The USS Quad Damage

Deregulation of media

This won't be a long post, as I have other things I need to get done tonight, including maybe another post or two here. However, I did want to raise an issue as a topic that might invite some comments - and I certainly would like to see people's different opinions on the matter - especially considering that I think some people will disagree with me on this one. Ooh, a controversial opinion I hear you say. Well, don't get too excited - look at the topic!

This week's episode of Media Watch (I only caught it tonight on ABC2 and I think it's at least a few days old now) highlighted some new federal laws, that by default take over from existing state laws, in relation to privacy and defamation, and in particular what the media can publish.

According to Media Watch, basically the new laws (and I need to stress that, as with all new laws, they need to be tested in a court) allow content to be published as long as it is "substantially true". This means that no matter what the content is, or who it is about, as long as it's substantially true a media organisation can present it to the public.

Now, I'm probably as voyeuristic as the next guy and I love to see what those crazy celebs get up to in their spare time, but I do not agree with these new laws, as they have been presented on Media Watch, because it removes the argument of "within the public interest". Now, forgive me guys as this opinion may be a little conservative for this discussion board, but I do think Justice Hunt got it right in his NSW Supreme Court ruling in Greg Chappell v Channel 9.

"if every public figure is to become "fair game" in relation to his private behaviour which is unrelated to his capacity to perform his public duties, the community will suffer grievously from the unwillingness of suitable people to enter public life.

Chappell v TCN Channel Nine Pty Ltd, Justice Hunt judgement, 1988"

I know there are many arguments against this, like 'they're big boys and they can handle it', or 'they should expect this if they want to become a celebrity', but in the case of, say, a politician, a person who only does it for want of celebrity is exactly the type of person I don't want in our parliament! Don't get me wrong, politicians need to be known, and I want to know who these people are that are representing us as citizens and our interests, but I think there is a limit.

Let's use the example of a Prime Minister cheating on his/her wife/husband . There would be an argument that if he/she can't show commitment to their spouse, how could they show commitment as a Prime Minister. Surely their personal life would reflect on their capacity to do their job as Prime Minister. Well, I personally believe that as long as it genuinely does not affect their public work, then there is no real reason to make the connection. Of course, being a Prime Minister this would make it a very difficult case to prove. So, obviously I have chosen a really bad example to prove my point...

Let me clarify my position here. I would not be against the publication of an article stating the above in relation to a Prime Minister, as it probably is in the public interest. But to publicise something as malicious as Media Watch's example from Britain's News of the world is a perfect case of how these laws could be used in the media's favour, for example to increase ratings (yes, I think most Australians are nutty enough to read/buy this garbage and I think there are already many rags being sold in Australia that would print it!).

The Daily Telegraph has a claimed readership of over 1,200,000 people throughout the week. This statement has nothing to do with the preceding paragraph! No, I do not have $250,000!

I also think it's appropriate to know what someone's family situation may be, particularly if they are going to have a say in laws and public facilities that affect families, but again, there is a limit and I think it is a clear reason for regulation. We already place too much trust in the media as it is!

Furthermore, the laws put a cap on payouts for defamation law suits at $250,000. I think the program raises this as a very important point, as large media organisation will weigh up the possible cost (maximum cost of $250,000 to the company) versus the possibility of higher sales, higher ratings and associated income. Given there is no benchmark of "public interest", and the only real other one is "substantially truthful", hypothetically it would cost a maximum of $250,000, a public apology and a retraction, to publicise a complete and utter lie!

Hmmm so much for a short post.