100 articles – ‘Hunger for a story v right to privacy: can the media balance both?’

6 October 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘Hunger for a story v right to privacy: can the media balance both?’ by Margaret Simons

Published in Crikey on 6 August 2010

Journalists are constantly thrust into situations that force them to make ethical decisions.  Often, the choice between a good story and issues like privacy test the media’s position on the moral scale. 

Journalist and blogger Margaret Simons looks at former Prime Minister Paul Keating’s speech on this issue addressing ideas like, where should lines be drawn?  What is off limits? And who should the media have to answer to?

Historically the media’s job is to act as the fourth estate – to be a check and balance against the powers that govern our nation and to inform citizens.  However, Keating calls for new regulations.

He argues the need for privacy legislation and calls for a standardisation of guidelines across all sections of the media. 

Worryingly, the media seems to compromise its integrity for a good story, as Simons writes: ‘Keating observes, we interpret the public interest to mean whatever we judge the public to be interested in — which accords remarkably often with our own self-interest.’

Yet Simons emphasises that while the media’s decisions can be biased and ethically questionable, journalists should not be afraid to publish information if they truly believe the public have a right to know.

She concludes by saying that ‘the media is unquestionably the most powerful single institution in society’, and this observation should not be taken lightly by journalists or the media industry.

Tammy Lovett is a final-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.

Margaret Simons will be a guest lecture at La Trobe University’s ‘Dilemmas in Journalism’ class next Monday at 4pm. Her blog is called The Content Makers.