Three big news organisations in Australia yesterday (June 26) called for stronger protection for press freedom – declaring media laws outdated, inconsistent and used to keep information secret.
News Corp Australia, Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) and Nine Entertainment – which has TV and publishing divisions – made a unified public declaration at the National Press Club in an attempt to ameliorate a hostile legal climate in Australia which they say which leads to police raids, harsh court rulings and the prosecutions of journalists.
Whilst concern about the deteriorating situation for the free press in Australia has been growing for some time, the catalyst for action was the brazen raid by the Australian Federal Police on the apartment of Annika Smethhurst, a News Corp journalist. The following day the authorities raided the ABC headquarters in Sydney. Both of these raids were done on the pretext of journalists acquiring leaked information which could undermine national security.
Michael Miller, News Corp executive chairman for Australia and New Zealand. blasted the raids in his speech at the National Press Club: “The raids … were intimidation, not investigation.”
David Anderson, ABC managing director, stressed the importance of a free press which was ‘not being matched by the reality. Our journalists have too many impediments in their path including the unacceptable risk of being treated as criminals.”
Nine chief executive Hugh Marks said: ‘The balance in the national security debate is now too weighted towards secrecy and away from the public’s right to know.’
The three men represent the views of Australia’s Right to Know Coalition, which includes Guardian Australia, Australian Associated Press, the West Australian, Bauer Media, subscription and free-to-air television, community broadcasting, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and commercial radio.
The media executives handed out a six-point plan that includes a review of defamation law, protections for public-sector whistleblowers, stronger freedom of information scheme and a new regime that limits which documents can be stamped secret.