How the law defines journalism

Rhonda Breit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Studies proffering critiques of journalism and developing theories that seek to explain what it is have been dominated by research into journalists’ attitudes, social structures and cultural influences and effects. Thus these studies are essentially linear and intra-professional. This paper calls for a broader examination of understandings of journalism based on Abbott’s concept of occupational jurisdiction. Abbott (1988, 1993, p. 204) argues that professions cannot be studied individually, but should be examined in the context of an interacting system of professionals; that a theory of professions must take account of culture and social structure as well as intra-, inter- and trans- professional forces; and that the development of professions is necessarily a matter of complex junctures. To meet this aim, this paper uses a comparative case study involving textual analysis of the High Court of Australia’s decision in ABC v O’Neill (2006) and the ABC editorial policies (2007). Judgements from the High Court of Australia in Australian Broadcasting Corporation v O’Neill (2006) are compared and contrasted with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 2007 editorial policies to identify and categorise how journalism is viewed within the occupational jurisdictions of law and journalism. Using an “interpretative community” framework articulated by Zelizer (2004), the paper categorises the understandings of journalism revealed in these documents. It then distils the key valorising agents in the various approaches to understanding/ describing journalism. This study is strictly limited to develop a conceptual framework by which to compare and contrast intra- and inter-professional understandings of journalism and public interest.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-26
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Journalism Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


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