In Australia media practices is governed by several laws that were enacted to regulate the conduct, standards and contents of all the players in the media industry. According to Pearson (2007), it is possible for the media to carry out accurate and ethical reporting without breaking rules that are laid down to govern media practices. This study will analyse a case study that involve several media reporting issues in order understand the boundaries of the journalists and editors.
In this case study, the rules that govern codes and ethics of journalists and broadcasters are breached. An underworld figure, Fred Mafia is killed in a bar in one afternoon by unknown man. The reporter of X TV arrives at the scene of crime shortly after the incidence and start capturing the scene and reporting the incidence live into the stations bulletins at 4.00 P.M over the phone. The reporter also points the camera at the bloody scene showing the bloodied body of Fred Mafia. To make matter worse, the reporter goes ahead to interview one woman at the scene who claims to be the girl friend of the victim. The woman in her distress says that the killing was ordered by Mike Mobster. Mr. Mobster is interviewed in later bulletins and strongly denies the accusations saying he was considering a legal action against the accuser.
When following the development of the story on the website, a junior sub-editor of the Daily trumpet newspaper post a picture of Mike Munster instead of that of Mike Mobster by mistake. Mike Munister who is a state government’s minister complained about the post and the newspaper withdraws the photo the following day but refuses to publish an apology to the minister. After two week, the police arrest Mike mobster and later arraigned him in court with charges of murder of Fred mafia. After a long process of hearing, the court finds mike mobster guilty of the murder and he is sentenced to life sentence. Just before the announcement of the court ruling, one member of the jury post a comment on her blog appreciating the way Mike mobster was googled by her colleague on the jury accusing him for his conducts. The Daily Trumpet newspaper links their stories about the case with these comments from one member of the jury. On the evening of the day of court ruling, the girlfriend of Fred mafia is interviewed by radio Z and claim that the court ruling was not fair. She says that the judge was so lenient and corrupt.
THE X TV REPORTER
Though journalists have been guaranteed the freedom of expression by laws, there some particular laws that limit this freedom. As Leiboff (2007, pp.1-317) argues, creativity in the media should be carried within the limits of the law. The law applies when journalists are reporting news that deals with blasphemy, obscenity, anti-terrorism, anti-vilifications. Journalists are required to be more cautious when they are covering such stories by ensuring ethics and codes of practice are followed. These laws apply in the different media branches such as newspapers, radio, and television, among others. Editors and journalists who make wrong ethical decisions in their reporting may face sanctions as result of breaching their codes of ethics. In addition, they may also face public opinion anger thus loosing their customers who buy their products. The Australian press council was established in 1976 and it’s the main body that regulate the conduct of the media.
In this case study, there is massive violation of the ethics and code of practice by the different media reporting the murder of Fred mafia. The reporter of X TV after arriving at the scene of crime started reporting everything live without observing the reporting ethics. She points the camera on the bloodied body of the victim without considering the ethics of doing so. The guidelines of reporting such incidences require the reporter to exercise the principle of harm limitation. The reporter may gather all the details and facts through research, taking photos, sound recording, video taping, background checks, conducting interviews or by any other mean, but it is the responsibility of the reporter to make decision whether everything that was discovered should be reported and if it is reported how. The principle of harm limitation ensures that editors and journalists take into consideration the negative impacts of the full disclosure. The reporter of the X TV never put into consideration the negative impacts of her full disclosure of the developing story. She never sorted out what was supposed to be reported and what was not supposed to be reported. Again, the way she reported the developing story was also questionable. According to the media law, when the reporter is quoting directly what is happening in the scene, he or she should observe the following; First, the reporter is expected to be sensitive when interviewing those who are affected by the grief or the tragedy and also when taking their photos. This will ensure that the interview does not go beyond control where the interviewed person cannot control his or her emotions anymore. Any person who cannot control his or her emotions may say what he could not have said in a normal situation. Secondly, the reporter should show some compassion for the people who may be seriously affected by the news. These may also include those victims of the incidence like the people who were with the victim and reporter should ensure that such people are only interviewed when appropriate and when they are willing. This will ensure that the reporter does not aggravate the pain of those who are already suffering. Thirdly, the reporter is supposed show the incidence without creating some curiosity about what is not known. The reporter should not give information that may be suggestive about the suspects of the crime. This will ensure that only what has evidence has been reported and no suggestive information has been given. This may also include resisting naming the suspects until formal charges are filed against the person. Fourthly, the reporter should not intrude into personal privacy unless justified by the law while reporting and gathering information. This may cover public officials who may have a lot of influence, power and attention. The reporter should be careful when reporting such information that may interfere with the right of privacy for individuals. Finally the reporter should know that reporting and gathering information may cause both private and public discomfort or harm and thus caution should be exercised.
In our case study, the reporter interviewed the person who claimed to be the victim’s girlfriend without considering her emotional stability. The person could not control what she was saying and she went ahead to accuse Mike mobster as the person who was behind the killing of Fred mafia. This was against the code of practice where the reporter was supposed to resist giving any suggestive information of the suspects before formal charges are filed against the person. The reporter was not supposed to interview the person live in order to enable her to sort out the information that ought to be reported and how should it be reported. Some information such as naming the suspect should not have been reported since there was no formal charges that were filed against the person. Again the reporter ought to have covered the bloody scene more cautiously in order to ensure that the information does not negatively affect those who received the information. Though the reporter may have focused her camera on the blooded body of the victim, such pictures ought not to have been shown to the TV viewers. The law require that the reporter to show compassion in such a scenario where the pictures shown may aggravate the pain of those people affected by the incidence.
