An alliance has been formed between cross bench senators to examine the future of journalism in Australia in light of sweeping job cuts from traditional media. The announcement was made on May 10 and saw support from Labor, Greens and two independents ? Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie ? to establish the Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism. The committee would examine the structure of media organisations, tax arrangements, consumer laws and the role of the government to support an independent and diverse media. It will also seek to examine ?fake news?, ?propaganda? and ?click-bait? generators. The committee was established in response to two major redundancy announcements across Fairfax Media and News Corp Australia, the former of which could shed up to a quarter of its staff in an already reduced newsroom. The week-long strike by Fairfax journalists resulted in limited coverage of the 2017 federal budget. The motion was supported by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which supported the Fairfax journalists who went on strike last week to oppose sweeping job cuts. The CEO Paul Murphy told Mumbrella public interest journalism was at a crisis point and supported the committee. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the senate inquiry was blasted by Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, who called it ?totalitarianism?. This May 9 video shows Senator Scott Ludlam, who tabled the bill, discussing press freedom in Parliament House. Credit: Australian Parliament House via Storyful
NEWS Corp Australia’s National Editorial Counsel has highlighted the extra burden Australians journalists face in their role as the fourth estate compared to their American colleagues.
Michael Cameron, who today was awarded the 2017 Press Freedom Medal in recognition of his role as an advocate of transparency and open justice, has highlighted the differences in media law between Australian and America where journalists have the first amendment protecting free speech.
“Australians would be surprised if they knew the extent of restrictions on the media in this country,” Mr Cameron said.
“Unlike America, Australia has a very plaintiff friendly defamation system. Under the first amendment, the onus rests on the complainant to prove falsity in a defamation claim.
“In our country, the onus rests with the defendant, mainly the newspaper publisher, to prove truth and that is a costly and often difficult exercise.
“Consequently people love to sue — and they love to sue in Sydney particularly.”
Mr Cameron, who leads the in-house News Corp Australia’s legal team, said each state presented its own challenges for the media seeking to report the news.
Last year, there were 220 defamation judgments in New South Wales, compared to 104 in the rest of the country combined.
“Different states have their problems. While NSW is the defamation state, Victoria is the suppression state,” Mr Cameron said. “South Australia is not much better.”
Last year, the Victorian courts made 474 suppression orders banning publication of details. In one case, an order even prevented the publication of a pixelated image of a defendant.
Mr Cameron said the challenges the media faced had changed in recent years with the rise of the internet and social media.
“There was a time when you could stop a newspaper at the border safe in the knowledge that your newspaper was not going to be read in the neighbouring states,” he said.
“But that doesn’t apply now with the internet of course. The law is you publish where you’re read.
“Our defamation laws don’t recognise any distinction between what’s published in print and what’s published online.
“It’s no longer just a media problem, it’s not a societal problem where people are dragged into court for a post that has been read by half a dozen people.
“It certainly presents challenges for lawyers with the new reality of internet publishing. I always tell cadets it is best to be second and right rather than first and wrong.
“We publish in excess of one million articles a year.
“Very few of them cause any problem. The standard is very high.”
Mr Cameron, along with Mr Peter Timmins, of the Australian Open Government Partnership Network, received their Press Freedom Medal in a ceremony this morning.
Press Council chairman Professor David Weisbrot said this year’s winners of the Press Freedom Medal “have been exemplary in their tireless pursuit of the critical principle that citizens have a right to know, and so governments, and other important public and private institutions, must operate in an open and transparent manner”.
“Although the Press Council did not set off with this intention, this year’s Press Freedom Medal winners prove the point that free speech and press freedom are not only reliant on brave and capable editors and journalists, but also on lawyers, activists and others who fight to preserve and extend these freedoms.”
Mr Cameron began with News Corp Australia 30 years ago, starting his journalism career at the bottom when he became a copy boy on The Daily Mirror in the eighties.
His journalism career involved covering state and federal politics for The Daily Telegraph and serving as the New York correspondent.
With a longstanding interest in law and the media, he began the slow course of studying law part-time while working as the chief-of-staff at The Daily Telegraph.
Mr Cameron today said the Press Freedom Medal was a recognition of the work his team did in providing legal services for 100 newspapers and websites.
“It’s a great honour. It’s really a reflection of the work of my team,” he said.
“There are six of us working seven days a week. It’s a busy practice but it’s really an interesting area of law.
“Special thanks goes to Larina Mullins, our senior litigation counsel, who has appeared at close to 100 suppression hearings in the last three years.”