Tag Archives: Radio National

Gearing up for a stimulating and mindful #wjec16


Many of the leading lights in journalism education internationally gather in Auckland next week for the fourth World Journalism Education Congress at AUT Auckland.

WJECWebsiteScreenshotFor me, it will be a busy start to a sabbatical semester and I am looking forward to chairing a session, being respondent for another, a panellist in a 21st century ethics discussion, and presenting two conference papers with @ReportingIslam project colleague Jacqui Ewart (@jacquiewart).

Interested? Here are the session descriptions and abstracts. See the full program here.

WJEC preconference of the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA), AUT Pacific Media Centre (PMC) and Media Educators Pacific (MEP), Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 4-5.30pm

A Research-driven Approach to Developing a Best Practice Checklist for Journalists Reporting upon Islam and Muslims

Prof Mark Pearson and Prof Jacqui Ewart (Griffith University, Australia)

This paper explains the processes undertaken to research, develop and trial a checklist for journalists or journalism students for the ethical and mindful reporting of stories involving Islam as a religion or Muslim people. The presenters outline an innovative approach to such a task where the international literature in the field and follow-up research informed the creation of an extended checklist which was then refined according to the perceived needs and priorities of the journalists and students who were presented with it.

This paper presents the methodology and results of the study implementing exactly that approach, which might inform future approaches to the development of such guidelines across a broad range of reporting topics. The study formed part of a major Australian Government funded project involving the creation of research-based resources on the mindful reporting of Islam and Muslim people.

Academic research papers stemming from international studies on reporting Islam and journalism ethics were searched. We also undertook 29 interviews with journalists, journalism educators, journalism students and academics with expertise in the media and Islam in Australia and New Zealand. Topics covered included best and poor practice and curricular and pedagogical approaches to educating journalists for more mindful reporting. We analysed this data – previous studies and the interview transcripts – as a crucial part of the development of an extended list of 30 questions journalists and editors might ask themselves when covering a story related to Islam or Muslim people. Journalists, educators and journalism students (n = 123) attending workshops throughout 2015 were presented with the 30 questions and were asked to nominate the 10 they felt were most important (in no particular order), using a variation of “forced choice” testing in survey methodology (Frederick, 2004, pp. 397-398). The responses were then ranked in order of importance into a “Top Ten” checklist and subsequently built into the project’s resources and curricula which were in turn trialled with journalists, journalism educators and students at several sites in four Australian states and in Canberra. This paper explains that the approach has at least three benefits – the pedagogical advantage of the embedded learning happening while the participants perform the ranking; the reassurance for the teaching resource developers that the selected guidelines are considered the most important by the target groups; and the enhanced credibility of the resulting guidelines for those subsequently using them. The paper details the methodological and educational research underpinning the approach and presents the resulting refined checklist.

Frederick, R. (2004). Forced-choice testing. In M. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, & T. Liao (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social science research methods. (pp. 397-398). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

WJEC Conference, July 14, 11am-12.30pm

Panel 2: 21st century ethical issues in journalism
This panel explores the ethics of journalism in an environment where journalistic authority is diminished and new relationships with news publics are being sought. The speakers, drawing on a range of philosophical positions, will explore arguments around journalistic independence, engagement with the public good, transparency and sincerity. In doing so, the panel members will trace some of the major fault lines in contemporary journalism ethics around truth-telling and accountability and assess ways through which journalists can morally justify their work.
Chair: Donald Matheson, Canterbury University (New Zealand)
Mark Pearson, Griffith University (Australia)
Cherian George, Hong Kong Baptist University (Hong Kong)
Linda Steiner, University of Maryland (United States)
Respondent: Stephen Ward, University of British Columbia/University of Wisconsin-Madison (Canada)
WJEC Conference, July 16, 11-12.30pm
Paper session: 21st Century Ethical Issues in Journalism 3

Eliciting Best Practice in Reporting Islam: Case studies from Australia

Mark Pearson and Jacqui Ewart, Griffith University

Much is known about the poor practices adopted by some news media outlets in their coverage of Islam and Muslims, but relatively little research has been conducted into what might constitute best practice in this important area of reportage (Pintak & Franklin, 2013; Rupar, 2012). In this presentation we discuss two case studies from Australia, involving a range of approaches to reporting stories involving Islam and Muslims. These case studies were part of the first stage of a projected three-stage project aimed at developing best practice resources to encourage the more mindful reporting of Islam and Muslims. The first case study includes a set of examples of news media reporting of proposed and existing mosques and prayer rooms. We chose this particular case study because the international literature revealed that mosque proposals and construction projects frequently became the focus of negative news media coverage (DeHansas and Pieri 2011; Dunn, 2001; Alleivi, 2009). Key journalistic lessons to emerge from the examination of the articles about coverage of planned, proposed or existing mosques included the need to: pay attention to the type of language used in news reports; focus on using non-inflammatory language; ensure a range of voices are heard in reports; avoid giving attention to extreme points of view held by a minority; ensure images are in context; verify the veracity of protestors’ claims; assess the proportion of protesting residents in the particular community; embed ongoing coverage of issues affecting Muslim communities into the news schedule; and consider the broader social and current affairs context when covering stories about Islam and Muslims.

The second case study focuses on two approaches to national media coverage of radicalisation and association of Muslim people with violence and terrorism because the international body of research highlights the tendency of news media to make connections between, or conflate, these issues (Altheide, 2007; Murphy et al, 2015; Pintak and Franklin, 2013; Rupar, 2012).

There were some similarities and some differences between the approaches of the two national media outlets (newspaper and public television) to essentially the same topic of radicalisation of Australian Muslim men at approximately the same point of history. Both used a range of sources including some experts, mainstream Muslims and radicalised militants and/or their friends or associates; demonstrated a lack of detail on the sponsorship of their key expert sources; and simplified and sensationalised the issue in key aspects. Differences included: a generalised headline damaging the credibility of the newspaper’s overall coverage and the television program’s use of a moment of conflict in its promo; the newspaper’s use of a single expert source and the television program’s use of several; the newspaper’s profile of a single Muslim suburban woman for its ‘typical’ or ‘mainstream’ Muslim perspective as opposed to the television program’s inclusion of a range of diverse Muslim voices from different ethnic groups and locations; and the newspaper’s delay in offering Muslim community leaders’ perspectives until its follow-up coverage the next day as distinct from the television program including several such voices.

Using the international literature about best practice in reporting Islam and Muslims and the findings from our analysis of the case studies, we draw upon the research, our case studies and selected data from a series of interviews with experts to present a schema of 30 best practice questions journalists might reflect upon when reporting Islam and Muslims.


Allievi, S. (2009). ‘Conflicts Over Mosques in Europe: Policy Issues and Trends–NEF Initiative on Religion and Democracy in Europe’, Network of European Foundations.

Altheide, D.L. (2007). The Mass Media and Terrorism, Discourse and Communication, 1(3): 287-308.

De Hanas, D.N., and Pieri, Z.P. (2011). Olympic Proportions: The Expanding Scalar Politics of the London ‘Olympics Mega-Mosque’, Sociology 45(5): 798-814.

Dunn, K. M. (2001), Representations of Islam in the politics of mosque development in Sydney. Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie, 92: 291–308.

Murphy, K., Cherney, A., and Barkworth, J., (2015), forthcoming). Avoiding Community Backlash in the fight against terrorism: Research Report.

Pintak, Lawrence and Franklin, Stephen (eds) (2013). Islam for Journalists; A Primer on Covering Muslim Communities in America. [Digital newsbook]. US Social Science Research Council; Edward R Murrow College of Communication, Washington State University. Available: https://www.rjionline.org/downloads/islam-for-journalists

Rupar, V. (2012). Getting the facts right: Reporting ethnicity and religion. A study of media coverage of ethnicity and religion in Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.[Project Report]. Brussels: International Federation of Journalists. Available: http://ethicaljournalisminitiative.org/en/contents/eji-study-2012



More on the Reporting Islam Project:

Griffith University Red Couch interview: Spotlight on Reporting Islam


Related to my ethics panel presentation, our recent book Mindful Journalism and News Ethics in the Digital Era: A Buddhist Approach (Shelton Gunaratne, Mark Pearson and Sugath Senarath eds; Routledge, NY, 2015)  explored the possibilities of applying mindfulness techniques to journalism practice.

Interested? You can listen to my 10 minute interview on Radio National’s Media Report here.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 9.46.24 am

See also my account of the basic principles of mindful journalism in the journal Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, and the editors have been kind enough to make that article available for free viewing as a feature item on their website here. You might also want to explore some of their other fascinating articles on media ethics here and perhaps subscribe.


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


Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, Islam, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, mental health, mindful journalism, social media, terrorism

Mindful journalism – Bhutanese style

[This review was first published in Media International Australia, May 2016; 159 (1) as ‘Book Review: The Dragon’s Voice: How Modern Media Found Bhutan’]


Few of us would pass up the chance to spend a year working in the Kingdom of Bhutan – mythologized in media coverage as a Shangri-La nestled in the Himalayas with its own Gross National Happiness Index.

