Keeping it safe and legal

All journalists need to be very careful to make sure their reporting stays inside the boundaries of the law. When you upload your news onto your school website you are publishing to the general public and that means you will need to make sure you are safe and responsible with your work. By some estimates, there are more than 500 different laws in Australia which can affect journalists, but these are some of the main ones to be aware of:

  • DEFAMATION: Defamation is a civil law which allows people to sue for damages if they feel something has been said about them which has unfairly lowered their reputation. The law is not just for journalists. It covers everybody in Australia and all forms of publication from websites, newspapers, TV and radio to emails, Facebook and Twitter. So, if what you are reporting on may cause someone to feel that people dislike them or think badly of them, there could be a problem with defamation. For journalists, there are a number of excuses which can allow these sorts of reports to be published - the most common excuse is that what is being said or written is actually true. But in law, the truth needs to be proved and journalists need to be careful about gathering solid evidence for their stories which will stand up in court if tested. So, relying on gossip, rumours or suspicion is not good enough and should be avoided.
  • CONTEMPT OF COURT: In Australia, everyone has the right to a fair trial and the law is very careful to protect this right. So journalists need to be careful not to interfere with court cases and matters relating to crime before they have been settled in court, in case they ‘prejudice’ the outcome of the case. Prejudicing a case can be a ‘Contempt of Court’ and judges have to be very strict about it. So it’s best to keep away from reporting on anything that involves a crime, a criminal investigation or anything related to a court case or something which is subject to legal action.
  • COPYRIGHT: Copyright law applies when somebody’s work is copied without their permission or approval. It covers the copying of all sorts of creative work (including writing, music, video, photographs, audio, computer programs etc. ) from wherever you find it, including online. So make sure that all the words, photos, music, artwork and video that you use in your reports have been produced by yourselves and aren’t copies of someone else’s work.
  • PRIVACY: Privacy is a complicated area of the law. We all expect parts of our lives to be our own business but increasingly, with social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, events that we thought were private can become very public. There are laws in Victoria preventing secret filming and recording but sometimes it’s not clear what is meant to be secret and whether this is the same as being ‘private’. As a general rule, use you own instincts when you get material for your news stories. Ask yourself: If that were me, would I want it recorded? There are also laws called ‘trespass’ relating to the rights that people have over access to their own land and property. As a basic rule, journalists can usually go onto other people’s property if there is a general right of access (like a shopping centre or a railway station) BUT they must leave as soon as possible if asked to do so by the owner or their agent.
  • CHILD PROTECTION: For child protection reasons, only the first names of children must be used in any stories and only the first names of all students who are reporting stories should be used. No other personal information about children should be published. This is to minimise the risk of a stranger identifying and locating a child. There are some subjects that are inappropriate for children to report on. Avoid reporting on subject matters that make you feel uncomfortable.
  • ETHICAL CONDUCT: Journalists are under more and more scrutiny for the way in which they do their work and how far they should go to get the news. Different parts of the media have drawn up codes of conduct to help guide them when they have to make difficult decisions about what to do. These often relate to acting fairly and responsibly and respecting others when pursuing stories. One of the codes which is often referred to has been drawn up by the trade union for journalists, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance:


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