Melbourne, July 31 : If the federal Government gets its way, Aussies will soon be missing their weekly dose of celebrity gossip.
The government is considering a new privacy regime that would require media outlets to tone down their content on high-profile people.
This move to restrict reporting on public figures, would incur stiff court-imposed penalties on taking unauthorised photographs of people in public places and disclosing embarrassing correspondence or any other information that people would prefer to keep private.
The publications, which are under the spotlight for bearing the consequences, include magazines like Who Weekly, New Idea and 'tabloid TV', for they may face a wave of litigation, if they do not change or cease publication, said Media lawyer Graham Hryce.
In fact, he said that the sword was also lingering over the extensive gossip columns of metropolitan tabloid newspapers, as they focus on the lives of celebrities.
Hryce and other media lawyers are hoping that a new privacy regime will soon be a part of an Australian Law Reform Commission report that is under consideration by Special Minister of State John Faulkner.
Earlier in a paper, the ALRC said it favoured a system that would impose a series of new penalties on the media under a proposed "statutory tort" for breaching privacy.
And now penalties may be imposed by the courts for taking unauthorised photographs of people in public places and disclosing information that people would prefer to keep private.
"It will be an absolute nightmare. It will provide a brand new field of endeavour for lawyers," The Australian quoted Hryce, as saying.
Stuart Litlemore, QC, said all "gossip magazines" would be affected by the new law because "if it's not an invasion of privacy, they're not interested in it".
Lobbying for the plan for a long time, The Australian Privacy Foundation said one of the effects of the new law would be to change the way the media operated.
Privacy Foundation spokesman Nigel Waters said the media needed to "get its house in order and restrict investigative reporting to cases where there is a public interest argument". He said that there should be limited reporting on the private lives of celebrities. Media lawyer Robert Todd said the proposed law would bring with it even more restrictions on the media than earlier defamation laws that were reformed two years ago.
"It will prevent journalists from reporting what is going on in the community around them that can be observed by anyone wandering in the street. It will be used by authorities to prevent information being published. It will be a mechanism of control," he said.
The Australian Law Reform Commission said it wanted the statutory tort to apply whenever there was "a reasonable expectation of privacy and where the action that is the subject of the complaint is serious enough to cause substantial offence to an ordinary person".