Australian journalist and academic Bunty Avieson seized that opportunity and travelled (with her partner and young daughter) to work on a fledgling private newspaper in that tiny nation soon after its Fourth King had licensed it as part of a modernisation initiative.

The Dragon’s Voice – How Modern Media Found Bhutan (available here) is Avieson’s memoir of that experience. It is an entertaining work of popular non-fiction reflecting the author’s writing acumen and sense of narrative as a former editor of Woman’s Day and editorial director of New Idea. Yet it also has a depth of scholarship drawing upon Avieson’s more recent work as an academic researcher and journalism educator.

The Dragon’s Voice: How Modern Media Found Bhutan

Author: Bunty Avieson

University of Queensland Press, 2015, 240pp

ISBN: 978 0 7022 5357 7

DragonsVoiceCoverThe people of Bhutan are predominantly Buddhist and this navigation of opposites in life’s course is what Buddhists call the ‘Middle Path’. There are numerous examples throughout the book of Avieson and her Bhutanese newspaper colleagues endeavouring to find such a middle way between extremes.

Avieson takes up the challenge of portraying the deeper layers of a country whose image is over-simplified by its international media framing as a quaint oddity whose citizens are happily trapped in a bygone era on top of the world.

She does not shy away from important issues of censorship (including self-censorship), crime, poverty, natural disasters, domestic violence and the toll of the rapid pace of modernization.

Several threads run through the work, but one of the most important is the paradox centred upon the birth of a newspaper in Bhutan; coinciding with the death of printed newspapers in much of the developed world.

It is a particularly Buddhist and Bhutanese approach to journalism adopted by the Observer’s leadership team – mindful journalism in action. (See the reviewer’s own work on mindful journalism here.)

Avieson explains the newspaper’s owners Tenzin Wangdi and Phuntsho Wangmo asked some of the nation’s wisest and most ethical intellectuals to help develop guiding principles for the newspaper.

The resulting mission statement began with a Buddhist assertion “that all things exist in interdependence is an age-old wisdom”, before vowing to “uphold and strengthen the values and principles that bind this small but great kingdom together”. It continued: “We are a voice with a conscience, and our efforts are aimed at enriching people’s lives through unbiased content intended to inform, educate and entertain.”

Avieson proceeds to chronicle the successes gained and the challenges faced by the newspaper’s journalists and other staff as they set about redefining reporting about Bhutanese people in a Bhutanese style. She details the very practical problems of distribution to remote regions and the inexperience of staff, along with bizarre news topics including one about a town where men believe their wives have crooked vaginas and another about a ghost that lives in a rock.

The newspaper relied largely on government advertising, creating a fear of retaliation over critical stories, a situation not unique to Bhutan. Buddhist principles even influenced the types of advertisements the owners will carry. For example, the Observer would not run ads for cars because “it would be unkind to make villagers desire something they can’t afford”.

Occasionally the reader gets an insight into the profound influence Avieson had on the newspaper in her short time there – drawing upon her many years of experience as a magazine editor with layout, design, photography commissioning and selection and in the production of themed editions and special magazines.

While her modest approach is in keeping with the Buddhist theme, the reader is left wondering how involved Avieson became in the day to day journalism of the operation.

Successful memoirs need to do much more than document a passage of the author’s life. Avieson has achieved this in The Dragon’s Voice. It is purportedly about a year in Bhutan but in the telling it prompts important questions about the media, society and life.

We are left pondering how we would do journalism differently if we had the chance to reinvent it, and then it dawns upon us that that is exactly what journalists in the developed world are trying to do right now. There is much they can learn from Avieson’s account of her time with the Bhutan Observer.


** Listen to author Bunty Avieson’s interview about the book with ABC Radio National Media Report host Richard Aedy here.


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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Ethical lessons from the 60 Minutes abduction saga


International readers of this blog might be unaware of the national debate in Australia over the involvement of an Australian 60 Minutes television current affairs crew in last month’s abduction of two children in Lebanon who were the subject of a parental custody dispute.

The Australian mother of the child – Sally Faulkner – and the reporter Tara Brown and her three crew were jailed for two weeks along with the alleged abduction contractor Adam Whittington who remained in jail seeking bail this week.

The Nine Entertainment Company announced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding its flagship current affairs program’s involvement in the failed abduction attempt.

