Australia may toughen privacy laws following allegations of phone hacking at the now-closed News of the World newspaper in the U.K., said Home Affairs and Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor.
The government will release a paper shortly on whether Australians should be given the statutory right to sue for invasion of privacy, O’Connor said in an e-mailed statement today from Canberra. Melbourne-born Rupert Murdoch, who is now a U.S. citizen, shut down News of the World after allegations reporters from the 168-year-old London tabloid hacked into the mobile phone of a 13-year-old murder victim.
“Right now there is no general right to privacy in Australia and that means there’s no certainty for anyone wanting to sue for an invasion of their privacy,’ O’Connor said. ‘‘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.”
The government will seek a public discussion on the regulatory change, O’Connor said, arguing any change would need to strike a balance between freedom of expression and a right to privacy.
“It would certainly push up the compliance costs for any media organization,” Mark McDonnell, an analyst at BBY Ltd. in Sydney, said by phone today. “While a lot of this has been directed at News Corp. (NWSA), any regulation would be across the sector.” Fairfax Media Ltd. (FXJ) fell 1 percent to 92.5 Australian cents at 12:58 p.m. in Sydney trading.
News Ltd., the Sydney-based Australian division of News Corp., owns 120 metropolitan, regional and rural newspapers, including The Australian and the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. Murdoch, 80, got his start in 1953, when he inherited a daily newspaper with a circulation of 75,000 in Adelaide, after which he built a media empire with newspapers, satellite television and movie studios spanning the globe.
Foxtel, Australia’s largest pay-TV operator which is 25 percent owned by News Corp., reached a final agreement to buy billionaire John Malone’s Austar United Communications Ltd. for A$1.9 billion ($2 billion) after meeting the conditions of the offer, the company said in a July 11 statement. Australia’s competition regulator is due to announce its decision today.
Treasurer Wayne Swan and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in the past week have accused News Ltd.’s Daily Telegraph of political bias. News Ltd. Chairman John Hartigan on July 14 told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television he was “hugely confident” there was no unethical behavior in its newsrooms.
“Having seen the kind of reports we’ve seen from the United Kingdom, people would be asking themselves: could that happen here, what does this mean for us in Australia?” Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at a media conference broadcast on Sky News. “The CEO of News Ltd. in this country, John Hartigan, has been asking some of those questions himself.”
News Corp. last week said it will review all editorial expenses at its Australian operations over the past three years to check whether payments to contributors and other third parties were for legitimate services. Hartigan said there will be a “thorough review of all editorial expenditure.”
Australian Press Council Chairman Julian Disney said today he nominated Frank Vincent and Bernard Teague to act as independent assessors of News Ltd.’s internal review. The appointments were announced in an e-mailed statement.
The Australian Greens have called for an inquiry to set up a domestic media watchdog. The nation should have an “arms- length” body to assess acts of media intrusion, Greens party leader Bob Brown said in Canberra on July 14. Brown said he has no evidence of complaints against Australian media, yet he has been warned that someone may be listening to his phone calls.
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