Australian Press Council chairman David Weisbrot has challenged publishers with proposals for new guidelines on the reporting on a number of issues including race and religion, as well as consideration of the right to be forgotten and guidelines on native advertising.
Prof Weisbrot said in a speech to the Melbourne Press Club today he would take a number of draft proposals for specific standards to the council over the next year.
Most of them seek to extend the influence of the council over editorial matters, either in what is reported or the manner in which it is presented.
These include areas such as reporting of family violence and child sexual abuse, which already are covered by existing legislation.
Prof Weisbrot wants to see greater sensitivity towards domestic violence victims and warned this could result in further restrictions on the level of detail published, particularly “where children or other vulnerable people are concerned”. He would seek similar measures in regard to reporting of child sexual assault.
Other proposed guidelines would impose “respectful reporting” around race, religion and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex people, despite a raft of existing anti-vilification and defamation laws.
Flagging other possible guideline considerations, Prof Weisbrot nominated the appropriation and publication of online photos from sources such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media, especially where this concerns children’s privacy.
He also nominated the so-called “right to be forgotten”, which has come to a head in Europe where individuals are demanding the right to compel search engines not in include links to unfavourable or unwanted aspects of their lives. The right to be forgotten needed to be balanced with the relevance of stale, sealed or expunged convictions versus the improper alteration or erasure of history, he said.
In a move that would propel the press council into the area of company policy and advertising and marketing standards, Prof Weisbrot said he would prepare draft guidelines on the labelling and disclosure requirements around the publication of “sponsored content” or “native advertising”. This would be to ensure readers were not misled about the nature of the material, while recognising the commercial realities of maintaining a viable industry.
While Prof Weisbrot acknowledged there was a significant weight of high quality journalism produced “by some very fine journalists and editors”, he said he harboured concerns over the contest of ideas.
“I do worry about whether the press will be able to resist growing commercial and competitive pressures, and continue to match rights with responsibility,” he said.
“So while we fight together for greater freedom of the press, media outlets must redouble their own efforts to facilitate the contest of ideas, including by publishing material that is complex, controversial, unpopular or poses difficult or painful questions.
“If the journalism we all admire ‘speaks truth to power’ and ‘holds the rich and powerful’ to account, then let’s pledge to produce that sort of journalism, even if it gets fewer clicks than celebrity goss.
“It will be so much easier to campaign successfully for press freedom if the community is convinced that this power will be exercised fairly, intelligently and in the public interest. “
Prof Weisbrot said there had been extraordinary jump of almost 400 per cent in the number of complainants to the press council, reflecting the new phenomenon of complaint-by-social-media.
“Typically this involves a campaign on social media platforms, such as Change.org or Avaaz, urging individuals to complain directly to the council, and a template or suggested form of words may be provided.
“In any case, the growth of online news and social media platforms has certainly raised the awareness and profile of the council across that readership, and we are adjusting our processes accordingly.”
Prof Weisbrot also hoped he could expand the membership of the press council through the inclusion of multicultural press.
“The current leadership of the council is strongly committed to engaging with the multicultural press in Australia and encouraging the council’s inclusiveness, both in terms of formal membership as well as in access to council programs and activities.
“For example, we have just arranged for the translation of the council’s general principles into Mandarin. Next Friday, I will be hosting a press conference and luncheon in Sydney with Chinese newspaper and website proprietors, editors, journalists and community leaders to kick off serious talks about how we can advance these matters.
“We have also identified the Australian Vietnamese, Filipino, Greek, Italian, Indian, Korean, Serbian, Turkish and Arabic-speaking newspapers and communities as promising ones with which to meet, and will soon begin to do so.”