Australia Mulls New Privacy Right Amid Phone Hacking Scandal

Posted July 21st, 2011 at 12:25 am (UTC-5)
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Australia is seeking public comment on whether it should establish a legal right to sue media companies for invasion of privacy in the wake of Britain's phone-hacking scandal.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said Thursday the reports that the now-shuttered News of The World hacked into private cell phones and bribed police officers have “put the spotlight on whether there should be such a right.”

Past proposals to strengthen privacy laws in Australia have been strongly opposed by media companies, including the News Limited conglomerate which, like News of the World, is owned by Rupert Murdoch. The media companies say such legislation would restrict free speech.

O'Connor said his government is committed to both free speech and the protection of privacy. He said any new law would have to “strike a balance between the two ideals.”

Murdoch began his newspaper career in Australia, where News Limited products now account for 70 percent of newspaper readership.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said Wednesday that Australians have “hard questions” they want answered from the company's executives, while her coalition partner, the Greens Party, is seeking a parliamentary inquiry on the concentration of press ownership.

John Hartigan, the chief executive of News Limited, said Wednesday there is “absolutely no connection” between the events in Britain and the Australian newspaper chain.