An interesting landmark in Australian media ethics yesterday, particularly given the headlines about Rupert Murdoch’s troubles and the News of the World.

Yesterday is the day that the new ABC editorial policies came into force. As covered by Crikey previously, this is the product of a comprehensive shake-up, with the existing large and wordy booklet, which it is probably safe to say was not exactly carried next to the heart of ABC staff, replaced by a slim 22-page booklet of principles and standards, reinforced by non-binding guidance notes.

And what would the ABC Ed Pols say about what Rupert Murdoch’s lieutenants are accused of doing?

Principle Five, which about Fair and Honest Dealing, is of relevance. It prohibits secret recording devices, misrepresentation and other types of deception except where

“justified in the public interest and the material cannot reasonably be obtained by any other means; or consent is obtained from the subject, or identities are effectively obscured.”

And as well as this there is the golden ABC oldie of upward referral, which makes it clear that the boss would have to sign off on any use of material gained through deception or secret recording. The guidance note suggests this would be managing director Mark Scott himself. ABC Legal would also be involved. That, I would say, makes phone hacking a complete no-no.

The booklet also has something to say about privacy. It is “necessary to human dignity” and the ABC seeks to balance the public interest with right to privacy. Any intrusion must be justified by the public interest, and “proportionate in the circumstances”. Again, phone hacking would seem to be ruled out.

Common sense really. But then it is also the case that the ABC is one of the only media organisations that actually takes things such as ethics policies seriously.

So much for that. What’s new in the ABC zoo?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey