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Journalists and social media: a volatile employment mix

By Brett Wilson - posted Thursday, 28 May 2015

The recent sacking of two SBS reporters for posting material on their social media pages which reflected negatively on their employer raises the wider issue of journalists' use of social media.

Specifically can their employers hold them accountable for it? Or should journalists enjoy some form of exemption in the name of freedom of speech?

It is becoming commonplace in industry for employees to be dismissed after inappropriate posts on social media, such as attacking bosses or fellow workers, and there's no doubt employers now have little tolerance for staff using their social media to badmouth the business or post comments that reflect badly on the business.


But should this apply to journalists who are often outspoken and generate debate through provocative remarks? Should journalists be an exception?

Recent examples suggest not. SBS reporter Scott McIntyre was fired after an anti-Anzac tirade and shortly after, another SBS reporter, Marion Ives, was sacked after re-posting another person's article critical of her employer on her Facebook.

There's a question here on whether an employer should have the power to take action against a staff member for remarks posted on that person's social media pages?

Many employers have social media policies in place, principally designed to protect the name and reputation of the business.

Increasingly employers are trawling social media posts catching out staff bad mouthing a boss or supervisor or saying things that create a negative image of the business. The latter is an especially sensitive issue for journalists who the public expect to be objective at all times.

I think journalists in particular need to have a reality check against venting on social media forums because a rant could cost them their job. Despite their profile and "fame", they are legally just another employee and subject to the same workplace laws as someone in a factory or any workplace.


A Texan child care worker recently made world headlines for all the wrong reasons. Kaitlyn Walls was fired before she even started her new job at a day care centre after she posted a Facebook rant saying she absolutely hated working at day cares and really hated being around a lot of kids.

People who saw the post dobbed her in and the daycare centre boss sacked her before she arrived at work.

In Australia, SBS reporters Scott McIntyre and Marion Ives are the media casualties of hard-line employer attitudes toward social media use here.

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About the Author

Brett Wilson is an employment law expert with Gold Coast and Sydney law firm Adams Wilson Lawyers.

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