Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Media Whatcha?

Last night’s ABC TV Media Watch nicely followed up the previous Monday’s 4 Corners [see 10 March post, below] in the “Serve ‘em up dubious bombast” stakes. Three minutes or so were given over to showing that PM John Howard had stated, during last week’s address to the nation, three colourful examples of how awful Iraq’s criminal justice [cough, cough] system was – with his obvious (almost verbatim) source being unmasked as a US-authored book. “Plagiarism”, sayeth Media Watch presenter David Marr.

For a lawyer and writer of Marr’s calibre, this degree of misinfor-pinion is baffling. Reporting news is not just a legal, formalist defence to breach of copyright; it is elementary common-sense that the practice of journalism (and indeed of human communication in any form) could not take place without facts – of which “news” is a major, and increasing, sub-set – being public domain. Of course, in most cases when news is made material or disseminated, some value-adding to the bare facts has taken place, ensuring that the news program, as such, is copyrightable. (A world of only bare facts would be unbearably repetitive, for all its utopian ownerlessness). Did John Howard cross this fact/expression line, so free-riding on the US author’s ostensible keyboard labour, of dressing up three Iraqi laws in purpler prose? My own answer is a clear cut “no” – as stated, the PM’s three examples were certainly colourful (which quality, in fairness to Marr, is not often to be found in legal pronouncements generally), but that this colour came all the way from the source – Iraq.

Terror, Mr Marr, needs no intermediary to make it sound worse.

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