Right to Know coalition warns against "gagging" of public discussion on finances

The Australia’s Right to Know coalition has joined the row over journalists writing about rumours in the financial market, warning against “gagging” public debate.

It follows last week’s report that Sydney Morning Herald commentator Elizabeth Knight was facing investigation for an analysis she wrote about James Packer in which she reported the market rumour that he was looking to reduce his take in Consolidated Media Holdings.

While the investigation by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission has been welcomed by some as an antidote to “rumourtrage”, where gossip is deliberately circulated to manipulate share prices, other warn that it could limit the freedom of the press to report fully and accurately. Lucinda Duckett, spokesman for the Australia’s Right to Know coalition told Mumbrella:

“Journalists must remain free to provide genuine commentary and debate.  While Right to Know accepts that financially-motivated or scurrilous rumours on the finance industry are undesirable, it’s important that any attempts by the government to prevent these problems do not have the side-effect of gagging public discussion on important issues.”

The Right to Know coalition includes representatives from News Ltd, Fairfax and the ABC.

In March last year, ASIC launched Project Mint, in a move to crack down on misleading rumour. At the time, the regulator warned: “ASIC will investigate the conduct of persons who spread false information or rumours if they cannot substantiate that they did concern themselves as to the truth or falsity of the rumour.” The maximum sentence is five years imprisonment or $220,000.


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