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How will Britain's phone-hacking scandal affect Australia's media industry?

English.news.cn   2011-07-21 19:05:28 FeedbackPrintRSS

by Vienna Ma

CANBERRA, July 21 (Xinhua) -- It is likely that Australia will introduce a right to sue the media for breach of privacy, and set up a review on media ownership in Australia, in the wake of the Britain's phone-hacking scandal, media and law experts told Xinhua in a recent interview.

As fresh revelations about the News of the World phone-hacking scandal continued to engulf Rupert Murdoch's media empire, it has led to an increasing call for an inquiry into media ethics and standards in Australia.

According to an expert in media law Associate Professor David Rolph, the scandal that developed in the United Kingdom has led to great precaution of similar practice in Australia, and the event has potential for a push for an introduction to Australia the enforceable act to privacy.

"I am not sure of the same way that it would in the UK, because there hasn't been any evidence that this conduct has occurred in Australia, but I think what most likely to occur is an enforceable act to privacy as a result," Professor Rolph from Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney told Xinhua.

"I think aspects of media law, and defamation laws are effective, but I think the privacy law in Australia is ineffective, because there really isn't any protection of privacy, and I think that would be an important development, and I will support the introduction of an effective privacy protection in some form."

As News Corp's Australian arm, News Ltd controls 70 percent of the nation's news readership, including eight of the 12 major daily newspapers in Australia, as well as the only national newspaper, The Australian, Professor Rolph said the scandal may also lead to a review on concentration of media ownership in Australia.

Dr. Denis Muller, who is an expert in media ethics and accountability from the University of Melbourne, shared the same view, saying that it is possible that the parliament might revise the media ownership laws with a view to limiting any Murdoch expansion in television and other electronic media.

"Beyond that, the phone-hacking scandal is likely to make even more certain the introduction in Australia of a right to sue the media for breach of privacy. The High Court of Australia has already given notice that it is of a mind to introduce this as a piece of judge-made law, and I suspect its resolve will have been stiffened by this scandal," Dr. Muller, who has worked as a journalist for 27 years, and is currently a visiting fellow for the Center for Public Policy, told Xinhua.

In line with the expectations, Federal Privacy Minister Brendan O'Connor on Thursday confirmed that the Australian government is considering to strengthen privacy laws, paving the way for Australians to sue media organizations for any breaches.

There have been claims that the public trust on Australia media has eroded due to the scandal, but Dr. Rolph partly disagree, saying that readers' statement on journalists' profession is already fairly low, and the scandal may not lead to further fall on the public trust.

"Given that there is already skepticism or cynicism abroad, I am not sure that this scandal will change people's opinion, it might confirm the opinion that they already hold," Dr. Rolph said.

From a financial perspective, Dr. Muller said long-term impacts of the scandal may see News Corporation make significant cuts to its operating costs in Australia.

"This would almost certainly include cuts to staff, with flow- on effects to the breadth and depth of news coverage, especially in cities such as Brisbane, Adelaide and Darwin, where News owns the only local daily newspaper," he said.

While the scandal may lead to internal shake-up of senior management in News Corporation, Dr. Muller said if Murdoch's grip on the company is reduced, the strength of News Corporation's commitment to newspapers in Australia might weaken.

"This would have similar implications to those outlines above, with one remote but real possible addition: the scaling back of The Australian, which has never made much of a return and has been kept going by Murdoch regardless," Dr. Muller said.

Editor: Zhang Xiang
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