Proposed changes to media law and tort of privacy may be announced next week

March 10, 2013 |

In Media law changes move closer the Australian reports that a package of reforms relating to a changes to Australia’s media laws could go to federal cabinet as early as Monday.  One of the proposed reforms mooted for discussion is a tort of privacy.  Hopefully at least.  But Conroy does not have coverage for such a proposal.  It is firmly in the Attorney General’s portfolio.  That does not preclude a joint submission.

The Australian is vociferously opposed to a statutory right of privacy.  It has always has been.  No ifs, buts or maybes.  It characterises the tort as being solely media oriented and an attack on free speech.  It is wrong on both counts.  A statutory right of privacy would not exclusively, or even mainly, apply to actions by journalists.  Privacy interferences occur by actions or omissions of government agencies, its officers, police, security, neighbours, unscrupulous business operators and the more prosaic instances of ordinary citizens behaving badly. It is a common approach by media interests (who generally but not universally oppose enforceable privacy protections) to misrepresent privacy protections as being in constant conflict with freedom of speech, with the latter invariably losing out.  If a statutory right of privacy is introduced as a Bill in this session of Parliament the Australian will muster the usual suspects, Chris Merrrit, Ainslie Van Onselen and a few other activist academics, to pen the usual story lines; that existing laws are adequate peppered with variations on the “where’s the fire” argument as well as the tried and true claim that it is just another way to tie journalists up in knots and stop getting to a real story.  The columnists will be flying in a holding pattern over the debate, being brought in on a regular basis to do his or her thing. There are plenty of legitimate arguments on both sides.  If history is any guide, unfortunately the Australian will not run many of them.

The article provides:

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Conroy says the government will bring forward media law changes before the September election – and the support of independent MPs will be crucial.

The government is running out of time to have parliament approve a package of reforms stemming from its media industry reviews.

It is understood cabinet could consider a number of measures on Monday, before parliament sits on Tuesday.

“We will be bringing forward a package,” Senator Conroy told ABC radio on Friday.

“But we clearly have to get the support of the independents. There’s clearly many contentious issues,” Senator Conroy said.

One of the key changes is the removal of a rule that prevents any television network from broadcasting to more than 75 per cent of the Australian population.

The rule currently stops any one of the three major commercial networks from buying regional affiliates.

The proposed change would allow Nine Network to pursue a possible merger with Southern Cross Austereo.

Also being considered are a revamped press council, a tort of privacy, increased Australian content rules and a public interest test for prospective media owners.

To have any legislation pass the lower house, Labor will need the support of five crossbenchers.

Independent MP Craig Thomson said he would reveal his position on the changes next week when parliament resumes.

“I’ll be talking to people involved in the industry on the effects that the legislation may have locally in this electorate,” Mr Thomson told AAP on Friday.

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said his party members, who will meet on Monday, would have no problem “going to the barricades” to protect regional media services.

“Everyone (in the party room) will ask the same question: ‘Is this the same swindle job where they promise the world but leave the services out?’ and if it is, they can go jump in the lake,” Senator Joyce told AAP.

“Without local news you have no local community,” the senator from southwest Queensland said.

Nationals Leader Warren Truss said his party would be looking at the legislation very closely.

“We won’t support anything that reduces localism and the capacity for local news and information to be supplied when it is needed, on a regular basis,” Mr Truss told AAP.

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