Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Privacy Law And Freedom Of The Press

The Australian Law Reform Commission has released its report into the Privacy Act, making 295 recommendations for changes to the law. The report runs to 2700 pages and canvasses a wide range of issues. According to Commissioner Les McCrimmon, the most significant recommendation is that Privacy Law should be simplified and streamlined, and while that would be desirable, the report covers much more than that.

Among the more vocal critics of the report is a group calling itself the “Right To Know Coalition”, a collection of powerful media companies led by News Ltd, who are concerned about the possible impact that the proposed changes would have on journalism. In particular, it is suggested that investigative journalism would become much more difficult, and that journalists and their publishers could be subject to new forms of legal action.

While it is important to protect the freedom of the press, and freedom of speech itself, I wonder if the Coalition is more worried about the massive revenue derived from tabloid reporting of the private lives of celebrities. Genuine investigative reporting will continue to be protected because of the public benefit. However, what passes for investigative reporting these days often amounts to Today Tonight or A Current Affair pursuing nickel and dime panhandlers and trailer trash welfare cheats and making a spectacle, rather than tackling serious issues with broader significance.

There seems to be an unhealthy obsession with the private lives of movie actors and pop stars driving a massive celebrity trivia industry. If these so called news outlets really want to do something about preserving the freedom of the press it would be a good idea if they did something a little more worthwhile with that freedom.

1 comment:

Peter Timmins said...

Right on. The coverage of this issue in The Australian today borders on the ridiculous. It's a wonder they haven't predicted the sun won't rise tomorrow morning and other similar catastrophies.All media organisations and journalists(MEAA at least)can point to codes of conduct that include respect for privacy-but none define the term, or provide meaningful avenues of redress. The proposal sets a high hurdle for action,isn't aimed specifically at the media,and is balanced by the public interest andthe right to freedom of expression. Seee my blog on access to information and privacy atwww.foi-privacy.blogspot.com