Our media code of conduct

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Overview

Consumer Affairs Victoria’s media code of conduct sets out the principles we adopt to balance fairness to individuals, companies and businesses against the importance of informing the public about our enforcement work.

The ways we may inform the public about our enforcement work include:

  • media releases distributed to outlets and published online
  • news items published on our website
  • social media posts.

The code explains when and why we publicise our enforcement actions, as well as circumstances in which we may decide not to do so.

Policy relating to CAV’s compliance activities

On this page:

  1. Purpose
  2. Principles
  3. Limits on informing the public of our activities
  4. Code of conduct
  5. Investigations
  6. Commencement of legal proceedings
  7. Finalisation of legal proceedings and other enforcement outcomes
  8. Media filming or accompanying CAV on operations
  9. Reporting and review
  10. Spokespeople
  11. Contact the CAV media team

1. Purpose

The purpose of the media code of conduct is to set out the principles adopted by Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV) to balance fairness to individuals, companies and businesses against the importance of informing the public about CAV’s enforcement work.

Publication of the policy promotes external transparency and internal consistency in prioritisation and decision-making.

2. Principles

As Victoria’s consumer affairs regulator, we help create a competitive and fair market place for business and consumers.

To do this we:

  • review and advise the state government on consumer legislation and industry codes
  • advise and educate consumers, tenants, businesses and landlords on their rights, responsibilities and changes to the law
  • register and license businesses and occupations
  • conciliate disputes between consumers and traders, and tenants and landlords
  • enforce and ensure compliance with consumer laws.

The impact of our work is far-reaching. We advise and assist on topics including renting and accommodation, estate agents, building, shopping and trading.

We license or register and regulate a range of occupations, including estate agents, conveyancers, motor car traders, sex work service providers, owners corporation managers, second-hand dealers and pawnbrokers.

The legislative framework for consumer affairs in Victoria encompasses a large number of Acts and regulations governing a wide range of business and other activities affecting consumers, tenants and not-for-profit organisations. For a full list of legislation and regulations, please view our Legislation we administer page.

This code of conduct has been developed to balance fairness to individuals, companies and businesses involved in CAV investigation and enforcement action with informing the public about the CAV’s enforcement work and being transparent about what action CAV is taking and why.

Informing the public about our enforcement work is an important part of our role as the consumer affairs regulator. It:

  • promotes confidence in our market economy because consumers and business can see  consumer law working for them through the action we take against those who we believe, on reasonable grounds, are breaking the law
  • deters companies, businesses and individuals from engaging in conduct that would contravene the laws we administer
  • promotes compliance with the law by informing the public about the standards required by Victorian laws and regulations, and the consequences of failing to meet those standards.

CAV engages in a wide range of communication activities to promote understanding of the law and to inform the public of its activities.

This includes engaging with the public and industry through a wide range of media channels, publishing information on CAV’s websites and social media channels, giving speeches, presentations and seminars, and publishing reports and guidance materials.

Media engagement is a particularly important element of CAV’s wider communications strategy.

It enables us to communicate with and provide information to a broad public audience who may otherwise be unaware of CAV’s work and Victorian consumer laws.

Public comment plays an important role in achieving compliance, and media communication is one of the most effective ways of educating consumers and businesses about their rights and obligations.

Broad communication about CAV’s activities provides transparency about our actions for which we are accountable to the public and to the government.

3. Limits on informing the public of our activities

The use of the media by CAV should at all times promote confidence in CAV’s law enforcement activities. There are a range of factors which limit our ability to comment on investigations. These include:

  • fairness to individuals, companies and businesses being investigated for alleged contraventions of Victorian laws
  • in the case of proceedings, respecting the court or tribunal’s processes to ensure a fair hearing of the issues in contention
  • legislative restrictions (certain material cannot be disclosed)
  • the need to safeguard confidential or sensitive information (such as commercial-in-confidence, price or market sensitive information or the existence or details of whistleblowers) and witnesses
  • the potential to jeopardise investigations through the untimely release of information
  • privacy legislation and guidelines.

