ACMA has officially cleared Seven News over complaints about last year’s story in which the network revealed that NSW MP David Campbell had visited a gay sauna. In its findings, ACMA notes that while Campbell’s privacy was breached, the story was ultimately in the public interest. The full ACMA report was released today [PDF], although some details were made public last month.

The full report makes for interesting reading:

Whether there was an identifiable public interest reason for the broadcast of private material

Although the ACMA considers that the Code and Guidelines provide privacy protections to everyday individuals and public figures (including politicians) alike, the Authority also accepts that those holding public office will be open to greater and more frequent scrutiny in their personal lives than other citizens as a very consequence of their public office. In these cases, the public interest exemption to the prohibition of the broadcast of private material is more likely to apply.

To the extent that the Minister’s activities were secret, the ACMA also accepts that engaging in covert activity while in a position of public responsibility or administration could make a personal vulnerable to being compromised…

However that mere vulnerability cannot be sufficient to permit the broadcast of otherwise protected material in the absence of, for example, any identifiable basis upon which to apprehend actual compromise (which absence was the case here).

All very honourable. But it’s the next paragraph which is most interesting:

Given, however, the then existing public criticism of the Minister and prior questioning about his discharge of his office, the sensitive public roles he held and had recently held, the suddenness of his resignation and the lack of insight that the explanation for his resignation (that is “for personal reasons”) provided, a relevant and legitimate public interest arose (namely the need for a deeper explanation of the circumstances behind the resignation)/ This is so because the community could then be better able to assess whether or not the Minister’s discharge of government and/or public administration had or had not been improper or had or had not been comprised.

On balance, the ACMA accepts that in these particular circumstances the linkage between the private material and an identifiable public interest was provided.

In summation, because Campbell resigned,  the entire story is justified in the public interest, because it explores the reason behind the resignation, even though the story — which Campbell was told about beforehand and therefore offered his resignation — was the catalyst for his resignation. Got it?

The news comes as married US Republican Congressman Chris Lee resigned following a leaked sexy topless photo and emails he sent in response to a personal ad. The woman receiving the emails — which claimed Lee was divorced, looking for action and six years younger than he claimed — forwarded them straight on to Gawker. Just three hours later Lee announced his resignation.

Update: this original article said Seven News screened the story before Campbell resigned. This is incorrect. He had resigned about an hour earlier, after being made aware the story was going to air. It was this point which resulted in the Seven News story being declared in the public interest by ACMA.

Peter Fray

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