As “more than 3 billion people” have access to the internet, our personal information has never been under such threat.

A study conducted by the International Telecommunication Union has highlighted the increasing number of people that are sharing their personal data through the internet, and are therefore making it easier for people to access this information.

The threat of having our privacy infringed upon and people having access to our personal information is only getting larger as our population continues to grow and technology innovates.

In a graph published by Internet World Stats, the increasing risk that the world is facing can be identified with an estimate of 2023 million internet users within Asia, 704 million in Europe, and 28 million in Australia. Research also shows that there has been a 1,052% increase from 2000-2018 in world internet use.

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Source: Internet World Stats 

Who regulates our privacy?

The Australian Privacy Act 1998 is responsible for controlling how our personal data is used, protecting our privacy and holding those accountable that breach it.

The Privacy Act stipulates that “our personal information is information or an opinion about an identified individual, or an individual who is reasonably identifiable”.

How does it affect Journalists in Australia?

Journalists are governed by the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics and are to uphold “honesty, fairness, independence” and to “respect for the right of others” when reporting.

These guidelines can be easily be breached by journalists in the pursuit of a story, leading to infringements against the code of ethics when they obtain certain material unethically.

The MEEA specifies that journalists under the code must “use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material. Identify yourself and your employer before any interview for publication or broadcast. Never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practices”.

News of the World

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Source: The Australian 

There have been several instances that journalists have breached an individual’s privacy to gather information for “commercial interests” (LaMay, C 2003).

Tactics that are used by some journalists to uncover information that will set there story apart from others, can lead to penalties being faced by the individual and the company that published the information.

Former newspaper publication, News of the World, suffered the penalties that come with breaching an individual’s privacy when editor “Andy Coulson was found guilty of conspiracy to hack phones”.

The once popular news source’s biggest scandal was through their use of phone hacking, and more specifically in the alleged interference with the Milly Dowler investigation where “the guardian claimed”,Glenn Mulcaire, “intercepted messages left by relatives and said the NoW deleted some, which gave her parents false hope she was alive”.

An investigation into the case by Media Watch suggests that the “saga is still not over”, suggesting that these tactics may still exist in Journalism today.

What code of ethics regulates Journalists in the UK?

The National Union of Journalists in the UK are responsible for regulating ethics with the field of Journalism.

The ethics that are set by the N.U.O.J. are not too different from that of the MEAA, as they both share the view that a journalist “obtains material by honest, straightforward and open means”. Although where they do differ is that it is “with the exception of investigations that are both overwhelmingly in the public interest and which involve evidence that cannot be obtained by straightforward means”.

The code of ethics also states that journalist’s also “does nothing to intrude into anybody’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest”

These codes set by the N.U.O.J., in relation to the case against News of the World, show that through the way in which they were trying to obtain information for their story was clearly unethical.

Keeping ethical in the pursuit of a story

Editor of ‘Journalism and the Debate Over Privacy’, Craig LaMay, highlights the importance of privacy in Journalism, discussing the temptation for journalists to breach it in the pursuit of a story.

“The subject of privacy is a profoundly important concern in contemporary society – important and easily overridden in our rush for gossip, entertainment and profit” (LaMay, C 2003).

LaMay also adds that journalists “would have to set aside commercial interests more than they have in the past to respect meaningfully and seriously the personal privacy needs they should presuppose that public and private persons share”(LaMay, C 2003).

References:

LaMay, C (ed.) 2003, Journalism and the Debate over Privacy, Routledge, Mahwah. Available from: ProQuest Ebook Central. [10 May 2018].

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