Following that announcement (April 21, 2016) ABC Gold Coast’s Matt Webber interviewed me about the ethical dimensions of the saga.

Here is the recording of that interview. [Transcription below by Virginia Leighton-Jackson].


Interview with ABC Gold Coast’s Matt Webber

Matt Webber: Let’s concentrate on the Nine Network for now. What are the main questions it needs to answer?

Mark Pearson (@journlaw): Well Matt, I think in your introduction you started to hit upon the main questions, and I think they’re questions that need [answering] – I mean hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s very easy for an academic like me to be looking at this in hindsight and saying all the things that should have been done. But the sorts of questions that you were just asking [are relevant] – Who is involved? Who are the stakeholders? Who are those who might get hurt through such a story? The first thing Channel Nine should be doing, I believe, is setting up accountable systems where those questions are actually asked before stories are embarked upon. And that involves…

MW: Are we naive to think that wouldn’t happen?

MP: I don’t think so; I think people would get carried away, and particularly in a highly emotionally charged story like a custody battle it’s very easy to hear one party’s side of the story. Another issue here is of course is the simple fact of obeying laws. Now, there seems to be like a cultural view that has come through this story that going to another place, the ‘other’, a place like Lebanon, excuses journalists from doing what would be absolutely illegal for them to be doing here in Australia. I mean only a couple of years ago one of the leading news stories was a custody battle over children in Queensland where the Italian father had won custody of the children, and the family – the grandparents and the mother – were fighting the order of the court that the children be taken back to Italy. What if that had happened in that case? Just say the order had gone the other way and the father and an Italian TV crew was here and the children were grabbed on the streets of the Gold Coast and taken, and the plan was to take them to a boat at Southport, and somehow the TV crew had helped fund the abduction. Can people imagine what would have happened there? So what Channel Nine needs to be asking is what is going on there culturally in their mindset about these sorts of stories to think that it’s okay to do that in Lebanon, but it’s not okay to do it in Australia. What’s their view of another country’s legal system that allows that to happen?

Now there’s still a lot of this story to come out, facts that we will hear about – you just played a part of the father’s version of whether or not people are being paid or whatever. The truth of all of that will eventually come out. But I think what Channel Nine needs to do is actually follow the privacy guidelines of ACMA, the Broadcasting Authority, but follow them to the letter. They are not obligatory, but they need to actually look at them; where it says that children are more vulnerable, and the privacy of children is something that really needs close scrutiny. And in public interest – what they might call public interest doesn’t outweigh the rights of children to be considered. A story like this has ripple effects across a whole range of stakeholders, and they need to actually have a formalised process which goes through considering the potential impact on all of those involved – including in this case, the news crew.

MW: Indeed. Mark Pearson, a professor in journalism at Griffith University. Often ‘journalistic ethics’ is a pair of words that is tossed around fairly liberally. The Code of Ethics that journalists need to adhere to, are they sufficiently aware of it? Or are they far too ignorant of it, either wilfully or otherwise?

MP: Well, journalists do know about the Code of Ethics, and most journalists these days have been through some journalism program, like a degree or whatever and have learned about the Code of Ethics. But the big problem with the Australian journalists’ Code of Ethics, and most others, is that there is a whopping ‘get-out’ clause. What it says is that all of these are things that should be strived for, but if the public interest, or if the story is of such public concern then that excuses journalists, outweighing those ethical considerations. But it does make specific reference to chequebook journalism – now I’m not saying that’s happened in this case, is it chequebook journalism to help fund an operation? Well, that’s something we’ll be able to discuss once more facts come out. But also things like dealing with children and the vulnerable, and thinking of those potential implications.

So I think it’s more than just journalists’ ethics: it’s a basic moral code that most humans think twice before they do something that is related to or can impact badly on children’s lives. And so if anything comes of this, I would hope that people take special care, and newsrooms implement practices that ring extra alarm bells if there are going to be children involved in any story.

MW: What about those who will argue that look, commercial television is, particularly commercial TV Current Affairs, is a wild and woolly old world, boundaries will always be pushed; that’s the nature of capitalism in many regards. This shouldn’t come as any surprise that this sort of thing is happening. What do you say to those types?

