Crikey has been copping flak for choosing to publish audio snippets of the extraordinary staff meeting at The Age last week. The Age Independence Committee, and other staff, are not pleased with us.
Here are our reasons for deciding to publish. There is room for disagreement, of course, but we didn’t make the decision lightly.
First, while it was not a public meeting, it was hardly a purely private conversation. Had this been a meeting between a handful of people, then the expectation of privacy would probably have outweighed any public interest considerations. As it was, more than 235 people were there, and they were discussing a matter of considerable public concern – the status and future of journalism at The Age, and independent journalism at Australia’s “quality” newspapers more broadly. The public interest considerations, we thought, outweighed any limited expectation of privacy.
Second, we decided to focus on the words of editor, Andrew Jaspan. All journalists are public figures to some extent, editors in particular. They therefore have a reduced right to privacy in respect of their public roles. All the more so for an editor in chief of a major metropolitan newspaper.
Third, some argued with us that publishing the audio tapes would be counterproductive to the aims of The Age staff, in that it would inflame management. We doubt this is the case. Staff can hardly pass a motion like this without inflaming management, and the publication of the audio can hardly change that much. But in any case, this is not an argument journalists can properly consider. Imagine a leak from the Labor Party in the lead up to the election. Would a journalist be right to not publish because doing so might damage the party’s election prospects? Of course not.
We are journalists too. We have many friends at The Age. Our sympathies are inevitably caught up in these events, but it is our job to try and get the story as completely as we can, rather than to self censor in an attempt to influence the outcome of events.
Finally, if an Age journalist got a newsworthy audio recording of a shareholders meeting, or a union meeting closed to the public, or of the closed part of a political party’s national conference, would they really not use it? We doubt it.
We think this is analogous.