Privacy debate for online publications

There is a University of Sydney lecturer causing all sorts of kaffuffle in the media at the moment because he emailed a whole bunch of racist rants to his colleagues. An online news organisation got hold of the emails and published them. The lecturer has been stood down and is now taking legal action against the news organisation for breaching his privacy. This is a really interesting case. My mind immediately goes to the defamation space, but of course there is no defamation here because truth is a defence, and no one is disputing that the emails existed and were actually sent by this chap. The news organisation said they published the emails because it was in the public interest – another defamation bell ringing here for me – but the privacy legislation in Australia does not create a loophole for public interest, regardless of how influential this bloke is. The news organisaiton is also defending its sources and not revealing how the emails were received. So now I’m starting to think about the shield laws for journalists as well. There are so many things going on. There is a court hearing coming up to decide whether the emails need to be withdrawn from the site. I think that’s actually a moot point – the issue has been so well covered by mainstream media that the lecturer’s appalling terminologies for the people of Australia are already widely reported. Removing the emails now will not make any difference to his reputation. It will be interesting to see if the sources are required to be revealed. It is an important case for journalism and I will be watching with interest.

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