MP: Well if there is a commercial or a capitalism argument for breaching ethics I think you can counter that with another equally commercial or capitalist argument: and that is the only thing that journalism has left these days, compared with its internet rivals, compared with the jungle of news breakers out there who might be citizen journalists or people doing it simply for a commercial imperative, the only thing that we have remaining to sell news is credibility and respect in the community. And that comes through having an ethical code that journalists adhere to. I think 60 Minutes has lost a lot of credibility out of this, and I think Channel Nine will be reviewing that because there is a commercial loss involved when you’ve overstepped the mark and you lose respect in the eyes of the community. 60 Minutes used to be a wonderful news brand, and Channel Nine will be asking what’s happened to that in the wake of this episode.

MW: Interesting observations, Mark Pearson, I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

MP: Thanks Matt

MW: Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism and Social Media at Griffith University’s School of Humanities (Languages, and Social Science).



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)  explored the possibilities of applying mindfulness techniques to journalism practice.

Interested? You can listen to my 10 minute interview on Radio National’s Media Report here.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 9.46.24 am

See also my account of the basic principles of mindful journalism in the journal Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, and the editors have been kind enough to make that article available for free viewing as a feature item on their website here. You might also want to explore some of their other fascinating articles on media ethics here and perhaps subscribe.


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

Leave a comment

Filed under blogging, Buddhism, citizen journalism, Eightfold Path, free expression, media ethics, mental health, social media

Mindful journalism in focus on @RNmediareport


Mindful journalism was the focus of a segment on Radio National’s Media Report (@RNmediareport) this week (September 3, 2015) when I was interviewed by host Richard Aedy (@richardaedy) on the application of Buddhist ethics to reporting.

Interested? You can listen to the 10 minute segment here.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 9.46.24 am

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)  explored the possibilities of applying mindfulness techniques to journalism practice.

I’ve also written a shorter account of the basic principles in the journal Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, and the editors have been kind enough to make that article available for free viewing as a feature item on their website here. You might also want to explore some of their other fascinating articles on media ethics here and perhaps subscribe.

I’ve also written an article on the “Right Speech” aspect of mindful journalism for the International Communication Gazette titled ‘Enlightening communication analysis in Asia-Pacific: Media studies, ethics and law using a Buddhist perspective’. Its abstract and link to the full article is available here.

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 3.08.59 pmThe article backgrounds important critiques of the Western approach to communication  studies, and considers how globalized communication and media studies has become, before exemplifying how a secular Buddhist perspective might offer 2,500 year-old analytical tools that can assist with media analysis, law and ethics.

The article proposes the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and their associated Noble Eightfold Path (magga) can be fruitful tools for informing communication theory and analysis, and media law and ethics.

The article begins by assessing the extent to which communication and media studies in Asia and the Pacific has shifted to accommodate non-Western approaches.

In media analysis, it suggests the Buddha’s teachings on Right Speech (samma vaca) offer key understandings to assist with the deconstruction of media texts. In media law and ethics, it extends the application of Right Speech principles to comparing defences to libel (defamation) as they have developed in four Western jurisdictions.

Here is a brief extract on that aspect:

In this globalised, multi-cultural and multi-jurisdictional Web 2.0 era there should be no reason why the Judeo-Christian lens should have a monopoly on our examination of communication law. A mindful reading of defamation law benefits from a consideration of both Right Speech principles and concepts of necessary truth-telling. While it is far-fetched to expect judges and legislators in the West would turn to Buddhism for the reform of defamation law, an effort to abide by truth-telling and Right Speech principles could operate effectively when professional communicators are attempting to avoid libel litigation when pursuing their stories. Further, they present excellent tools for an alternative analysis.

Analysis of the development of defamation defences in Canada, the UK, Australia and the U.S. benefit from a Buddhist reading. In Grant v. Torstar Corp., 2009 SCC 61, [2009] 3 S.C.R. 640, the Supreme Court of Canada developed a ‘responsible communication’ defence to defamation for matters which might not have been able to be proven absolutely as true, but were still diligently reported and were clearly in the public interest to be aired within the spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protection of free expression. ..

It is possible to implement a Buddhist approach using the Right Speech teachings from the Noble Eightfold Path to conduct an analysis in this area of communication law. The author proposes to do this more thoroughly in future work. However, for the purposes of this argument we might return to the Abhaya Sutta cited earlier and contrast these defences as they have been developed in these jurisdictions (Thanissaro, 1997). Crucial to the Canadian ‘responsible communication’ defence and its qualified privilege cousins in the UK and Australia is the extent to which reporters and publishers honestly believe in the truth of the defamatory material published, even though they might not have the firm evidence to prove this in court. They would pass the Buddhist (mindful journalism) test if they had an honest belief the material was “factual, true, beneficial” while perhaps being “unendearing and disagreeable to others”, as long as they had chosen the “proper time” for reporting it (Thanissaro, 1997). However, the U.S. defences driven by the First Amendment takes this liberty a step too far under this schema, because it allows unbeneficial, unendearing and disagreeable material to be published about public figures as long as it has not been done with malice. It also allows for untruthful gossip-mongering, as identified earlier in the Saleyyaka Sutta (Nanamoli, 1994) as ethically problematic. Such analysis shows promise in the field of media law analysis, reform and policy development because it provides a working ethical framework to apply to legislation and the fact scenarios of particular cases.