THE DAILY TRUMPET NEWSPAPER
The daily trumpet newspaper also failed in exercising the code of practice and ethics of the journalists and editors when a junior subeditor of the newspaper posted the photo Mike Munister instead of that Mike mobster by mistake in its website. When the minister complained about the post, the newspaper refused to publish an apology. The code of practice requires editors and journalists to ensure accuracy of the highest order when they are reporting their stories. Giving inaccurate information about a person or incidence is not acceptable in the media practice. The inaccuracy that may result by error or any other mistake may have negative impact to the parties who are involved. In this case, the action of the junior sub-editor of the newspaper to post the wrong photograph in the website is not acceptable in media practices. Mike Munister who is a government minister has his reputation damaged by associating him with the murder of Fred mafia. This will negatively affect his public image hence affecting his career as a politician. According to the Australian law of defamation, Mike Munister has a right to be compensated by the Daily Trumpet newspaper for damaging his reputation without justification. Though journalists and editors have rights to the freedom of speech, the Australian laws place defence for reputation above the freedom of speech. According to McGonagle (2006, pp.195-200), privacy law in media is usually enacted to prevent media from intervening in the privacy of the politicians, showbiz and media personalities. Thus the newspaper will face charges for defamation as a result of the mistake that was made by a junior sub-editor.
Editors and journalists are also expected to exercise duty of care in their interaction with the public. The law require all those who come into contact with the public to exercise duty of care. If one fails to exercise duty of care in his or her dealing with the public, he or she may be accused of negligence and he is forced to compensate anyone who might have suffered economic or personal loss as a result of the action. Such negligence can be illustrated by the case where 2GB radio was ordered by NSW tribunal for administrative decision to pay Muslim leader a damage of $10k and also apologise: This was because of comment that was made by Alan Jones, a radio presenter, that men are ‘vermin’. Journalist and editors are part of the groups that deal with public and they are therefore expected to act in a responsible manner. In this case, the Daily Trumpet newspaper failed to exercise duty of care when they linked the story of the murder case with biased opinion that was given by one the jury members. The comment was biased against Mike mobster and linking the newspaper story with it would be interpreted that the newspaper supported this comment. The reporter has a responsibility of giving information that is fair and not biased in anyway. Though the media is allowed to reveal to the public any information that is of public interest, it is not supposed to take any side or some signs that it is supporting a given side. Thus the action by the newspaper to link its story with the comment of the jury member can be taken as the breach of the code of practice of the media. Radio Z also interviewed the girlfriend of the victim after the court ruling who also give comments that may not be very fair to all the listeners. She claimed that the judge was very lenient and probably corrupt and that is why he never gave a judgement that was fair. The code of ethics of the journalist requires them to question the motives of the sources of the information before giving them anonymity. This is in order to test the truth of the views and opinions that are presented to the viewers, readers and listeners. In this case, the radio Z ought to have interviewed the victim girlfriend before bringing her on air in order to establish the motives behind her opinion and views. Such inaccurate reporting was seen in the case TV blasted over African reports where ACMA found several channels of TV stations breaking Australia TV code in 2009. The stations were accused of giving inaccurate information about crime gangs in Sudan. The ACMA ordered all three stations to take the necessary training measures in order to stop such happening again.
There are many laws that protect freedom of media in order to ensure that government and other authorities do not interfere with the independence of media when it comes to reporting and gathering of information. The constitution allow media owners to have their own code of ethics which regulate how information is gathered and reported in a given media house (Television codes of practice, 2010). However, the rules governing each media house should be in accordance with provision of the constitution. In this case different TV and radio stations may defend themselves against accusations made against them in the way they reported the murder of Fred mafia. First, the media laws allow editors and journalists not to conceal any information that may be of interest for the public to know. The information also ought to be reported promptly in order to meet the needs of their customers. Thus it was necessary for the reporter of X TV to report what was happening on the scene of crime on time. Secondly, journalists and editors are not supposed to fear any threat from the government officials such as minister who may be looking for opportunity to victimize the reporters for their own interests. Thirdly, the reporter of X TV may claim that she wanted to get truthful and accurate information as it is required by the law and that is why she interviewed the victim girlfriend. This would have ensured that the listeners got very accurate information. Finally the reporter can also defend herself against the accusations of naming the suspects before a formal case is filed against the person on the grounds that she is not the one who named the suspect but the person who claimed to be the girlfriend of the victim.
Media regulation is very important in any society that upholds good morals and ethics. A good code of ethic and practice will ensure that media houses act within the law when they are conducting their businesses. Journalists and editors are supposed to observe professional ethics when they are reporting different events. The case presented above show how media reporters can act irresponsibly when there are no rules that govern their practice. Failure to make the right decision ethically when choosing what to report and how to report is seen in the case of X TV presenter. In the case of the newspaper sub-editor, negligence is seen when he make a mistake and put the photograph of the wrong person. The radio Z also fails to exercise caution while interviewing the victim’s girlfriend. All these practices are not acceptable in the media practice. However, the accused party may defend themselves before the court of law.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Retrieved on April 27, 2011.
Leiboff, Marett, 2007. Creative practice and the law. Law book Co., Sydney
McGonagle, Marie,2006. Reforming media law in Ireland — Part I: defamation and privacy. Communications Law: Journal of Computer, Media & Telecommunications Law, Vol. 11 Issue 6, p195-200, 6p
Pearson, Mark (2007) The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law. Dealing with legal and ethical issues. Third Edition. Sydney, Allen and Unwin
Television codes of practice. Retrieved on April 27, 2011.http://www.freetvaust.com.au/Content_Common/pg-Code-of-Practice.seo
Jones, 2GB ordered to pay Trad $10k – 22/12/09. Retrieved on April 27, 2011.
TV blasted over African reports – 1/12/09. Retrieved on April 27, 2011.