4. Code of conduct

Subject to the exceptions and clarifications set out below, in relation to CAV’s enforcement activities which include actions CAV takes to identify, investigate, prosecute and resolve potential breaches of Victorian laws and regulations, CAV will:

  • refrain from commenting on its investigations
  • publicise the commencement of court or tribunal proceedings
  • link to those proceedings via social media
  • limit CAV’s public comments during the course of proceedings to matters of fact
  • report and comment on the outcome of proceedings, or other formal resolution of investigations, in a factually accurate and balanced manner which is consistent with the objectives of ensuring public understanding of the outcome and promoting compliance.

5. Investigations

CAV’s vision is a fair and competitive marketplace in Victoria.

As a market regulator, we work to prevent harm to consumers and businesses through a compliance approach that strongly emphasises prevention and careful targeting of enforcement action. This means we protect more consumers and businesses earlier, more efficiently and with more permanent effect.

Our key objective is voluntary compliance. We proactively engage with business to inform them of their responsibilities, and assist them to make sure they know how to comply. We work to ensure the law is clear, keeps pace with changing markets, and does not impose unnecessary red-tape.

We target enforcement to those that do the most harm, acting quickly against those that present the highest risk to Victorians.

Compliance and enforcement tools may include:

  • consumer education tools (e.g. advice via website or direct assistance)
  • trader education tools (e.g. information letter or education/compliance visit)
  • direct consumer assistance tools (e.g. conciliation)
  • investigative tools (e.g. inspection, warning letter outlining specific conduct or serving of statutory notices) , and
  • sanctions (e.g. infringement, enforceable undertaking or civil/criminal action).

Media approach to investigations

CAV does not comment on its enforcement investigations unless it is in the public interest. This is because of the potential detrimental effect that public commentary can have on the reputation of the parties under investigation.

However, in some circumstances it may be in the public interest to provide comment on an investigation. CAV will take a range of factors into account when considering whether making a statement about an investigation is in the public interest and outweighs the possible detrimental effect of public commentary. These include whether:

  • information about an investigation is already in the public domain
  • CAV has been publicly called upon to respond to an issue or undertake an investigation
  • comment is necessary in order to maintain public confidence that CAV is fulfilling its responsibility by investigating issues of public concern
  • comment is necessary for investigation purposes, for example, in order to encourage witnesses to come forward
  • making a statement could prevent widespread misconduct, or allay public concern.

In considering these factors, CAV will take a balanced and objective approach and will limit public comment to confirming the existence of an investigation and, where necessary, seeking information relevant to its investigation.

CAV is also at times limited or enabled by specific powers under Section 223 of the Australian Consumer Law (Victoria) and Section 228 of Australian Consumer Law and Fair Trading Act 2012.

The sections provide a framework for the Director, Consumer Affairs Victoria to issue public warning notices and statements. Where a statutory public warning statement is determined as appropriate, the media will be directed to this and will form part of the public record.

In circumstances where CAV confirms the existence of an investigation, we will usually limit further comment until the investigation is concluded. However, we may provide updates on the progress of the investigation if it is in the public interest to do so, particularly where the conduct being investigated continues to be of considerable public comment and debate.

Where an investigation is made public, CAV will usually make a statement at the conclusion of the investigation to report on the outcome.

6. Commencement of legal proceedings

CAV will publicise the commencement of legal proceedings by issuing a media release or news item. The media release will be appropriately worded and factually accurate, and provide details of the matters alleged by CAV, the redress sought and the reasons CAV has taken the action. The media release will be issued only by CAV, on the CAV website and be provided to media based on relevance, location of the respondents/defendants and the public interest.

We will generally issue a media release only after originating documents have been filed and served on or otherwise drawn to the attention of the other parties. In certain criminal matters, CAV may refrain from making comment until the first court appearance of the accused.

Following the commencement of legal proceedings, CAV may explain its enforcement action to the public in media interviews, and will confine its comments to the matters alleged in filed court or tribunal documents and its reasons for pursuing the proceedings. CAV will seek to confine public comment it makes to a period of 48 hours from the issue of its media release.

