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.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Dinosaur Wrangler’ Sacked From ‘Jurassic Park’: Fair Work Commission Upholds Dismissal Over Facebook Abuse

January 7, 2014

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

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/ >

Cameron Little 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. Little 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’

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.

Read the rest of this entry »


Totalized Information And Liberalism

December 27, 2013

By MARCUS BREEN, Professor of Communication and Media, editor of the International Journal of Technology Knowledge and Society, and member of the Institute for Law, Government and Policy.

The Economist, 16 November, 2013 editorialised on the rise and rise of surveillance, drawing attention to the remorseless rush toward “ubiquitous recording” of pretty well everything (editorial). Video cameras everywhere, defines the emergence of visual culture on a massive scale.

The magazine noted in “Every Step You Make,” that the “perfect digital memory” will become a commonplace, as will surveillance on grand and granular scales. It cited Google’s Glass computer, a mini smart-phone, worn on the wearer’s nose, as just one of many digital tools being developed. And so it goes, in the totalized information world.
There are two points to reflect on:
1. A fascist tendency towards the control society. If the totalization factor becomes inescapable, there is every reason to be concerned about the closure of the public interest. Without fail, every effort at totalizing control is operationalized by private corporations with privatizing intent. Interestingly, Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited with creating the World Wide Web, is on the record expressing concerns about this trend, suggesting that governments should do more (Berners-Lee). Ultimately, private interests have difficulty expressing any concern for the public interest. That is often the preferred definition of private concerns as they play out.
2. The promoters of Liberal politics are not always prepared to identify the ideology at play in their value system. However, The Economist made the case about the totalized information world in a manner that should be welcomed. In fact, the magazine made the point about the “deeper impulse” of liberty; “freedom has to include some right to privacy: if every move you make is being chronicled, liberty is curtailed.”
Read the rest of this entry »

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).

Read the rest of this entry »


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).

Read the rest of this entry »


The MEAA Code Of Ethics: All Spin And No Stick

December 4, 2013

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

The go-to document for journalists refusing to ‘fess up their sources or taking the high ethical ground is the MEAA Journalists’ Code of Ethics – but the irony is that the journalists’ union uses notoriously ineffective and opaque processes to police this high profile code.

Unlike the Australian Press Council, the ethics panel of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has actual disciplinary powers at its disposal for use against individual journalists who breach its Code of Ethics – but it has rarely used them. Its powers extend to any journalists who are members of the Alliance. However, these days large numbers of journalists throughout the industry are not members.

In 1999, the alliance updated the code to a twelve-item document, requiring honesty, fairness, independence and respect for the rights of others. The alliance’s ethical complaints procedures are outlined in Section 8 of the Rules of the  MEAA (2009), summarised on the union’s website. Complaints must be in writing stating the name of the journalist, the unethical act and the points of the Code that have been breached. The judiciary committee (made up of experienced journalists elected every two years by state branch members) then meets to consider the complaint. They can dismiss or uphold the complaint without hearing further evidence, call for further evidence and hold hearings. Hearings involve the committee, the complainant and the journalist and follow the rules of natural justice. Lawyers are excluded. Penalties available to the committee include a censure or rebuke for the journalist, a fine of up to $1000 for each offence, and expulsion from the union. Both parties have 28 days to appeal to an appeals committee of three senior journalists in each state elected every four years and then to a national appeals committee of five journalists.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »