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Hold the front page: News-gathering in a time of change


1. It is a real privilege to have been asked to give this public lecture and, echoing the Vice Chancellor, I am pleased to acknowledge that we are standing on the land of the Wurundjeri people and to pay respect to their Elders and families past and present. I would also like to thank the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne for the invitation. I am delighted to be here.

2. I hope you will forgive me for providing some context to what I am about to say. As you are aware, I have spent the last 17 months engaged in an Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. The Report was published nearly a fortnight ago, on 29 November 2012, and, as I have said before, it may be that some of you are hoping that I will elaborate. If you are, I am afraid that you are going to be disappointed. When I launched the Report, which must be read in the context of the Terms of Reference for the Inquiry, I said this:

‘I believe that the Report can and must speak for itself; to that end, I will be making no further comment. Nobody will be speaking for me about its contents either now or in the future.’

3. The reason is very simple. I treat the Report as a judgment and judges simply do not enter into discussion about judgments they have given; they do not respond to comment, however misconceived; neither do they seek to correct error. The judgment, or in this case, the Report, has to speak for itself. I am entirely content that it does.

4. That does not mean that I cannot talk about the law. It is common for judges to give lectures or to make speeches about areas of the law within their expertise or issues of legal public concern, provided only they do not touch upon their own decisions or others which might fall to them for determination.

5. What do I intend to speak about? The title of tonight’s lecture is suggestive, at least, of two things. First, at the present time, news gathering is taking place against a changing, if not a rapidly and dramatically changing, background. I refer, of course, to the internet and will focus initially on some aspects of that development. But there is another, more well-established background to news-gathering which is often misunderstood and which provides incentives for journalists as we recognise them to be, but which also has its own limitations which must be understood and addressed: in one word, that is the law and the place that it occupies in relation to story gathering and reporting. As a result, I also intend to examine some of the issues to which the criminal and the civil law have given rise.

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