Public interest: apparently it’s now everything

16 Dec

Personal note: I have not consulted or interviewed the teacher involved in this issue, though I have talked with her previously and followed her on twitter. Any previous contact I have had with her has not been quoted in this piece.  Apart from following her on Twitter, I have no relationship with her. The teacher under scrutiny has made no public comment to me or any other person or publication.

At an hour far earlier than could be considered polite, Kristian Silva (a journalist with the Age) published “Explicit teacher quits classroom”, which he then promoted via his personal Twitter account.

To summarise Silva’s article, he described the teacher’s photos as “raunchy”, her posts as “sexually explicit” and quoted selected previous tweets, all the while confirming that it was not believed anyone at the school or schooling community bar one anonymous complainant had seen the account.

The article is an interesting exercise in journalism, combining salacious suggestion in conjunction with quotes from those involved (and those not involved).

Silva implies in the headline and article copy that, despite official quotes to the contrary, the teacher had quit over the incident. She hasn’t. The teacher in question had already arranged a year of leave in consultation with the principal months ago so she could focus on her well-being. So, she hadn’t “quit” over this incident.

Given Silva had quoted tweets from November, weeks before she closed her account, he either already knew of her plans and health struggles (and she had mentioned them often) or his source did. This was not referenced in the article.

In fact, on her Twitter account the teacher had mentioned being the subject of a workplace vendetta by an individual. Was this Silva’s source? Was this something he took into account, given there was one complaint the Principal had received?

The article repeatedly makes use of salacious quotes from her Twitter account to highlight his suggestion the teacher was unprofessional.  But was she? The Principal of the school received the complaint and, though gave direction to remove the account, did not think it of sufficient concern to discipline her or escalate the complaint.

Though Silva mentions the account has since closed and had more than 1000 followers, he made no mention that it was a locked account for the past month, instead referring to it as “a public Twitter account”. For perspective, the school she worked at has 1900 students and the Age has an online readership of 609,000 on Sundays (Roy Morgan Research, September 2012).

It should be noted at this point that there has been activity on Twitter today by students from the school who have recognised her based on Silva’s article and mentioned her name publicly. So thanks to the article, she has now been identified (or soon will be) to the entire school community.

And, for background and to counteract the deflatingly logical and calm quotes from the school’s Principal, Silva contacted a cyber security expert, Susan McLean and Parents Victoria President, Sharron Healy for some colour. Silva does not note whether these individuals were aware of her twitter presence beforehand or just shown a selection of quotes by the journalist. One wonders whether their selective inclusion was to add more colour and condemnation due to lack of reaction from the Principal and the teacher’s refusal to comment on the matter.

After reading through the Victorian Institute of Teaching’s Code of Conduct, two things should be made clear. The VIT state up front that the Code is not a disciplinary tool. According to the Code, the teacher in question doesn’t appear to contravene anything in sections 1-3, nor does she in any way display serious misconduct, incompetence or lack of fitness to teach which, if breached, would result in the loss of her teaching license.

Did the teacher post photos and selfies? Yes, she did. Were they raunchy? The photos in question would show cleavage and skin but she was always clothed and nothing that could constitute exposure, let alone deserve public censure.  As one tweeter told me “I’ve never seen her post anything online that was any more revealing than a fashion blog or something you would see on a billboard”. The most revealing (and yet still fully clothed) photo of her I had seen was when she shared a fitness/weight loss celebratory shot and even then, it was a shade more ‘demure’ than anything shared over in the weight loss progress pics shared over at Reddit and, as of this moment, I’m unaware if the Age have plans to mine that subreddit for shaming or reporting purposes.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a non-event, a news item without merit, given the teacher in no way breached the rules relating to her profession,  removed the account as requested on the basis of one complaint and her employer deciding to not escalate the matter. And yet here we are with Kristian Silva on a Sunday morning.

Let’s recap:

  • Silva implies the teacher has quit over her Twitter and photo activity: false
  • Silva implies teacher has shown unprofessional conduct: false according to VIT code of conduct
  • Silva calls her account “public”: false
  • Silva omits any mention of her health and apparently does not use this factor as mitigating reason to not publish
  • Silva may have presented a highly selected list of quotes and images to elicit quotes from a security expert and parent group president with the impact of influencing negative commentary
  • What was previously a contained issue is now viewable to approximately 609,000 readers and an entire school community
  • Previously unaware students on Twitter have recognised her since the article’s publication, who have stated her name online

This article is particularly curious in light of the following clauses in various codes of professional conduct to which we can assume Silva should or does adhere. I’ll include my selection of potentially applicable clauses below the body of this post. I should state this is a preliminary list and it may in fact not be applicable, but if Silva can quote a protected account, I can quote publicly available material.

Even if the article does not breach these codes, there are still questions that need to be answered. In fact, many people on Twitter have questions for Kristian Silva who, so far, has ignored any question directed to him via Twitter. This is entirely within his rights, but I’d be interested in the answers from either him or The Age.

Questions for Kristian Silva and the Age:

  • Where did the teacher breach any rule in the VIT Code of Conduct?
  • If Silva used the same source who complained to the school, are he and his employers confident they have not aided someone further bully someone against Worksafe Victoria standards?
  • If Silva used no source and researched this without a tip off, are he and his employers comfortable he acted within the assorted codes of conduct (AJA, Press Council, Fairfax, and The Age) required of his job?
  • Judging from today’s reaction and information since made public, is Silva going to persist in writing about this incident or try to contact the teacher, school or anyone associated with the school community for further comment?
  • If industry experts are contacted for quotes, how credible are their thoughts if based on a selective presentation of material? Or were they previously following her on Twitter? Can their assessments be considered expert or even considered in light of such scant review?
  • To paraphrase a question from Ollie (http://twitter.com/Tw1sty), your bio states that opinions and retweets are yours (with the implication they do not reflect your workplace). In light of that declaration and given you have a public profile, please explain how your personal views about rival publications are not work-related but the teacher’s protected Twitter account is ripe for public exposure and discussion on the Age’s web site?
  • Please state how this morning’s article meets any standard of newsworthiness or public interest.

In recent weeks, we have seen that unpredictable tragedies can occur based on media activity.  The media has weathered huge scandals that have threatened the trust and authority we previously granted. We criticise them for the trivialities they cover and the great swathes of information they ignore.

It is hard to determine how today’s piece balances that scale or does anything to further a discussion about the intricacies of online identity, public service and social media. This is no nuanced lecture from Levenson. It’s an article that points at a woman and, intentional or not, salaciously vilified her in front of others under the deceit of public interest, an interest that has since made her emotionally, professionally and, quite possibly, financially more vulnerable. All in the public interest. After a complaint from one person.

You might be asking yourself if I have done the same to Silva, held him to account and vilification, as he did the teacher. He may not have broken any laws, just like the teacher. Where are his rights in all of this?  Below, I’ve highlighted some selections from the Age, Fairfax, AJA and Press Council’s code of conduct.  Feel free to have a read and draw your own conclusions.

Fairfax Code of Conduct

As part of the Code’s introduction, the following (author’s selections) are asked:

Would I be proud of what I have done?
What would happen if my conduct was reported in a rival publication? (Author’s note: I won’t quote Silva’s public Twitter account here, but he is on record on what he thinks of the journalistic practices of rival publications.)
Do my actions place anyone’s health and safety at risk?

The Age Code of Conduct

12. People’s privacy should be respected and intrusions on privacy should be published only if there is a public interest.

13. Caution should be exercised about reporting and publishing identifying details, such as street names and numbers, that may enable others to intrude on the privacy or safety of people who have become the subject of media coverage. (Author’s note: the use of the photo, identifying the school name and quotes from the account made her instantly recognisable to people who were otherwise ignorant of the situation and made her identifiable)

14. People should be treated with sensitivity during periods of grief and trauma and wherever possible, be approached through an intermediary.

Media Alliance Code of Ethics 

1. Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts.  Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis.  Do your utmost  to give a fair opportunity for reply.

3.  Aim to attribute information to its source.  Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative attributable source.  Where confidences are accepted,  respect them in all circumstances.

11.  Respect private grief and personal privacy.  Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.

Australian Press Council, General Statement of Principle 1: Accurate, fair and balanced reporting

Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. They should not deliberately mislead or misinform readers either by omission or commission.

Australian Press Council, General Principle 4: Respect for privacy and sensibilities

News and comment should be presented honestly and fairly, and with respect for the privacy and sensibilities of individuals. However, the right to privacy is not to be interpreted as preventing publication of matters of public record or obvious or significant public interest. Rumour and unconfirmed reports should be identified as such.

Australian Press Council, General Principle 6: Transparent and fair presentation

Publications are free to advocate their own views and publish the bylined opinions of others, as long as readers can recognise what is fact and what is opinion. Relevant facts should not be misrepresented or suppressed, headlines and captions should fairly reflect the tenor of an article and readers should be advised of any manipulation of images and potential conflicts of interest.

Australian Press Council, Privacy Principle 1: Collection of personal information.

In gathering news, journalists should seek personal information only in the public interest. In doing so, journalists should not unduly intrude on the privacy of individuals and should show respect for the dignity and sensitivity of people encountered in the course of gathering news.

In accordance with Principle 5 of the Council’s Statement of Principles, news obtained by unfair or dishonest means should not be published unless there is an overriding public interest. Generally, journalists should identify themselves as such. However, journalists and photographers may at times need to operate surreptitiously to expose crime, significantly anti-social conduct, public deception or some other matter in the public interest.

Public figures necessarily sacrifice their right to privacy, where public scrutiny is in the public interest. However, public figures do not forfeit their right to privacy altogether. Intrusion into their right to privacy must be related to their public duties or activities.

How does the Press Council define Public Interest?
Note 1 “Public interest”

“For the purposes of these principles, “public interest” is defined as involving a matter capable of affecting the people at large so they might be legitimately interested in, or concerned about, what is going on, or what may happen to them or to others.”

Let’s think about that definition in conjunction with the article published by Silva. How were the contents of a private Twitter account, an account which had been already dealt with between a teacher (a private, not public, figure) and her employer, in the public interest?

Want to have your say?
Comments below will be open and unmoderated. I’ll take a leaf out of Silva’s book and not reply.  If you would like to let Fairfax know your thoughts, be they supportive or constructively critical, you can head to their feedback area at the very bottom right hand corner of the Age web site.

10 Responses to “Public interest: apparently it’s now everything”

  1. Soren Frederiksen (@sernfrederiksen) December 17, 2012 at 12:04 am #

    Amy’s note: I have edited this – partly because I do not believe linking to 5 year old blog posts does anything than perpetuate a morally-subjective witch hunt.

    I went to Glen Waverley Secondary College, graduating in 2010. It’s a great school and I have a lot of respect for the principle to which you refer.

    I also have friends who were enrolled in this woman’s Year 11 English class in 2009. [AG: quote from 2007 account removed]

    ([AG: removed link]: How do I know this is hers? It bears the same name and discusses the same things, in the same tone as her twitter feed, the name of which is revealed here: [AG: removed link].)

    Here, roughly two years ago, as those same friends and I waited nervously for the results borne of her teaching, she poses as a friend stands ready to [AG: removed link and quote]

    So much has been said of the teacher’s right to privacy, but what of the students’ rights to a teacher who thinks their efforts more than [AG: removed quote]? She is a public servant. It is in the public interest that such servants merit their posts. As the teacher-student relationship is so important, so intimate, her personal qualities are not irrelevant. It seems, judging from her behavior, judging from her frustration, that those qualities were unsuitable to the profession.

    (It is here — [AG:removed link] — that she refers to another class of Year 11’s essays as such. She’s also rather unkind about her cat.)

    Indeed, she seemed to think as much herself: [AG: removed link].

    [AG: removed link]

    About this privacy, by the way. You mention she’d locked her account for the last month. Her Twitpic account shows that she’d been active on Twitter for at least 1327 days, or just under four years. So, she kept this private for a single month, the 2% of her Twitter tenure when she was scarcely engaged as a teacher, but kept it public for the 98% she was stuck teaching [AG: removed link].

    (See the “days ago” metre by the post at the bottom of the page: [AG: removed link].)

    If the account had been private from the beginning, this would be a different story. Instead, she forfeited the privacy of her tweets and twitpics by airing them publicly. It is also worth noting that her “twitpic” feed, from which the offending images were drawn, is perfectly public.

    Should The Age be allowed to write about it? As the feed from which the images are drawn is public, they aren’t intruding on the woman’s private files by publishing them. As a teacher, her personal qualities are not irrelevant — nor is her disdain for her [AG: removed quote] and their [AG: removed quote]. The pictures the woman posted in her panties are, as a teacher, a bad idea.

    Parents so concerned by this teacher’s behavior that it would worry them to have their children share a relationship with such a person shouldn’t be kept in the dark about it. Students should be concerned about who their teachers are, as well. If it doesn’t worry you, fine. But don’t think you’re in the right to make that decision for other people.

    She’s on leave. She should stay on leave and consider a field she finds more fulfilling.

    • Amy Gray December 17, 2012 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Soren,

      In reply:
      1. I am not approving links from max 5 years ago, let alone 5 minutes ago. I will not contribute or facilitate the already unethical witch hunt of a private individual.
      2. Teachers do not have to sit with students nor enter a social hermitage while others await their scores, despite whatever morally-subjective judgements and entitlements an individual may hold of another’s legal activity.
      3. Students do have the right to professional teachers, that’s where VIT come in. Once again, she did not breach their guidelines or merit punishment from the Principal, in whom you place great respect and admiration.
      4. Once again, her Principal has not had an issue with her ability to teach.
      5. How a teacher talks about her cat in no way dilutes her ability to teach.
      6. As of 2010, there were 410000 public servants in Victora: 45000 in Commonwealth, 48000 in Local Govt, 316000 in State Government. This is not a content stream for the media, it is the amount of people who happen to work for the Government in some capacity (project managers, social workers, admin, web developers, etc) as public servants who do not merit public shaming for having a social media account.
      7. Even if the account were consistently public (which it wasn’t), I’d argue the same. Where there inaccuracies that I personally noted, I’ve mentioned them.
      8. If the account was private from the beginning it would not have been a different story. The story would still be about inaccurately hectoring a woman whose boss had no job performance issues with her.
      9. Should the Age be allowed to write about it? Sure, within the strictures of the codes of practice I noted in the above piece. I would suggest the article breaches them. I would suggest the editorial practices of any publication should not breach those codes.
      10. Pictures any woman or man post online that does not show them participating in a crime should not be viewed as a moral crime or “bad idea”.
      11. I don’t think I even stated that I’m in the right to make the decision of who teaches whom. I’ll leave that to the aforementioned principal and VIT.
      12. Thanks for noting she is on leave and has not resigned, contrary to reports published by the Age.

  2. benculture December 17, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    Well, your defence of the teacher is certainly impassioned. However, I wonder if she would welcome it, given that you are revealing personal information yourself, and asking a string of new questions that some journo may attempt to answer.

    The public interest standard seems met to me. It’s sad that it is, and that the community is so unsettled by the thought of a teacher expressing even a hint of being a sexual being in her (semi) private life. However, community standards can only change by being reviewed. It annoys me generally that the media constantly feels the need to take a line. They expect the reader to read along and say to themselves ‘yes, isn’t that awful’. And sadly, a lot of the time that’s exactly what happens.

    The online version of the article contains some extra copy, and ends with an interesting quote which seems intended to set the tone: “Tweeting messages like these is unacceptable from anyone.” This is attributed to Parents Victoria president Sharron Healy, and is clearly a ridiculous thing to say. If challenged, it paints Healy as someone seriously divorced from community attitudes. But by being the last word it instead seems unwisely reinforced.

    Your use of the phrase ‘slut shaming’ in tweets promoting this piece seems to be labelling the teacher a slut, which the article you are so affronted by did not.

    Your attack on Fairfax journalist Kristian Silva seems out of balance with what was written, and the reality of working in an environment of increasing demands for copy and decreasing time and resources to generate it. Singling out his tweet calling the pathetic article of another newspaper pathetic seems petty and counterproductive. And it’s hard to imagine Fairfax being the slightest concerned about one of its journos having a dig at News Ltd!

    However, ethics in journalism require greater scrutiny, something your article goes all out to attempt. And the issue of new technology changing who knows what about who/what when needs to be taken on board: A similar Sunday article 20 years ago about a teacher’s racy Polaroids would not be all over school by Monday morning – quite.

    In summary:

    ● Your post was unfair to Silva and may be unwelcome by the teacher
    ● Your tweets associated the term ‘slut’ with the teacher when she behaved reasonably
    ● Parental expectations on teachers are out of kilter with 21st Century realities
    ● People in any profession are entitled to a private life
    ● It is prudent for teachers of children to take all reasonable steps to keep their sex lives private
    ● Your scrutiny of the MSM is most welcome

    • Amy Gray December 17, 2012 at 6:24 am #

      Hi Ben,
      Thanks for your reply.

      Let me clarify a few points as I think they’re of merit.
      * From what I have heard, this post is not considered unwelcome by the teacher or her friends
      * The use of slut shaming does not call her a slut, but references a tactic used to unreasonably shame women. More available here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slut-shaming
      * I work in online publishing and am aware of the pressures to deliver content that generates traffic and meets basic standards of quality. In light of that, I think this may fail key areas of several industry-related standards that could have been prevented in the editing and publishing process.
      * I wasn’t aware it was also in the print edition, thanks for confirming.

      Finally, forgive me for replying when I said I wouldn’t but wanted to clarify some points in your considered reply.

      • benculture December 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

        Yeah, it’s on page 9, and the print version includes a selfie, which is probably the most problematic aspect of the article, despite being heavily face-pixelated. It’s problematic in the sense of the ethical codes you’re writing about, and any continuation of teaching by her at that school, although you’d think it would be helpful in dispelling any ideas that the images posted should be any concern.

        I’m aware of what feminists are attempting when using the term ‘slut-shaming’, but I think it’s fraught. It employs a highly charged word and then asks feminists to defend against its use, while giving others the idea of attacking along those lines, so it’s needlessly confrontational. The term is even potentially sexist in some contexts. The Age article could just as easily have been about a male teacher posting Harry-like content, and the term would not be used in that case. Also, the article did not go there (there being sexual behaviour), even though it may have had the material to do so.

        It’s good that the teacher concerned may appreciate the defence, but the upshot may be greater public interest in the matter. Soren Frederiksen raises some new issues, and while these may be more ‘interested public’ than ‘public interest’, I would be surprised if we don’t hear more on all this.

  3. Dr Brian December 17, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    You’ve made a great contribution to the debate about this pathetic article and the wider debate about professionalism and privacy. I’ve written about this too – http://indolentdandy.net/fitzroyalty/2012/12/17/more-anti-sex-hysteria-slut-shaming-and-sexually-based-employment-discrimination/

  4. Soren Frederiksen (@sernfrederiksen) December 17, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Hi Amy,

    For some reason I can’t reply to your comment directly by way of my Twitter account.

    Anyway, replying to your points:

    1. Fair enough. But I don’t think a single article, broadly condemned, meets the definition of a “witch hunt” of a public servant.

    2. This is a confusing sentence, but I think I get the gist: Teacher’s have a right to a private life, whatever the puritans think of how they spend it. Yes, they do. They would, however, be ill-advised to broadcast that life if it includes graphic descriptions of sexual acts and images featuring illicit substances.

    It is true that she had no intention of sharing this material with the teens in her charge, but it was naive of her to think a mere pseudonym could keep it safely hidden. The account was public, her photo-stream remains public. It’s not that she should forced from the profession — it’s a new kind of case, and there are many good points you raise — but that others within it should be discreetly advised that Twitter is a public forum and should be treated accordingly.

    3. I note you’ve deleted the quotes, in which she references her students, that might bring her professionalism into question. I suggest the disdain on display in those posts may breach the following VIT guidelines:

    – 1.1. a) knowing their students well, respecting their individual differences and catering for their individual abilities

    – 1.2. a) work to create an environment which promotes mutual respect

    – 1.2. b) model and engage in respectful and impartial language

    – 1.2 c) protect students from intimidation, embarrassment, humiliation or harm

    – 2.1 a) be positive role models at school and in the community

    One might argue the images, as well as the tweets, contravene some of the above and the spirit of this more detailed description of Principle 2.1:

    – “Some teachers believe that what they do in their personal lives has nothing to do with their standing or status as a teacher and a member of the teaching profession. This is not true…” (it goes on: http://www.vit.vic.edu.au/conduct/victorian-teaching-profession-code-of-conduct/Pages/exploring-principle-2.1.aspx)

    I only bring these up because you’ve done so. The point is this: Twitter, and the other web-platforms involved, now constitute part of her interaction with the community. Her actions, if taken in public, are not irrelevant — as the VIT guidelines make clear.

    4. If the teacher was not on contract, there is little a principal can do about a bad teacher anyway. Union rules.

    5. Her cat is the main issue in this discussion.

    6. No, the media’s content stream is constituted by their actions, by everyone’s actions, if those actions are of concern to the public. That last phrase is subjectively defined; if the papers get it wrong enough, one expects public institutions and the public themselves to let them know. You are doing so.

    (“…for having a social media account”: Isn’t this post about media distortion and inaccuracy?)

    7. I’ve no issue here.

    8. If the twitter stream and photo-stream were private from the beginning, I wonder whether we’d be having this discussion.

    9. There was a mistake in the report regarding the reason for her time from teaching. Silvia could have more accurately described her twitpic stream as public, as it remains so. I don’t know anything about this woman’s health, but you mention it a few times.

    I would suggest anyone so enraged by this breach of guidelines enforce them in the most effective way possible: Don’t buy The Age. Don’t read The Age Online. Fewer and fewer people do. We’re not exactly starved for information, in this day and age.

    10. No, I don’t think teachers should graphically describe their sexual experiences in fora their students can access. I don’t think they should ridicule their students in such fora, either. Nor do I think they should post images featuring the impending use of illicit drugs.

    It’s not a “moral crime,” but it is a bad idea. It’s an awful idea, and the VIT guidelines on which you heap such praise and to which you keep referring seem to agree with me.

    The bar you use to determine the acceptable actions of a public servant charged with children, which rests just inches above criminal conviction, is ridiculously low.

    12. You’re welcome.

    My main point is this: We should all consider Twitter a part of the public sphere. Teacher’s should, too. As such, they should act with consideration of their position as a public servant, of their position as a minder of children, and of the possibility that their students might witness their actions.

    Whether or not the publication of this story produced net good is something I haven’t really addressed. It’s this “anything goes but crime” thing that strikes me.

    • Amy Gray December 17, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

      1. The witch hunt to which I refer is you quoting posting quotes from 2007 to bolster your counter-argument to a 2012 article. Research going back that far is excessive and does meet my criteria for a witch hunt, as it would for most other people. Let’s not forget that there is now more than one article which continues to publish inaccuracies that Fairfax has been made aware of both privately and publicly.

      2. Allow me to clarify: you attempted to demonstrate the lack of professionalism and care on the part of the teacher by sharing a photo that did not show a criminal act, nor illicit substances in description or imagery (it was a stated simulation) and attempted to contrast this by referencing it was during a time when, as you state, “Here, roughly two years ago, as those same friends and I waited nervously for the results borne of her teaching, she poses as a friend stands ready to…” Your assumed attempt to display her as callously disregarding the stress you and your friends were experiencing by the mere act having an enjoyable social life is not a compelling example and what it lacks in perspective, it oversupplies in entitlement.

      In answer to your subsequent and valid point that this is a new kind of case and that Twitter is a public forum and treated accordingly, that also applies to the media and how they strip mine it for content.

      3. I will delete quotes as per point one and remind you that there is a set process for handling complaints as set out by the VIT.

      Further to that, the ones that are deemed serious do face internal review and were listed in my original post. These are breaches that, if the teacher is found guilty of, will face loss of their teaching license.

      I would argue (and let’s remember that neither you nor I are in any way experts with VIT guidelines) that the guidelines relate specifically to the learning environment (i.e. within the classroom).

      As to the community guidelines, while I certainly agree it constitutes community engagement, I completely disagree that teachers (or any public servant or any other person) should be held to a standard higher than the average citizen for comments that the Principal did not believe were of sufficient concern to escalate.

      4. You’re right there is a Union and there are also rules for escalating performance concerns and review processes. Once again, the Principal did not think this case merited any of those actions.

      5. No, the cat is not the main issue in the discussion at all. It was two sentences in a four paragraph self-described rant and in no way either goes to show poor character on her behalf or describes abuse.

      6. You raised the point that she was a public servant and, as such, subject to greater scrutiny because, as you state, “She is a public servant. It is in the public interest that such servants merit their posts”.

      Firstly, please refer to the Press Council’s definition of public interest (in original post). Of note is “affecting the people at large so they might be legitimately interested in, or concerned about, what is going on, or what may happen to them or to others.”

      Affecting the people at large. Let’s look at the numbers.
      Teacher covered: 1
      Number of complaints: 1
      Number of total school population: 1,900
      Suggested readership of the Sunday Age: 609,000
      Public servants in Victoria: 410,000

      Looking at those numbers, I don’t see how it meets the definition of public interest and I honestly doubt the Press Council would disagree with me. I am sincerely interested if you still believe it is in the public interest taking all the above factors into account.

      To address your contrast that I am questioning the Age, just as the publication did to the teacher, let’s go through that.

      The publication and journalist in question did not reply to mine or others questions either via Twitter or directly to the Age via email or phone call. They did not retract incorrect information in the original or subsequent article.

      Given publications have a very long-standing precedent about the public commenting on their output, I am doing nothing new and neither are the many people who comment on articles online, who write letters to the editor, who share their opinions in counter-commentary or programming. The precedent is set here.

      Given this was a matter finalised between the teacher and the Principal to mutual satisfaction and action occured prior to the date of publication, I would not only state the precedent there is closed, it is also private. The precedent is set here.

      And what of the workplace vendetta: do you feel comfortable reading content that may have originated from a disgruntled co-worker whose actions are contributing to the teacher experiencing a hostile workplace? Is one person’s disagreement with a colleague, settled by the Principal, in the public interest? Especially, if indeed it was the disgruntled colleague who tipped off the journalist, the colleague now enjoys the protection of being a journalist source?

      7. You have no issue.

      8. Given the persistence of this ‘discussion’, it’s highly likely the journalist would have gotten access to the account either from the source or from attempting to befriend the teacher online.

      9. Telling people to ignore the paper and not buy it fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of our myriad press guidelines and the need to hold these institutions accountable in their adherence or understanding the importance in all papers adhering to the same guidelines: this shouldn’t be a percentage game, nor does it provide the fair and balanced media that we all still optimistically expect. And how many state papers are there in Victoria? Also, boycotting rarely results in any greater adherence to media guidelines – look into the radio industry for more on that.

      10. “VIT guidelines on which you heap such praise and to which you keep referring seem to agree with me.”
      a. Go find my praise and quote it back.
      b. I disagree with your reading of the guidelines but, as previously stated, neither you nor I are experts in this and that’s ok because the only people who need to be expert in them are in the VIT. Which neither of us are. And she hasn’t been brought up for review.
      c. I keep referring to them because they are guidelines and not some subjective, wholly individual call on what constitutes “raunchy” or “sexually explicit” or, “pictures the woman posted in her panties”.
      11. You don’t appear to have an issue with this point
      12. Or this one.
      13. I will take issue with this quote because I think it is crucial to discuss:

      “The bar you use to determine the acceptable actions of a public servant charged with children, which rests just inches above criminal conviction, is ridiculously low.”

      No, it’s the same standard we use for society, a society in which we allow others the right to a private life free from excessive or insensitive press scrutiny (refer to Australian Press Council, Privacy Principal 1: Collection of personal information).

      Speaking of working with children, here is what is checked: http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/workingwithchildren/home/applications/the+application+process/what+is+checked/what+is+checked

      It covers any criminal charges and findings of professional bodies including the VIT (go back and check the three areas they can revoke licenses on).

      From this it appears the bar I use to determine the acceptable actions of a public servant responsible for children as resting above criminal conviction is not ridiculously low, it is standard.

  5. Soren Frederiksen (@sernfrederiksen) December 17, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

    (Again, the problem with my Twitter.)

    Anyway, I’ll try to make this quick (I failed):

    1. The quotes ranged from 2007-2009, yes. I thought it thoroughness to find as much as I could, quite unlike the journalists you’ve criticized.

    2. The term used the describe the substance alluded to sounded like a euphemism for the genuine article, not a statement of simulation. I may be missing something, I may be wrong, but I think I could be forgiven for thinking otherwise — as could her students.

    As for your criticism of the tone and terms by which I introduced the image, that wasn’t quite my intended effect but I can understand how it may have seemed. It makes me look a shithead, but that’s a subject long settled.

    It seems better controls on the user end to restrict who sees what, as well as the promotion of an understanding of such controls, would be one good way to keep the media from strip-mining to bad effect.

    3. It seems to me unlikely that, after telling teachers not to ridicule or humiliate students in the classroom, the VIT would be any less critical of such behavior beyond school bounds — especially given all this stuff about being role-models in the community.

    Should teachers be held to a higher standard? Aren’t they already held to a higher standard, in the form of VIT? I don’t think either of us is going to move the other on this point.

    (Oh, and to be entirely fair on me, it does seem the principal never saw the comments concerned: “He did not alert the Education Department or ask to see any of the teacher’s Twitter posts.”)

    4. Yep.

    5. I can’t tell if this is clever sarcasm or not. The cat was a joke.

    6. I don’t think these numbers are as interesting as you seem to think. It’s a major public school. If a true scandal — say, a sexual relationship between teacher and student — was to occur within its bounds, it would be in the public interest despite its limited area of direct effect.

    The issue is whether it is an issue of such stature. I must admit, and it may have come across above, that I’ve moved a bit on this issue. I don’t think much was served by the publication of the article concerned, but think teachers should be reminded that social-networking sites — Twitter, to a greater degree than most — are public forums and should be treated as such.

    I don’t think I made a contrast. The inaccuracy of your comment’s account of the article (you said the teacher was criticised “for having a social media account”; the headline wasn’t, “Teacher has Twitter account — Scandal!”) was a little ironic, is all.

    Anyway:

    – Okay, he didn’t respond to anybody’s questions. That will probably annoys the writer’s readers and sap at his credibility. No argument there.

    – It seems some (like the alleged resignation) has been corrected, but the headline “Explicit tweeter quits class” still implies much without grounds for doing so.

    – I’m a little confused about this first “precedent” paragraph.

    – The details of the teacher’s taking leave (again, you alluded to some medical condition) may be private. The material that remains publicly available is not private.

    – I think any disagreement between colleagues is beside any of my points, even beside the article. The article isn’t chiefly about the conditions of her departure, it’s about the appropriateness of her conduct online. Of course a workplace dispute like the one you describe is, if handled appropriately, not in the public interest (and I can’t find it in the article).

    And you’re right, sources often have an axe to grind. It’s part of the journalist’s job to keep this in mind. Did he fail in this regard, in this instance? We don’t know.

    8. Would the journalist have known to make friends with this particular person on Twitter had the profile been private and its content kept to trusted friends? If it was private, whoever complained or tipped the journalist off seems unlikely to have been informed of her activities to begin with.

    I don’t think this has much to do with the issues at play.

    9. This is an invitation to a much broader discussion on media regulation. I don’t think *uniform* guidelines are a necessity. I don’t think print duopolies like ours will last much longer.

    Those boycotts fail because they don’t have the support of that medium’s principle audience: cantankerous old men. They disagree. I don’t see why the boycott of a medium by those who don’t partake in it should be expected to work.

    You know The Age has quite a different audience profile.

    10. a) You’ve caught me.

    b) Fair enough.

    c) To be fair, I used the description “pictures the woman posted in her panties” because it was a simple, objective description of the image: She is a woman, wearing underwear, in a photograph. This is not a “wholly individual call”, this is a careful account of the facts.

    13. I don’t think the teacher should have her license revoked. I don’t think she should be barred from working with children.

    I do think teachers generally should act, in public fora like Twitter, in the spirit of the VIT’s guidelines: that means acting in the knowledge that their students may know of their actions; that may mean refraining from graphic accounts of sexual acts; and that may mean — whether or not the images concerned qualify; I admit it’s quite debatable — not posting images of a sexual nature.

    If yours are not ridiculously low, I don’t think mine are ridiculously high.

    (Also, as to “excessive or insensitive press scrutiny”, I think I mentioned my change of opinion above.)

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