Media issues raised in Australian court action

Wednesday 13 March 2013, 5:16PM
By Massey University

A Massey journalism professor says it is heartening to see the strong support an Australian newspaper is giving one of its reporters, despite pressure from its major shareholders.

Senior lecturer Dr Catherine Strong says the actions of Gina Rinehart, Australia’s richest woman who is also the major shareholder at Fairfax, serves as a reminder about the importance of journalists protecting their sources.

She says the issue also raises questions about the ethics of a major media shareholder taking legal action against an employee of the same media company.

Gina Rinehart has gone to court to force a journalist to release notes and details of interviews she held with family members. The journalist, Adele Ferguson, from the Fairfax newspaper group in Australia, has written an unauthorised biography of Rinehart that details a financial feud in the media mogul’s family.

Dr Strong, from the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, says Rinehart’s actions differ from previous efforts by the rich and powerful to force media to bend to their will.

“It is common for powerful people to try to force journalists to turn over their confidential notes, but it is unusual for the pressure to come from someone who is financially involved in the news media business.”

The case is a reminder that young journalists need to appreciate that they can’t accept information “off the record” unless they are prepared to go to court, and possibly jail, to protect the source of the information, Dr Strong says.

“But young journalists also can have confidence that they will be protected if they work for a reputable media company. Fairfax has shown its strong media freedom principles by saying it gives 100 per cent support to its journalist’s right to protect her sources.”