Australia mulls privacy laws
Updated: 2011-07-22 07:41
SYDNEY, Australia - Australia on Thursday moved to introduce a legal right to privacy after the phone-hacking scandal in Britain, paving the way for people to sue media organizations for serious breaches.
The move follows media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's grilling by British MPs over a furore that saw him close his News of the World tabloid and dump a bid for pay-TV giant BSkyB because people's voicemail had been illegally accessed.
Laws are already in place in Australia to deal with criminal offences related to privacy abuses but there is no statutory right to sue.
The phone-hacking story has been front-page news, and Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the government would immediately seek the public's views on introducing a right to privacy.
"The News of the World scandal and other recent mass breaches of privacy, both at home and abroad, have put the spotlight on whether there should be such a right," he said.
"Right now ... there's no certainty for anyone wanting to sue for an invasion of their privacy," said O'Connor, whose government is in a running battle with some Murdoch-owned publications.
The announcement came a day after Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned Murdoch's Australian arm it faced "hard questions" as calls intensify for a media inquiry following the hacking revelations in Britain.
It followed senior ministers lashing out at Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper, accusing the Murdoch-owned daily of being intent on bringing down Gillard's Labor-led minority coalition government.
Murdoch controls about two-thirds of Australia's regional and metropolitan newspapers, has a stake in broadcasters Sky News and Fox Sports and is angling to run the Australia Network, the international public TV channel.
In a scathing editorial, the mogul's flagship newspaper, The Australian, hit back on Thursday, accusing the government of getting caught up "in the feeding frenzy against News Corporation and our proprietor".
"The creeping opportunism of this government and its coalition partners, the Greens, in trying to use the cover of the News of the World scandal to put pressure on journalists in Australia is troubling," it said.
"Brendan O'Connor's ambit claim for a statutory right of privacy makes an extraordinary leap from the British phone-hacking scandal to Australia, where such practices are unknown in journalism and already illegal."
O'Connor said on Thursday that any changes to the law would have to strike a balance between freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
Justin Quill, a lawyer who acts for News Limited and other media companies, however, called the proposed legislation "a law for politicians".
"What we will see is not the average punter trying to protect their privacy," he told The Australian. "We will see the rich and famous bringing action, paying off the pools and Ferraris a little bit quicker."
Malcolm Turnbull, the conservative opposition's communications spokesman, cautioned the government against linking its privacy push with phone-hacking.
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