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Journalist Code of Ethics and Australian Media Law – Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA)

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MEAA - Freelance Pro Trustmark

MEAA – Freelance Pro Trustmark

By Kaye Blum

One of the great benefits of being a member of MEAA (apart from professional indemnity insurance and a media card) is the accredited training. Membership requires staying up-to-date with the Journalist Code of Ethics and Australian Media Law. So in early November, I spent a day in a training session and learned more than a thing or two.

Most relevant to a regular writer and blogger like myself was taking a closer look at defamation. Once upon a time it was known as slander or libel. But that’s seriously old-school. What’s important is knowing what actually constitutes defamation in Australia, how you can be sure what you’re writing is safe, and just how easy it is to publish something defamatory – even if you didn’t write it yourself.

Of course, social media channels are publishing platforms. But just because you didn’t write it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Re-tweeting, re-posting and linking to a potentially defamatory article could have you in deep water.

Saying something defamatory about someone in public can also do the trick, even if it’s accidentally overheard instead of shouted from a soap-box.

Gaining a clear understanding of the risks and defences for defamation was highly valuable, particularly in relation to writing reviews (look out, TripAdvisor!). Anaylsing actual case studies and debunking some common defamation myths was pret-ty darn revealing.

The training also looked at news-gathering and ethics. Interestingly, there are different rules in each state relating to recording conversations. I’ve always stuck to the rule of asking if it’s ok before recording an interview or taking notes for an article. Recordings are a valuable resource in more ways than one.

Privacy was also covered and this provided some surprising insights. Privacy laws in Australia have been under review with the Australian Law Reform Commission since 2006, so it’s still a woolly area, covered loosely by a range of laws from defamation to trespassing.

The MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics provides some guidance on respecting privacy. But in a world of self-publishing and social media, the boundaries can be very blurry indeed.

Copyright – an issue I’m particularly interested in – was addressed in the training but it’s a rapidly evolving field, particularly in the ethereal spheres of cyberspace. A few key take-outs:

  • Copyright can vary whether you’re an employee or freelancer, so reading agreements and contracts is imperative. The internet and digital distribution can make it more complicated.
  • Linking to other websites and articles may need attention – how have you credited the source? What should you do to prevent breach of copyright? If you’re blogging, linking, Tumblring, retweeting, curating or republishing anything digitally, you need to know your stuff.

Overall, the MEAA training was intense and incredibly worthwhile, providing me with a big wad of notes to process and plenty to digest to ensure I’m writing and publishing within the law.

Next post: reports on the 2013 Storyology conference in Sydney.

Written by Kaye Blum

December 6, 2013 at 8:56 am

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