Audio report by AUT student journalist Michael Sergel for the Pacific Media Centre.
By Anna Majavu
A LEADING journalism academic has voiced concern at the high levels of digital surveillance facing journalists today and has urged journalists to adopt a new ethical model of reporting for social good.
Dr Mark Pearson, professor of journalism and social media at Griffith University and the Australian correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, spoke at New Zealand's inaugural UNESCO World Press Freedom Day 2013 lecture marking May 3, organised and hosted by AUT’s Pacific Media Centre and School of Communication Studies.
The lack of press freedom in the Asia-Pacific region was well documented with media in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Fiji needing government licences to operate, and journalists in Malaysia facing 53-year-old “internal security” laws under which they could be detained for long periods for “prejudicing national security”, Dr Pearson said.
But Professor Pearson said his concerns were not limited to these cases, and that his major worry was the “ever-increasing government regulation of media and social media everywhere”, including the anti-terror laws introduced all over the world since 9/11, modelled on the US Patriot Act.
These laws “typically give intelligence agencies unprecedented powers to monitor the communications of all citizens. There is also an inordinate level of surveillance, logging and tracking technologies in use in the private sector – often held in computer clouds or multinational corporate servers in jurisdictions subject to search and seizure powers of foreign governments”, said Dr Pearson.
This had disturbing implications for journalists’ protection of their confidential sources, especially if these sources were government or corporate “whistleblowers”, Dr Pearson added.
Investigative reporters today potentially had to contend with geo-locational tracking of their phones and vehicles, tollpoint capture of their motorway entry and exit, easily accessible phone, email and social media records, CCTV in private and public places, and facial recognition in other people’s images, perhaps posted to Facebook.
Investigative reporting was also under threat as a result of budget cuts by newspapers.
“Investigative reporting calling governments to account does not come cheaply. It involves weeks of groundwork by senior journalists, photojournalists and videojournalists and funding of their salaries, travel expenses and equipment.
“It typically requires further investment in the time of expert editors and production staff. But the former multinational newspaper companies that once funded this investigative enterprise have been shedding staff, rationalising operations and slashing budgets” said Professor Pearson, author of The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law.
Cost-cutting measures in Australian, New Zealand and North American newsrooms meant that breaking news in Pacific Island nations was “more likely to be covered ‘on the cheap’ by so-called ‘parachute journalists’ who fly in and out to report in a superficial way” Dr Pearson added.
Bloggers and citizen journalists were equally at risk of being repressed because they are often not covered by the shield laws protecting journalists from being forced to reveal their confidential sources in court.
Anna Magavu is a journalist and Master of Philosophy student in AUT University’s School of Communication Studies. Read her full article here.
- Full speech text and other links
- Full speech video on AUT On Demand
- Media freedom and social media
- Mark Pearson on Pacific Media Centre
- Mark Pearson on Pacific Media Watch
- Mark Pearson on Radio NZ's Mediawatch
- Mark Pearson on Radio Australia