Tweeters, bloggers and freelance journalists will be able to insure against defamation actions against them, in a scheme announced by the Media Alliance.
While the internet enabled freelance journalists to self publish, it also meant that independent journalists no longer had an umbrella of employers’ legal protection.
Australia has no constitutional guarantees of free speech, allowing the wealthy or well connected to target their online critics with costly legal actions. Journalists have been faced with the choice of going silent or talking a loan to pay for a lawyer. In modern authoritarian states like Singapore, defamation has been routinely deployed to silence and even break opposition.
The Media Alliance’s insurance scheme recognises the shift away from assembly line news in old style newsrooms, to a de-regulated, atomised journalism, defined not by place of employment but rather by professional and ethical practices. The Alliance’s Freelance Pro initiative was said to allow members protection for up to $1 million professional indemnity and public liability. The Alliance used its strength in numbers to negotiate cut rate insurance levies.
Freelance Pro members will be required to do an online, self guided course on the Media Alliance Code of ethics. You will need to have done a refresher course in Australian media law in the last five years or participate in an at cost course available through the Walkley Foundation.
Alliance NSW Secretary, Marcus Strom said that in a fragmented media landscape, it was increasingly important for freelancers to stand out as legitimate practitioners of the craft of journalism. “Since our foundation in 191o as the Journalists Association, we have always been both , a professional association and an industrial organisation.” “With the changing nature of journalism, we want to be sure we are relevant to growing number of freelancers”.
The old news factories are undergoing a metamorphosis. Society is changing. Priorities are changing. I think they will survive and if they get their business models right, may even thrive again. But what they will rely on is a growing army of freelance journalists. We want to make sure those journalists are professional, well paid and respected.
What of experienced journalists who object to having to do a course before they get their insurance? “Any professional working journalist, no matter how long they have been in the game needs to keep their skills up to date, particularly in this fast changing environment,” Strom said.
[Alan Knight the author of this article, is a member of the Media Alliance.]