An eagle eyed reader of The Australian ‘s Letters Blog noticed this week that the online version of The Australian published a letter by Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes in full on Wednesday afternoon, but by Thursday it had mysteriously shrunk. The reader then tried to register a comment about the change but again, mysteriously, it never materialised…

Holmes’ original letter read like this:

The right to privacy

Letters Blog | March 25, 2009 | 0 Comments

For the second time in less than a week, your legal affairs editor Chris Merritt has attributed to me a view that I do not hold*. A remarkably silly editorial in Saturday’s Weekend Australian did the same.**

For the record, I have never publicly supported the introduction of a statutory, litigable right to privacy. On the whole I agree with the Chairman of News Limited, John Hartigan, that in the absence of a constitutional right to free speech, such a law may well prove a bonanza for lawyers, but do little more than give an added layer of protection to the rich and powerful.

But Media Watch, unlike Chris Merritt, recognises that there are powerful arguments on the other side. We broadcast an even-handed special on the issue in August last year, which interested readers can find on our website (www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s2338955.htm)

And I do argue that when News Limited editors demonstrate that they do not understand the difference between stories (or photographs) that are in the public interest and stories that sell newspapers; and when they appear to ascribe no value to the privacy rights of public people; they immeasurably strengthen the case of those who see the need for a new privacy law.

I hope this argument is not too complex for The Australian to get its collective head around. Our viewers seem to find it quite simple.

*”When public interest and privacy collide”, The Australian, 20/3/2009, page 7
“ABC on its own on question of privacy law”, The Australian, 25/2/2009, page 8
**”The Threat Within”, The Weekend Australian, 14-15/3/2009, page 14

Jonathan Holmes
Presenter, Media Watch
ABC Television

Within hours the letter shrank to this version, both online and in the paper:

For the record, I have never publicly supported the introduction of a statutory, litigable right to privacy (Editorial, 21/3).

On the whole I agree with the chairman of News Limited, John Hartigan, that in the absence of a constitutional right to free speech, such a law may well prove a bonanza for lawyers, but do little more than give an added layer of protection to the rich and powerful. But Media Watch recognises there are powerful arguments on the other side.

Jonathan Holmes
Presenter, Media Watch
ABC Television, Ultimo, NSW

People have complained to Crikey before of being creatively amended by The Australian’ s letters editor, but we’re sure they’re just pruning criticism of the paper in the interests of brevity.

Peter Fray

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