10 February 2011
Seven breaches Minister’s privacy but broadcast in the public interest
An ATN Seven broadcast of a news story about the resignation of the NSW Transport Minister, David Campbell, clearly used material relating to his personal and private affairs when it showed the Minister leaving a gay club, the Australian Communications and Media Authority has determined.
But while the broadcast invaded Mr Campbell’s privacy, the Authority concluded it was nonetheless in the public interest to use the material as it explained the Minister’s resignation.
For this reason the Authority found there had been no breach of the privacy provisions of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2010.
"But broadcasters cannot simply invoke blandly asserted public interest justifications for flagrant privacy breaches,’ said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman.
"In this case, the resignation of the Minister meant that the broadcast, which would otherwise have been an invasion of privacy, was justified, but solely because it provided a deeper explanation of the circumstances behind the resignation."
"The analysis of the issues raised by the broadcast required a careful consideration of the rights Mr Campbell had to his privacy, as well as the public interest in understanding the reasons for his resignation. This analysis was against the background of ongoing public discussion of the Minister’s discharge of his duties in government and public administration.
"This was an on balance finding which relates to the particular circumstances of this case, and should be treated very carefully in terms of precedent value by licensees.
"The Authority regards invasions of personal privacy as very serious matters, and specifically noted that public figures, including politicians, remain as entitled to have their privacy respected under the code as ordinary citizens. However the subsequent application of the public interest test to public figures may be a different matter.
The Authority found the use of the material to explain the resignation was the only public interest justification for the broadcast.
"All of the other matters touched on by Seven in its broadcast and proffered by Seven as public interest justifications were dismissed as incorrect, ill founded or irrelevant,’ Mr Chapman said.
The Authority applied the ACMA’s Privacy Guidelines for Broadcasters, 2005 which are available on the ACMA website and are currently being reviewed.
The ACMA also found that the bulletin did not breach clause 1.9.6 of the code as it was not likely to provoke intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against the Minister on the ground of sexual preference.
The former Minister did not instigate the ACMA investigation. It was conducted in response to two complaints from members of the public. The investigation report 2431, including full details of the Authority’s conclusions, is available on the ACMA’s website.
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact: Emma Rossi Media Manager, on (02) 9334 7719, 0406 996 224 or email@example.com.
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The ACMA is Australia’s regulator for broadcasting, the internet, radiocommunications and telecommunications. The ACMA’s strategic intent is to make communications and media work in Australia’s public interest. For more information: www.acma.gov.au.