"Holmes says if one applauds the Barry Spurr stories, one must also be willing to consider the merits of the Nova Peris pieces."It's an argument Holmes doesn't buy. "I think if you read the emails, it’s very hard to buy the idea that they were so jokey that they don’t represent a fundamental view of the world," he said. "I just think it’s very hard to swallow that." Holmes says if he were in New Matilda's shoes, he wouldn't have hesitated to publish the story. "To my mind, it’s a lay-down case of public interest trumping privacy. Because of his position -- not so much as a professor at a university, although that could be argued on its own --- on the national curriculum, the fact that he harbours such private views becomes of national importance. Particularly with regards to his comments on Aboriginal literature." "I think they did it quite responsibly. If I could fault anything, it'd be the fact that they didn’t publish the complete emails at first. I think, if you've got the documents these days, there's no excuse for not putting them up." Michael Gawenda, a former editor-in-chief of The Age who's now a fellow at the University of Melbourne's Centre for Advancing Journalism, says he would have published a story based on the Spurr emails. But he wouldn't have written about them in their entirety. "I think that the only public interest is in those emails that pertain to his views about indigenous Australians. That's because of his position as a consultant to the review of the national curriculum, which includes recommendations on indigenous studies. No matter what he says about the purpose of what he was writing, the fact is those views are abhorrent. He can defend them if he wants to. But it is in the public interest that we know that he held those views and so we can judge whether they informed, in one way or another, what he recommended about the curriculum." "But is it in the public interest to publish what he thinks about the quality of students at the University of Sydney, or what he thinks about the vice-chancellor? I'd say not. People say all sorts of things about their colleagues and superiors privately. It's just not in the public interest to divulge that." On the Peris case, Gawenda is adamant he wouldn't have published anything at all. "They focus on issues which are absolutely private, and invade her privacy in quite an egregious way," he said. "Whether or not she said what she said about Cathy Freeman, or what she said to Boldon in personal emails ... was totally not in the private interest. There was nothing substantial in those stories that pointed to the public interest. I wouldn't have published the story at all, and I think it's a step in the wrong direction for journalism." But Holmes says if one applauds the Barry Spurr stories, one must also be willing to consider the merits of the Nova Peris pieces. "My own view is that the public interest argument is as strong in the Nova Peris case as it is in the Barry Spurr case: it would be illogical to say one is justified but the other is not."
Public interest in the eye of the beholder in Spurr/Peris email leaks
New Matilda and the NT News have both published damaging stories based on personal emails in recent weeks. Views differ markedly on whether they were right to do so.