Will Australia Get New Media Laws Following UK Phone Hacking Scandal? frostwire, youtube to mp3

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Will the UK Phone Hacking scandal affect Australia's media? (Credit: the Age, screenshot) frostwire, youtube to mp3

Despite calls for a new media laws in Australia, the country’s attorney general, Robert McClelland, “has ruled out trying to regulate journalistic ethics,” The Age reported July 16.

McClelland noted that the government shouldn’t interfere in media ethics, but that the “community, and for instance, the various press councils and -electronic media organisations” could possible “progress that sort of debate.”

McClelland’s comments are in light of the phone hacking scandal currently embroiling UK media outlets owned by the Australian Rupert Murdoch.  The Australian Associated Press news agency (AAP) reported July 15 that McClelland is “flatly” against setting up a media ethics law, while Australian prime minister Julia Gillard “said she would be open to an inquiry.”

Bob Brown, a representative from Australian political party The Greens, has said there should be an “investigation into media practices and ownership by urging that the right to privacy be enshrined in law.”  But, Australian politician Tony Abbott, who is “Leader of the Opposition,”  rejected the need for a media ethics law, according to AAP.

In response to the UK phone hacking scandal, Gillard commented to the National Press Club July 14 that she is “pretty shocked and disgusted,” the AAP reported.

News Limited

According to Big Pond News, “News Corp’s Australian arm, News Ltd, controls 70 per cent of the nation’s news readership.”  News Limited’s website lists some of its Australian properties as the Australian, the Herald Sun, and the Australian Telegraph.

News Limited’s CEO John Hartigan claims that News Limited reporters haven’t violated journalism ethics.  According to the AAP, Hartigan added “I’m hugely confident that there’s no improper or unethical behaviour in our newsrooms.”

Hartigan, who has been in charge of News Limited since 2005, commented that Parliament doesn’t need to investigate media in Australia, according to a July 15 article by the Australian.

“You’ve got a statutory authority that looks at broadcast media, and I would argue that the behaviours of the press which operate under the Press Council, which is funded by ourselves, are no different to the behaviours of those that operate under a statutory organisation (the Australian Communications and Media Authority),” Hartigan is quoted as saying.

Comparing British and Australian media outlets, Hartigan reportedly stated the UK papers are “very aggressive.”

“They’re very sensational, they deal with people’s lives, private lives and some of the behaviours that have come out are obviously being driven by the need to get in front of each other. I would argue very strenuously that we don’t have those behaviours in Australia.”

Meanwhile in a July 20 report by the Guardian, Julia Gillard commented that News Corp’s properties in Australia must respond to “some questions here in our country, some questions about News Limited here.”

“Obviously News Ltd has got a responsibility to answer those questions when they’re asked,” Gillard commented.

In response, News Limited’s John Hartigan called her comments “unjustified and regrettable,” News Limited-owned the Australian reported.

Hartigan stated “The Prime MInister’s comments seek to draw a link between News Corporation operations in the UK and those here in Australia….There is absolutely no connection between events in the UK and our business in Australia. There is no evidence that similar behaviour has occurred at News in Australia.”

Hartigan described News Limited’s reaction to the phone hacking scandal as “appalled” and “concerned.”

Fairfax Media

Meanwhile, Fairfax Media’s CEO, Greg Hywood has backed Fairfax Media’s The Age’s November 2010 story on “privacy concerns raised by details kept on a Labor Party database,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

That story’s reporting tactics have been compared to the phone hacking scandal, according to the Herald.  The criticism of the Age’s story was in a story by Age-competitor and News Limited-owned the Australian’s July 15 story ‘Age accused of hacking hypocrisy.”

That story reported that the Australian Federal Police “is considering whether to launch a formal investigation into the Age’s conduct.”  According to the Australian, the newspaper obtained the database by “using  an unauthorised password provided by an undisclosed source.”

iMediaEthics wrote to the Australian Federal Police regarding this investigation. An AFP spokesperson told StinkyJournalism via e-mail that the AFP “has received a referral” regarding the story and that the “referral is currently being evaluated.” The spokesperson stated that the AFP can’t add “further comment” while the case is being “Evaluated.”

But, The Age’s editor Paul Ramadge, is quoted by the Australian as saying “this story came through entirely appropriate journalistic methods” and explained the newspaper got the database information from “a whistleblower.”

Ramadge also backed the story in a Sydney Morning Herald report.  Ramadge is quoted as saying:  ”This was a story with significant public interest – a powerful, highly influential organisation collecting private information on voters without their knowledge and giving campaign workers access to it.”

Likewise, Fairfax Media’s Hywood claimed that “ethics and quality journalism are the core” of his media company.  He is quoted as saying:

“To claim a moral equivalence between this entirely legitimate journalistic activity and the illegal hacking of telephones systemically practised by News International’s News of the World is entirely spurious. Those who claim otherwise don’t understand the ethical framework of journalism or are pursuing other agendas.”

iMediaEthics has written to the Age and the Australian for further comment and will update with any response.

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Will Australia Get New Media Laws Following UK Phone Hacking Scandal?

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