The article applies the ‘Right Speech’ principles of Buddhist ethics to analysis of the Royal family prank call episode which resulted in a High Court appeal in Australia and to a racial discrimination case heard in Australia’s Federal Court over comments on a West Australian news website.


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 2015

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Media regulation: my interview with @RichardAedy on @RNmediareport



I was interviewed for the ABC Radio National Media Report program last week on the upcoming Independent Media Inquiry report.

You can hear the full program here,  where you can also view the complete transcript.

I’ve just copied below the segment of the transcript featuring my own comments:


ABC Radio National Media Report 

Finkelstein Inquiry into Newspapers

Broadcast:Friday 24 February 2012 5:30PM 

…Richard Aedy: …There are other perspectives beyond those of the Press Council and the publishers. Mark Pearson’s Professor of Journalism at Bond University on the Gold Coast. He’s particularly interested in that intersection between journalism and the law and he’s come up with one of the most novel submissions to the inquiry.


Mark Pearson: There are already so many laws controlling the behaviour of news organisations and journalists, we don’t really need any more. We need to make those that exist more effective. But if there had to be something more, the consumer law that exists at the moment, and already applies to the media in many ways, could be extended to cover heinous ethical breaches.


Richard Aedy: Didn’t the media used to be subject to those laws?


Mark Pearson: Yes they were the old Trade Practices Act. It’s now changed its name to the Competition and Consumer Act. It was introduced in 1974 and it has a provision, basically banning misleading and deceptive conduct, which is normally applying to advertising. But for the first few years, some court decisions held that it might also apply to misleading claims made in news stories; the editorial columns of newspapers and their equivalent in broadcast. So because they didn’t want this impingement on free expression and because of lobbying by the major media groups, they had an exemption to that introduced for prescribed news providers which basically, unless it was in advertising or promoting their own products and so on, they would be exempted from these misleading and deceptive conduct provisions.


Richard Aedy: Right. So to clarify. You don’t think we need additional laws. You don’t even think we need tougher existing laws. What you think we need is a much better understanding of what the laws are and perhaps getting rid of this exemption the media has had to what is effectively, I think, corporations law?


Mark Pearson: Well I certainly wouldn’t propose getting rid of that exemption because otherwise we’d be back to that 1970s position where the media were being prosecuted for their news columns. But I don’t think some tinkering with that would do any great harm which would cover the most drastic ethical breaches, clearly contrary to the public interest, where there’s been real misleading and deceptive conduct involved, of the order of your cash for comment kind of situation.


Richard Aedy: Right. I was going to say give me an example. Well all right that’s a good one. And who would be the regulator? Would it be what, the ACCC?


Mark Pearson: Well it would be the ACCC. The more the media is moving towards breaking down that firewall between editorial and advertising the more they need to be treated like just another business except where they’re doing genuine public interest journalism.


Richard Aedy: So what about the Press Council and Julian Disney asking for greater powers and saying, well look we could do with some government money for this?


Mark Pearson: I think it’s always dangerous to start introducing government funding for media self-regulatory bodies. The instant the government starts funding such things, the instant you have genuine government regulation.


Richard Aedy: But what’s wrong with that? I know editors and journalists always say this would be terrible, real government regulations. But lots of industries are regulated by the government. Why shouldn’t the media be?


Mark Pearson: Well one of our biggest problems in Australia is that we don’t have a Bill of Rights. We don’t have a Constitution with any formal protection of free expression. So it means that these other laws as they’re applied, the courts don’t have something else to look to. The High Court’s made a few decisions introducing freedom to communicate on political matters but all of that’s a little vague. And so there’s really no underpinning of free expression in this country other than a tradition that we’ve had which has been intruded upon time and time again through these hundreds of laws.


Richard Aedy: Mark Pearson from Bond University. He too opposes any move by the Press Council to accept money from the government. But the big worry for the industry isn’t really that the Press Council will get some of its funding from Canberra. It’s that Mr. Finkelstein will recommend that Canberra becomes altogether more involved.



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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