2015-09-16 11:23:47 Releases

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union and industrial advocate for Australia’s journalists, has written to Mr Iñaki Berroeta, chief executive officer of Vodafone Hutchison Australia to complain about a Vodafone employee accessing the phone records of a MEAA member, investigative journalist Natalie O’Brien of Fairfax Media, with the aim of identifying the source of stories she had written.

MEAA also called on the Office of the Information Commissioner to investigate the circumstances of breach of privacy.

In a statement released on Saturday, Vodafone admitted that an employee had “accessed some recent text messages and call records” of Ms O’Brien. Reports suggested that the company knew its actions were illegal and that a cover‐up may have taken place.

MEAA reminded Mr Berroeta that journalist members of MEAA are bound by the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics, clause 3 of which requires them to never reveal the identity of their confidential sources.

“This is a principle accepted and acknowledged throughout the world as necessary for journalists to carry out their duties in the public interest,” MEAA wrote.

MEAA also stated that for the past year, MEAA has been campaigning against the Government’s metadata retention laws which seek to allow government agencies to conduct surveillance and secretly access journalists’ telecommunications data with the sole aim of identifying confidential sources, including whistleblowers who seek to expose fraud, corruption, dishonesty, illegality and threats to public health and safety.

MEAA said that “any attempt to circumvent the ethical obligations journalists have to never reveal a confidential source is not only a gross invasion of privacy but an outrageous assault on press freedom.”

MEAA urged Vodafone to fully investigate all the circumstances of the incident and to report publicly on what took place and what steps it will take to ensure there is no repeat of the activity.

MEAA also called on the company to inform Ms O’Brien as to what records of hers were accessed so that she can determine what information and sources had been compromised.

MEAA also urged Vodafone to ensure that its employees are fully trained on not only matters of privacy but also the role of journalists and why journalists’ telecommunications data must be kept safe from any attempt to identify confidential sources.

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “This is a shocking flagrant breach of privacy. It’s absolutely outrageous behaviour on Vodafone’s behalf. And it appears that there have been attempts at a cover-up. Journalists all understand that if they receive information in confidence they have an obligation to keep that in confidence.
“For a telecommunications company to engage in this sort of behaviour is unforgivable. The privacy commissioner should investigate this. And for a corporation to engage in such an egregious attack on press freedom is a disturbing development.”