Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
Australian Press Council
This document is available at <www.presscouncil.org.au/pcsite/priv_stand.html>.
The Privacy (Private Sector) Amendment Act came into effect in December 2001. It exempts from its ambit acts by media organisations in the course of journalism when the organisation is publicly committed to observing a set of privacy standards. The Australian Press Council has, in conjunction with its Constituent Members, developed such a set of standards. These procedures apply to those media organisations listed in the Schedule. Complaints arising from them can be made on the Council’s online complaints form.
Principle 3 of the Press Council’s Statement of Principles states, with respect to privacy:
Readers of publications are entitled to have news and comment presented to them honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy should not prevent publication of matters of public record or obvious or significant public interest.
The need to balance respect for privacy with standards that recognise freedom of speech and of the press is recognised by the Privacy Act 1988. The Privacy Act provides an exemption for acts done or practices engaged in by a media organisation in the course of journalism, if the media organisation is publicly committed to observing standards that deal with privacy in the context of the activities of a media organisation, and those standards have been published in writing either by the organisation or a body representing a class of media organisations.
These Standards deal with privacy in the context of the activities of media organisations. They elaborate on the Press Council’s Statement of Principles, and are published by the Press Council for the purposes of the Privacy Act exemption.
These Standards apply to ‘personal information’, which is information or an opinion (including forming part of a database) whether true or not, and whether recorded in a material form or not, about an individual whose identity is apparent or can reasonably be ascertained from the information.
These Standards also recognise, as does the Privacy Act, that the media have a duty to inform the public on matters of significant public interest. For the purposes of these Standards, ‘public interest’ is defined as involving a matter capable of affecting the people at large so they might be legitimately interested in, or concerned about, what is going on, or what may happen to them or to others.
The media organisations, and the relevant publications, which are committed to these Standards are listed in the Schedule.
In gathering news, journalists should seek personal information only in the public interest.
In doing so, journalists should not unduly intrude on the privacy of individuals and should show respect for the dignity and sensitivity of people encountered in the course of gathering news.
In accordance with Principle 4 of the Council’s Statement of Principles, news obtained by unfair or dishonest means should not be published unless there is an overriding public interest. Generally, journalists should identify themselves as such. However, journalists and photographers may at times need to operate surreptitiously to expose crime, significantly antisocial conduct, public deception or some other matter in the public interest.
Public figures necessarily sacrifice their right to privacy, where public scrutiny is in the public interest. However, public figures do not forfeit their right to privacy altogether. Intrusion into their right to privacy must be related to their public duties or activities.
Personal information gathered by journalists and photographers should only be used for the purpose for which it was intended.
A person who supplies personal information should have a reasonable expectation that it will be used for the purpose for which it was collected.
Some personal information, such as addresses or other identifying details, may enable others to intrude on the privacy and safety of individuals who are the subject of news coverage, and their families. To the extent lawful and practicable, a media organisation should only disclose sufficient personal information to identify the persons being reported in the news, so that these risks can be reasonably avoided.
A media organisation should take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal information it collects is accurate, complete and up-to-date.
A media organisation should take reasonable steps to ensure that the personal information it holds is protected from misuse, loss, or unauthorised access.
All persons who provide information to media organisations are entitled to seek anonymity. The identity of confidential sources should not be revealed, and where it is lawful and practicable, a media organisation should ensure that any personal information which it maintains derived from such sources does not identify the source.
In accordance with Principle 8 of the Council’s Statement of Principles, where individuals are singled out for criticism, the publication should ensure fairness and balance in the original article. Failing that, the media organisation should provide a reasonable and swift opportunity for a balancing response in the appropriate section of the publication.
A media organisation should make amends for publishing any personal information that is found to be harmfully inaccurate, in accordance with Principle 2 of the Council’s Statement of Principles. The media organisation should also take steps to correct any of its records containing that personal information, so as to avoid a harmful inaccuracy being repeated.
In accordance with Principle 7 of the Council’s Statement of Principles, media organisations should not place any gratuitous emphasis on the categories of sensitive personal information listed in Principle 7, except where it is relevant and in the public interest to report and express opinions in these areas.
Members of the public caught up in newsworthy events should not be exploited. A victim or bereaved person has the right to refuse or terminate an interview or photographic session at any time.
Unless otherwise restricted by law or court order, open court hearings are matters of public record and can be reported by the press. Such reports need to be fair and balanced. They should not identify relatives or friends of people accused or convicted of crime unless the reference to them is necessary for the full, fair and accurate reporting of the crime or subsequent legal proceedings.
The Council will receive and deal with complaints (see online complaint form) from person or persons affected about possible breaches of these Standards in the same way as it receives and deals with complaints about possible breaches of its Statement of Principles. Where the Council issues an adjudication in relation to these Standards, the publication concerned must prominently print the adjudication.
These procedures apply to those media organisations listed in the Schedule.
... the following media organisations have publicly committed to observe the Australian Press Council Privacy Standards as at March 2002.
Advertiser Newspapers, Adelaide
The Advocate, Burnie (including the Western Tiers)
Australian Associated Press
Australian Geographic Pty Ltd (including Our Favourite Places magazine)
Bendigo Advertiser (and associated newspapers)
Border Morning Mail (and associated newspapers)
The Cairns Post
Community Newspapers Group, Perth
Elliott Newspaper Group, Mildura
Geelong Advertiser Pty Ltd
Herald and Weekly Times
Independent News Pty Ltd
John Fairfax Holdings (including National and NSW Newspapers, Victorian Newspapers, Magazines)
News Limited Community Newspapers (including Quest Newspapers, Cumberland Newspapers, Leader Newspapers,Messenger Newspapers)
North Queensland Newspaper group
The Northern Territory News (and associated newspapers)
Reader’s Digest (including Family Handyman magazine)
Rural Press Limited (including Agricultural Publications, Regional Publications — NSW, Regional Publications — other states)
West Australian Newspapers Ltd.
[Note that some organisations may represent more than one publication.]