded him $830 per day for eight weeks, totalling $33,200 plus expenses.

Consumer law

The public relations consultancy Essential Media Communications used Victorian consumer law to win a Supreme Court injunction to stop another PR firm – EMC2 – from using that abbreviation of their name. They claimed it could ‘mislead and deceive’ their clients, some of whom knew them by that acronym. The court also accepted Essential Media Communications’ argument that EMC2 might have been ‘passing off’ their business as that of the plaintiff:  Essential Media Communications Pty Ltd v EMC2 & Partners [2002] VSC 554. The Federal Court issued an injunction in similar circumstances in an earlier case to stop a public relations company using the name “Weston”, when an existing consultancy was already operating under that name: Re Weston Communications Pty Ltd v Fortune Communications Holdings Limited and the Weston Company Limited [1985] FCA 426.

© 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.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The @journlaw slide presentation to the World Public Relations Forum #wprf

By MARK PEARSON

The World Public Relations Forum was held in Melbourne this week and I participated (with Claire O’Rourke from Essential Media) in a feature presentation on social media law and ethics for public relations practitioners. Here are my slides from my presentation on ‘Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued’ for your use (with full attribution, of course). I hope you find them helpful.

—————-

WorldPRForumMarkPearson(@journlaw)presentation19-11-12

© 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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized