You can’t say that!

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As much as self expression is a good thing, there *are* limitations to what you can say. This is particularly the case when you’re broadcasting or otherwise publishing your thoughts. Most of our courses cover media law in more depth, and the aim isn’t to make you an expert… but you need to know enough so you know when you need help.

This post is designed as an intro, so you get on air and online asap, and so what you publish is #safefortafe

Here are the key things to not do:

Copy other people’s work

Sounds obvious, right?

However, copyright is the thing that beginners get tripped up by most often. Other people’s work includes writing, photos, drawings, music and film.

Some examples of things that are not #safefortafe:

  • Ripping and reading (where you take an article and just read it out on air)
  • Using copyright protected music in a podcast or video, no matter how quiet
  • Right-click saving from a Google image search (unless you’ve changed the usage setting filter to say “labelled for reuse”)

Things that might damage someone’s reputation

Again, it’s a thing that can land you in some trouble.

To clarify, we’re not talking about publishing facts that are unflattering
eg. R. Kelly has been arrested. You can absolutely report that fact.

We are talking about things that aren’t true (or you don’t have enough evidence to prove) – including anything that’s just rumour
eg. The CEO of xx corporation stole a car and crashed it into the harbour bridge. This isn’t okay because I have exactly zero evidence to say that it actually happened.

Not #safefortafe:

Anything that might be damaging to someone else’s reputation…

…Even if you don’t say their name, but identify them some other way eg their job

…Even if you say the word “allegedly”

…Even if you meant someone else

If you’re not sure if something is defamatory, ask yourself – do you really need to say that/write that?

Did you know…? You can also be liable for what your guests say, or what people comment on your social media.


Swearing of any kind on air or online is definitely not #safefortafe.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not going to make a list of words you can’t say. If you’re not sure if something is acceptable or not, err on the side of caution.

Talking about crimes or other matters that are in the courts

There are strict limitations about what you can say or publish about a matter before the courts. In some cases, you can’t talk about certain details even after the fact.

You are not Derryn Hinch. Unless you’ve done this in media law class, don’t go near it. Seek advice from your teacher.

Recording people without their express consent

There are laws that cover an individual’s right to privacy. Things like trespassing or using secret recording devices are definitely not on.

If you call someone up for an interview, you MUST get their consent before recording. Prank calls are out.

Anything that can be interpreted as discriminatory

There are laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, age, disability, race, sexual preference, marital status, HIV status and so forth.

Be respectful. Just because your friends say something, doesn’t make it okay for on air or online.

Reporting on suicide and self harm
There’s a body of research on how harmful detailed reporting on suicide can be if not done correctly.

Reporting on mental health issues needs to be done in a respectful and responsible way, otherwise it can be damaging.

Suggest that you avoid if possible, but if you need to, read Mindframe’s guidelines on the matter.

Talking about Aboriginal issues, including reporting on people who have died, without understanding the cultural protocols

We’re all about respecting culture and individuals, and that’s particularly important when reporting on Aboriginal issues. We need to follow the relevant cultural protocols and customs.

This explanation of respecting cultural protocols in journalism has some great information.

Being generally unethical

We expect ethical behaviour from all students and contributors to Sydney TAFE Media. We expect that students are honest, fair, independent and have respect for the rights of others when making media.

This code of ethics sums things up well.

To sum up…

There are a lot of things that you need to get your head around. I’ve summed the key points above, and it’s not thorough or complete – on purpose. It’s a starter’s guide.

To clarify anything you should or shouldn’t say or write, talk to your teacher before you publish.

Excited about media law?

Pick up a copy of “The Journalist’s Guide to Media Law” by Mark Pearson & Mark Polden (it’s in the library and quite excellent).

See you in media law class!

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