This does not preclude CAV, at any time, from:

  • linking to public statements concerning the commencement of legal proceedings via social media or other means
  • referring to the existence of the proceedings, or
  • clarifying issues of fact with the media.

7. Finalisation of legal proceedings and other enforcement outcomes

Where we have publicised the institution of proceedings, we will publicise the outcome of those proceedings by media release or court outcome on the CAV website and, where requested, media interviews. We may refer to the outcomes also in speeches, presentations, seminars and CAV’s annual report to Parliament.

This includes where CAV is successful, where the defendants/respondents are successful, or where the proceedings are withdrawn. In criminal proceedings, this includes where there is a successful prosecution or an acquittal.

If a matter is appealed, we will update the CAV website to reflect this and may externally publicise the appeal to relevant media outlets and its outcome through a media release.

Media releases are published on our website. We also include media release content such as headlines and links in our social media activities.

CAV will also issue a media release for other formal enforcement outcomes, including where the Director has accepted an enforceable undertaking offered by a party.

In some circumstances, CAV may publicise an administrative resolution of an enforcement investigation after providing notice to the parties.

CAV may, at its discretion, give advance notice of a public statement about an enforcement outcome to the parties concerned.

8. Media filming or accompanying CAV on operations

Any requests to film or accompany CAV on operations will be considered in context of the purpose of filming and the strategic benefit to CAV. These requests must be directed to the media team for CAV, and are subject to review by the relevant operational areas and Directors to determine whether this approach is appropriate, based on the Principles detailed in part 2 and part 5 above.

Filming requests are generally subject to strict legal contracts which give CAV veto rights prior to broadcast. When CAV exercises its right to veto footage, it must not be broadcast by the media outlet or production company. To do so would be in breach of the contract.

Media will also be provided with specific advice about what can and cannot be filmed or broadcast and the extent of media involvement, for instance, under some laws the powers of entry to certain premises may be restricted to CAV badged officers only. At all times media will follow the direction of the CAV officer in charge.

Any exercise where the media accompany CAV on an operation should inform or reassure the public, or help prevent detriment and improve compliance, and must not:

  • compromise a CAV investigation or operation
  • jeopardise court proceedings
  • disclose operating procedures or investigative methodology
  • disclose personal information
  • potentially identify persons that have not agreed to be filmed
  • cause distress to victims and others
  • cause community unrest.

As such, if approval is granted for the media to accompany CAV on an operation, representatives will be asked to sign a contract that relates to confidentiality and CAV’s review and veto rights.

A risk assessment must be conducted before approval is given. The primary focus of the assessment is the safety of the media, the public and CAV staff. If the risk is identified as high the media activity must not be approved.

If after the risk assessment the media activity is approved all members of the media accompanying CAV on an operation will be required to sign an indemnity contract absolving CAV of any and all liability for injury or otherwise arising as a result of participation.

The media presence should be factored into the operation planning, including the risk assessment. In the exercise briefing, CAV staff must be instructed on the media presence, particularly regarding safety and behaviour in these situations. Behaviour must always be the same as expected in all public dealings and not be influenced by the presence of media.

If a situation arises which is dangerous, the media must immediately comply with directions by CAV staff. If the media refuse to comply, or if the incident being attended becomes high risk, the media activity must be terminated.

On occasion, CAV may also use its own resources to provide footage to media to illustrate a story or promote its compliance work.

All decisions about filming or media accompanying CAV on operations may be subject to veto by the Director of Consumer Affairs.

9. Reporting and review

From time to time, but at least once each three years, CAV will review the effectiveness of the code in supporting the principles set out in Part 2 of this code.

10. Spokespeople

CAV’s authorised spokesperson is the Director of Consumer Affairs Victoria, or where delegated a CAV Director. The Strategic Communications Branch may also be identified as a CAV spokesperson (generally for print only). In matters involving a regional or specialised focus, a General or Regional Manager, or specialist officer may also be authorised to speak for CAV.

11. Contact the CAV media team

The CAV media team can be contacted on 03 8684 0313.