The Credibility Quotient: AWOL on a Robust Code of Ethics

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Dr Kris Brunton's presentation today Landscape: The Philosophical and Ethical Context for the Practice of U.S. Journalism rightly flagged the scope of the First Amendment: guarding against government's infringement of freedom of expression ('Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press') -- a legal right that doesn't apply as between private individuals/parties.

The Australian story on this score is stark. In the words of Simon Breheny, director of the Australian Institute of Public Affair's legal rights project: "Australians should be aware that we do not have robust constitutional protections for free speech. The Australian Constitution and the High Court cannot be relied on to protect us from restrictions on freedom of speech" (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/legal-affairs/media-regulator-s...).

Anyone doubting that opinion need only look to the most recent Australian judicial decision on the topic, where Federal Circuit Court Judge Warwick Neville found Australians had no ''unfettered implied right (or freedom) of political expression''. http://www.watoday.com.au/national/public-servant-loses-fight-over-twitt...

Assuming Australian eventually drags itself kicking and screaming into enshrining a comparative right to free speech (only some 200+ years after the U.S.), I'm mindful of the quid pro quo that surely should apply: journalists being seen to be good stewards of that right, or risk having it frittered away.

Unfortunately, the U.S. experience is hardly inspiring: a Code of Ethics (below) drafted by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), replete with good intent ("encourage high standards and ethical behavior in the practice of journalism") but lacking the credibility quotient: enforcement. To be regarded as professional (with the crucial badge of trust attached) you have to be seen to live or die by the same unimpeachable standards demanded of others. To date, our trade is all talk on self-regulation but serving up precious little that withstands scrutiny. Don't cry poor when politicians decide to legislate accordingly.