You don’t need me to tell you that a free press is essential to the functioning of our democracy. To this end, the Evidence Amendment (Journalists’ Privilege) Bill 2010 sponsored by Andrew Wilkie MP is certainly worthy of vigorous debate by parliament.
However, Adam Bandt’s suggestion that the scope of the bill be widened to include bloggers and in particular, citizen journalists is a bad idea.
Professional journalists work to a code; I’m not saying every individual journalist displays 100 percent ethical behaviour according to this code, but for the most part we accept that we have a function to inform the public, to do so as objectively as possible and to facilitate informed debate in the wider community.
There are times when journalists happen across important information, and up till now there has been no protection for journalists who want to keep their sources a secret in the publicising of this information. In some circumstances such protection would certainly be useful.
But extending any such protection to citizen journalists would be akin to anarchy. One only needs to google just a few different blogs to see that there are zero checks and balances on the blogosphere as it is.
Wild opinions are presented as fact, media is used willy-nilly in breach of copyright and defamation is rife. My apologies go out to those bloggers and citizen journalists who do ensure their work conforms to legal and ethical standards, but for the most part the blogosphere does not.
To add to that chaos the freedom to say anything or accuse anyone with legal protection against accountability is a dangerous road indeed. Professional journalists learn as part of their training the responsibilities that go along with their position of influence. Bloggers do not.
We should be tightening the laws around blogging and citizen journalism, not relaxing them.