Press Council chair vows to fight for press freedom and disclosure standards for native ads

David-Weisbrot-234x234The chair of the Australian Press Council David Weisbrot has pledged to fight for press freedom and create a new model for defamation laws to help protect freedom of speech in Australia following the passage of recent terrorism Bills through Parliament.

Speaking to an audience at the Melbourne Press Club today, Weisbrot, who has headed the APC since March, said “times have changed” and the APC’s role “in advancing freedom of the press” cannot be “largely restricted to its complaints-handling function”.

“Freedom of speech and freedom of the press may have a strong cultural hold in Australia, but they rest on flimsy legal foundations,” Weisbrot said, in an address in which he also outlined plans for disclosure requirements around native content.

“Unfortunately, the traditionally fine balance has been tipping steadily against freedom in recent times. We’ve had 40 ‘anti-terrorism’ laws passed, often with insufficient Parliamentary scrutiny of the potential effects on free speech and press freedom.”

Outlining amendments to the ASIO Act – the new metadata retention laws – which Weisbrot describes as a “crushing blow to investigative journalism and freedom of the press” he said: “In these circumstances, it is not sufficient to hope that publishers will be successful in resisting these incursions, and the Press Council must take a stand in favour of free speech and press freedom liberty.”

As such, Weisbrot said the APC must “actively work to diminish private or civil obstacles to investigative reporting, press freedom and free speech” thus pledging to lead a process, to culminate in May, “to develop a Model Uniform Defamation Law for Australia of which we can finally be proud”.

In his speech Weisbrot also outlined the APC’s plans to develop and provide education and training programs for working journalists, cadets and others on the APC’s standards and on emerging issues such as metadata retention, secrecy laws, whistleblower laws and anti-terrorism laws.

“We urgently need to move away from the system of punishing individual transgressions in our industry and feeling that such action alone maintains high standards across the entire profession,” he said.

“While the need to identify and sanction poor practice will remain, there are much better strategies for achieving industry-wide improvement, and reassuring the community that this is the case.”

Weisbrot also outlined draft proposals for specific standards reporting of family violence, reporting of child sexual assault, respectful reporting around LGBTI individuals and issues, respectful reporting around race and religion and labelling/disclosure requirements around sponsored or native content “so as not to mislead readers about the nature of the material”.

He is also looking at drafting standards on the appropriation and publication of online photos and the “‘right to be forgotten’, with the need to balance the relevance of stale/sealed/expunged convictions versus the improper alteration or erasure of history”.

The APC chair also pledged to broaden the council’s membership, looking to engage with the multicultural press.

“The current leadership of the Council is strongly committed to engaging with the multicultural press in Australia and encouraging the Council’s inclusiveness, both in terms of formal membership as well as in access to Council programs and activities,” Weisbrot said.

Miranda Ward


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