Press freedom and the High Court in the Callinan era: rethinking the rhetoric
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Justice Ian Callinan, appointed to the Australian High Court in 1998, challenged the rhetoric on the media’s role in society and its claims to press freedom with his minority decision in the Lenah Game Meats case in 2001. He questioned the notion of media freedom in an age where information providers are multinational corporations with a vested interest in the sale of news. Further, he challenged the claim of news organisations to special privileges on public interest grounds to the detriment of the rights of others. This paper uses qualitative analysis techniques to consider the comments of Justice Callinan and Justice Michael Kirby in the Lenah Case and four subsequent media-related cases in an attempt to develop a theory about the attitudes of these High Court justices towards the media. It finds five key themes emerging from their decision, headed by the expression ‘The Modern Media’, used by both Justice Callinan and Justice Kirby, which embodies many of these attitudes. The other key themes are the shift to considering media ‘just another business’, the self-appointed role of judges as reporting experts, the ascendancy of privacy over press freedom, and the challenge to some legal privileges with which the media have become comfortable.
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