Sep 29, 2011

Bolt decision: ‘Irresponsible journalism illegal’? Think again

Making "irresponsible" journalism illegal? You don’t have to like Andrew Bolt to find that notion worrying, but dressing up this week's decision as a major assault on freedom of speech is putting it far too high.

Margaret Simons

Journalist, author and director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism

In paragraph 388 of his judgment in the Bolt matter yesterday, Justice Bromberg quotes a phrase from a Privy Council case. It should strike a chill into the hearts of journalists and media organisations in Australia, particularly at this moment in our history.

“The public deserve to be protected against irresponsible journalism.”

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163 thoughts on “Bolt decision: ‘Irresponsible journalism illegal’? Think again

  1. fredex

    “The public deserve to be protected against irresponsible journalism.”

    That is a perfectly acceptable statement.

    If you wish to suggest that it is not try arguing in favour of the converse.

    “The public does not deserve to be protected against irresponsible journalism.”

  2. Mark Duffett

    Best commentary I’ve seen on the Bolt case so far.

  3. Michael

    Margaret it kills me to say this because I do hate your politics, however todays article is right on the money.
    If the law holds and I doubt it will stand the rigor of an appeal, then journalism & news publication in Oz becomes a legal and therefore financial minefield.

  4. Damotron

    Andrew Bolt can dish it out but can’t take it, what goes around comes around. He had it coming so he should stop bitching about it, it’s a bad look.

  5. Aphra

    Yet another Henny-Penny argument.

    Had Bolt simply got his facts right there wouldn’t have been any court case.

  6. Ilona

    Is it fair to categorise the court’s decision as declaring the articles “illegal”? Sure, the articles breached the Act, but they don’t even have to be removed from the internet. The only practical restriction on free speech we’re looking at is the disclaimer that needs to be added to them.

  7. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    The public deserve to be protected against inaccurate journalism.

  8. Modus Ponens

    “The judgment means that journalists, particularly well-read, influential journalists, are to be held to higher standards than ordinary people. That the public “deserves to be protected” from them. It’s a dangerous notion.”

    No its not. The bloke in the pub doesn’t have the power to incite fear, hatred and mis-truths to a wide audience.

    Sorry but widely read journalists should be held to a higher standard. And self-regulation, argument and exposure hasn’t worked as awesomely as you seem to believe.

    If the Press Council had teeth and were independent of media and government influence, there might be a bit more contemplation by journalists before going to print.

  9. Fran Barlow

    Some context. Bromberg ruled that the relief available under s18D (basically protection for good faith statements on matters of public interest) from the more general constraint in s18C was not available because Blot made no serious attempt to get his facts correct. He further noted that had he done so the general claim he sought to make would have been implausible. Thus, a good faith defence was excluded.

    One might note also The News Ltd Code of Conduct which runs in part as follows:

    1. Accuracy

    1.1 Facts must be reported impartially, accurately and with integrity.

    1.2 Clear distinction must be made between fact, conjecture and comment.

    1.3 Try always to tell all sides of the story in any kind of dispute.

    1.4 Do not knowingly withhold or suppress essential facts.

    1.5 Journalists should be reluctant to rely on only one source. Be careful not to recycle an error from one reference source to another. Check and check again.

    So readers had a form of warranty about the professional practice of Bolt (laughable since it is not known to have been enforced but there you have it)

    He can’t claim 18D with that in the baggage he took to court.

    Bolt might have made his trolling claims of misuse of identity for personal profit at the expense of authentic recipients (i.e those having the requisite amount of melanin in their faces to satisfy him) of a program to which he objects in toto (again one coughs at the hypocrisy) if he hadn’t actually referred to any specific living person and avoided the terrible and crushing sanction of having a correction and apology published on his behalf of course.

    Also relevant here in the code:

    8.1 Do not make pejorative reference to a person’s race, nationality, colour, religion, marital status, sex, sexual preferences, age, or physical or mental capacity.

    No details of a person’s race, nationality, colour, religion, marital status, sex, sexual preferences, age, or physical or mental incapacity should be included in a report unless they are relevant.

    This last point — relevance — clearly implies accuracy, since inaccurate things are ipso fact not relevant. Blot ought to have known that even by the published standards of his employer, leave aside those of “lefty lawyers” he was out of order. He choooses to work for them and can’t bleat now about the state oppressing him into noisy silence.

    Moreover, I’d say it’s telling that when you strip away the posturing and consider the “sanction” imposed by law, it’s to publish a correction and an apology.

    The thing that offends Blot most is being forced to co-exist with truth and civilised conduct. This offence is so grave in his view as to truncate his scope to express himself as he pleases, to “silence” him. He dare not run such a risk this morning, according to him.

    Need one add anything to the Blot’s admissions to see how they damn him and the army of the living dead behind him? Probably not.

  10. Filth Dimension

    Aphra, had Bolt got his facts right there wouldn’t have been article.

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