Immigration Case Shows Process Can Take The News Out Of FOI Requests

January 14, 2014

By MARK PEARSON, Professor of Journalism and Social Media and member of the Institute for Law, Government and Policy.

A recent decision by the Australian Information Commissioner has demonstrated that persistence with a Freedom of Information application can pay off – if you are willing to wait the year or more for the appeal process to take its course. 

Farrell and Department of Immigration and Border Protection [2013] AICmr 81  (21 November 2013) was decided recently and may well be subject to further appeal.

On November 15, 2012, he applied to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for access to a series of incident reports about five self-harming events logged on the department’s FI disclosure log.

On January 14, 2013, the Department provided Mr Farrell with edited copies of five documents totalling 23 pages related to his request, citing its ‘operations of agency’ and ‘personal privacy’ exemptions under sections 47E and 47F of the Commonwealth FOI Act as its reasons for the deletion of material. On February 14, 2013, Mr Farrell applied to the Information Commissioner for review of the information exempted by the Department under s 47E.

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Beware The Co-Regulators… Key Bodies Wielding Power Over Publishers

December 17, 2013

By MARK PEARSON, Professor of Journalism and Social Media and member of the Institute for Law, Government and Policy.

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).

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The Man Without A Name To Get One – A Small Victory For Open Justice

December 12, 2013

By MARK PEARSON, Professor of Journalism and Social Media and member of the Institute for Law, Government and Policy.

We have won a small victory for open justice by persuading the NSW Mental Health Tribunal to allow the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to use the name of a forensic patient in a Background Briefing program on Radio National next year.

Colleague Associate Professor Tom Morton from the University of Technology Sydney and I have been conducting an applied research project about publicity of mental health proceedings – centred upon the case of a Sydney patient who wishes to be identified in reportage on his situation.

We are presenting a progress report on our study at the Journalism Education Association of Australia annual conference in Mooloolaba, Queensland today (December 4, 2013).

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Whither Media Reform Under Abbott?

November 26, 2013

By MARK PEARSON, Professor of Journalism and Social Media and member of the Institute for Law, Government and Policy.

Where will the new Liberal-National Coalition government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott head with the reform of media regulation? Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis were vocal opponents of the former Gillard Government’s proposals to merge press self-regulation with broadcast co-regulation into a new framework.

Recent inquiries into media regulation in the UK (Leveson, 2012), Australia (Finkelstein, 2012) and New Zealand (Law Commission, 2013) have recommended major changes to the regulation of media corporations and the ethical practices of journalists. Their motivation for doing so stemmed from public angst – and subsequent political pressure – over a litany of unethical breaches of citizens’ privacy over several years culminating in the News of the World scandal in the UK and the subsequent revelations at the Leveson Inquiry (2012) with an undoubted ripple effect in the former colonies.

Many contextual factors have informed the move for reform, including some less serious ethical breaches by the media in both Australia and New Zealand, evidence of mainstream media owners using their powerful interests for political and commercial expediency, and the important public policy challenge facing regulators in an era of multi-platform convergence and citizen-generated content.  Minister Turnbull is an expert on the latter element and it is hard to imagine him not proposing some new, perhaps ‘light-touch’, unified regulatory system during this term in office. Read the rest of this entry »


Election Postscript: A Mindful Analysis Of Media Coverage

November 15, 2013

By MARK PEARSON, Professor of Journalism and Social Media and member of the Institute for Law, Government and Policy.

[This blog was first published in the St James Ethics Centre’s Living Ethics newsletter, Issue 93, Spring 2013. Subscribe here.]

Australian journalists operate under an array of ethical guidelines, including the MEAA Code of Ethics and numerous employer and industry codes of practice.

While these documents differ widely in their wording, they espouse common values of truth, accuracy, fairness and the public’s right to information. They disapprove of invasions of privacy, disclosure of confidential sources, discriminatory language, subterfuge, deception, plagiarism and conflicts of interest.

When it comes to assessing the ethics of news coverage of an event as broad in scope as a federal election we find some guidance in such codes but other moral frameworks can add value.

Although I am not a Buddhist, I have recently found value in applying some of that religion’s foundational principles – in a secular way – to the assessment of journalism ethics and have been sharing this approach with colleagues and students through my writing and teaching. Read the rest of this entry »


Timor-Leste Journalists Decide On Ethics Code And Press Council As Tougher Laws Loom

November 7, 2013

By MARK PEARSON, Professor of Journalism and Social Media and member of the Institute for Law, Government and Policy.

AN historic congress of Timor-Leste journalists held in Dili over the weekend (October 25-27) voted for their first code of ethics and a seven-member press council.

But the next hurdle for media freedom in the small Asia-Pacific nation will be a press law currently before the national parliament which it is feared will feature a journalist licensing system and criminal penalties.

The media law proposed by a committee of journalists advising the government featured self-regulatory controls. However, the final version includes amendments proposed by the Secretary of State for Social Communication, Mr Nélio Isaac Sarmento, rumoured to include the licensing and criminal sanctions.

Opening the congress on Friday, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao scolded journalists for not having developed adequate self-regulation when he had warned them to do so in 2009.

But he congratulated the media associations on their latest efforts to unify for a code of ethics and press council; stating that press freedom was important to democracy, but that freedom should be exercised responsibly.

More than 150 journalists in attendance on Sunday – representing several journalism associations – voted for the 10 point code of ethics, featuring a preamble affirming the importance of free expression and media self-regulation and clauses on: accuracy and impartiality, opposition to censorship, defence of the public interest, anti-discrimination, separation of fact from opinion, confidentiality of sources, quick correction of inaccuracies, rejection of plagiarism, protection of identity of victims, and rejection of financial inducements.

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Courts And Social Media Project In The Judicial Officers’ Bulletin

July 10, 2013

An article on our courts and social media research project has appeared in the Judicial Officers’ Bulletin published by the Judicial Commission of NSW. Detailing the research methodology which employed nominal group technique, the various findings that emerged from the research, and the issue of aborted trials due to juror misuse of social media, the article reflects on the ubiquity of social media and its increasing impact on court processes and the continuing administration of justice.

An extract of the article is provided below with a link to the article in full also included.

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“Social media” is a collective term for a group of internet-based applications that allow users to create, organise and distribute messages, pictures and audio-visual content. Generally speaking, social media is characterised by its accessibility, participatory culture and interactivity. Social media can be “two way” (allowing conversations characterised by varying degrees of publicity, depending on the privacy settings selected by the contributor) or “one way” (allowing publication of information, but not permitting comment).

Social media has created intense challenges for the law and judicial administration. Traditionally, the courts have employed the law of sub judice contempt to prevent prejudicial publicity, to protect the right to a fair trial, and to ensure the due administration of justice. Courts also have the option of making non-publication orders about cases. However, social media applications have dramatically increased the number of people who can publish material about court cases. Many of these “citizen journalists” are unaware of the legal rules that restrict what they can publish.

To view the full article, click this link:

Judicial Officers’ Bulletin; The Courts and Social Media

© Institute for Law, Government and Policy 2013