The balance between privacy and media reporting

2 September 2011

Professor Barbara McDonald comments on the Australian Communications and Media Authority's recently released revised privacy guidelines.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the new guidelines have introduced the concept of ''seclusion'', tightened consent requirements for filming children and clarified when an invasion of privacy may indeed be in the public interest.
Professor Barbara McDonald welcomes the inclusion of seclusion.

''It's significant because I do believe that this is a big gap in our common law,'' she says.

While trespass protected people in their home and there were rules preventing disclosure of confidential information, the pieces of privacy law were not comprehensive.

She gives the example of the film star Nicole Kidman's every move being recorded by paparazzi:

''Where we do have a gap is being protected, particularly in a public place, from just being followed around short of being touched.''

She asks whether people weeping at funerals should be broadcast, or published in newspapers.

And while the codes governing television relate to footage that is broadcast, she says the issue goes further.

''Some people would be concerned about the collection of the material, whether they use it or not.''

The distinction between what is public and what is private in public is a ''very difficult point'' for the law, she says.

''If two people decide to kiss passionately in public, is that a private moment?''

Referring to the famous wartime victory photographs, she says:

''We wouldn't want to be saying that they can't be shown because they are private.''

Contact: Greg Sherington

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