Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Leveson Inquiry

was matched here by not one but two inquiries. Unlike the Leveson Inquiry however they were not prompted by hacking  but politics. The Australian Federal Government saw the Leveson Inquiry as a chance to have its own "inquries".
There was of course, as with most government "inquiries" an ulterior motive. Our present government in particular has been very anxious to curtail press freedom - despite having strong media support.
Yes, our government does have strong media support. The Press Gallery in Canberra is Labor (as they spell it) supporting almost to a (wo)man. It always has been. One journalist told me that getting information, press releases, interviews etc depended on their support for "the party" and "it's the way these things work". I do not really doubt his word. I do not doubt the "other side" would like to work the same way. It is nice to have the media on side, very nice.
Curtailing press freedom, curbing scrutiny and critical commentary, getting the government's message out and all that free "advertising" are also powerful incentives for endeavouring to control the media through legislation and penalties.
Our present government would like to go even further. They have social media, including bloggers, in their sights. There are already bloggers, with a large number of followers, who have been the target of politically motivated litigation.
I wonder though if the proposed legislation would work. Our state government introduced (and passed) a law requiring anyone who wanted to comment on election issues to publish their full name and address - even on blogs, discussion sites and social media like Twitter. The Governor never signed it into law. The government was told, behind the scenes, that the legislation simply would not work.
They still want it to work of course but the reality is they cannot have that degree of control over the media or social networking without bringing in the sort of draconian measures that exist in places like North Korea.
So where do we go from here? I think there could be much more serious penalties for "unauthorised access" (hacking) and intrusion into the private lives of other people. What would happen if a newspaper or television station had to close for a week (or more) because they were found guilty of such an offence? The loss of advertising revenue alone would surely make them think twice. If it was our ABC a similar fine would also have major consequences.
Our current defamation laws could also do with review. The present test for defamation is that it brings someone into "hatred, ridicule or contempt". For that to occur you pretty much have to be a public figure or have a political purpose. You have to have the resources and the time to go to court. The aim is usually court costs and a fairly hefty financial payout. In a general way the media knows just how far it can go (and who with) before it will be hit with a defamation action. Making it easier to bring a defamation action might also help, particularly if a public retraction and apology and a hefty fine (without damages paid to the individual) were the consequences.
I don't think we could or should control the freedom of the press. What we need to control is illegal activity and unwarranted intrusion into people's lives - and that is something very different.

1 comment:

JO said...

There's such a hoo-ha about this over here. My thoughts - for what they're worth:

We need to distinguish between acts that are illegal (phone hacking) - the problem was the police not prosecuting. If anyone behaves illegally then there should be consequences.

Then there are acts that are unethical - and this is where things are much muddier. Is it right that governments can legislate about ethics - which change over time and between cultures.

As for regulating the internet - I can't see how it's possible. I think blogger is an American site, and so your government cannot mount a successful prosecution in Australia. We need internationally agreed regulations (some hope, given that we can't agree on arms reduction or climate change). Which (in my view) places the responsibility of bloggers, tweeters etc to behave ethically. Some won't, of course, but the rest of us can - and should.