University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series
Last Updated: 6 August 2012
Privacy and the Media – A Platform for Change?
Roger Clarke, University of New South Wales
This paper is available for
download at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2124918
This paper is to be published in University of Western Australia Law Review (forthcoming). This paper may also be referenced as  UNSWLRS 29.
A free press is both a critical feature of an open, democratic society and a threat to privacy. For decades, the media in Australia have successfully avoided meaningful regulatory mechanisms, through a combination of corporate muscle and the chimera of self-regulation. But events in recent years raise the possibility that change may be on its way.
From 2006 to 2011, the News of the World revelations weakened the Murdoch empire. This emboldened politicians in Australia as much as in the UK. In parallel, public dissatisfaction has been evident with media behaviour and unjustified disclosures of personal data in media publications. Calls for institutional and process reformation to achieve more appropriate balances have risen to a crescendo.
This paper chronicles the key events in Australia between 2007 and 2011, in the process unfolding the key issues. In 2009, the Australian Privacy Foundation published specific proposals aimed at an enhanced self-regulatory regime. Discussions with News Limited, Media Alliance, the ABC, the Australian Press Council (APC) and university research centres were all fruitless. A mailing to the complete list of Professors of Journalism resulted in nothing more than a couple of acknowledgements of receipt.
Yet, only two years later, during the course of 2011, four separate processes with potentially significant outcomes occurred. Firstly, the Government canvassed a civil right of action that would apply to the media as it would to everyone else. In addition, both the APC and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) undertook reviews of their codes and processes. The fourth initiative was an independent inquiry into media regulation, which recommended in early 2012 that a News Media Council be established, to replace both the APC and ACMA.
These activities represent a platform for change. Whether there will be outcomes, and whether they will be positive for privacy, depends on the degree of commitment of the proponents for change.