Legislation is needed urgently to protect the public’s right to know
The country’s three most powerful media executives united today to defend press freedom, demanding urgent legislation to protect journalists and whistleblowers in the wake of the twin federal police raids on the ABC and the home of News Corp’s Annika Smethurst earlier this month. ABC managing director David Anderson described the trio as an “unlikely coalition of the willing”, adding that “decriminalising journalism is the mandatory first step”. Nine chief Hugh Marks called for an immediate overhaul of the mess of laws affecting press freedom – “the stuff of pantomime, were it not so serious”. News Corp Australia executive chairman Michael Miller said the purpose of the raids was “intimidation, not investigation”, and directed his closing line to Scott Morrison, who has left the door open to legislative reform if necessary, saying, “Prime Minister, the evidence is in.” But though the media chiefs have united behind a wish list, a key question went unanswered today. “Is anything happening?” asked outgoing Sky News Australia host David Speers. Miller conceded: “We’re not necessarily getting the traction that we need. We will continue to push.”
As Guardian Australia’s Amanda Meade reported this morning, the three media organisations are part of a united push to protect the public’s right to know. Media organisations involved in the campaign include Guardian Australia, Australian Associated Press, The West Australian, Bauer Media, Schwartz Media (owner of The Monthly) and the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which last week issued an open letter calling for prompt action. They are joined by representatives of subscription and free-to-air television, community broadcasting and commercial radio. The media has united behind a six-point plan that includes a review of defamation law, protections for public-sector whistleblowers, a stronger freedom of information scheme, a new regime that limits which documents can be stamped “secret”, an exemption for journalists from tough new national security laws in the name of public interest reporting, and for all warrants to be contestable.
The media executives have agreed that a mooted Senate inquiry is not necessary, although Anderson noted that Monash University’s Johan Lindberg had identified 64 pieces of national security legislation since the September 11 attacks in 2001 that limited the public’s right to know. Asked by Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy whether the media had given too little attention to tranches of national security legislation that impinge on press freedom – or if, when they did, they had too often taken the opportunity to criticise each other – the three men suggested there was likely to be more unity going forward. Marks admitted that it was a “fair criticism” and said, “We’ve boiled the frog here.” He said today’s event at the National Press Club was “just the start” of a campaign to tell the public why they should care about press freedom.
Today’s event comes as both the ABC and News Corp have indicated that they will challenge the AFP raids, and Miller today called on Attorney-General Christian Porter to state unequivocally that the journalists raided this month would not be subject to criminal prosecution. It also comes after a court ruling that media should be held liable for defamatory comments posted on Facebook, which investigative journalist Michael Bachelard has warned will have a chilling effect, and a Guardian Australia exclusive in which a whistleblower has revealed a culture in the prime minister’s department of delaying freedom-of-information applications to avoid political embarrassment.
MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy told me that he had never seen such unity in the media, and that there was no need for a parliamentary inquiry – which could become a “can-kicking exercise” – given the urgent need for reform. “The positions that were put forward today, the industry’s been unified on those positions for a long time,” Murphy said, “because we’ve had to make submissions to every piece of national security legislation that’s come through. There’ve been a lot of hearings before the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security that we’ve fronted up and given verbal evidence to, and answered questions. At this stage we need to see a response from the government and opposition, to some of these specific things.”
Murphy said that he was optimistic the government would act. He attended yesterday’s “Defending the Whistleblowers” event at the Melbourne Press Club, where Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick, ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle and journalist Adele Ferguson spoke. At the event, Patrick called for an end to the prosecution of Boyle. Murphy said it emerged in questioning from host Michael Rowland that Boyle was subject to travel restrictions. “He had to go to a court hearing before a magistrate to get approval to travel to Melbourne, to go to the event,” said Murphy. “It’s tinpot dictatorship stuff. It’s unbelievable.”
“The Victorian government needs to come clean on what its plan is and explain to the Victorian people why they are happy to undermine the reliability of their electricity system. They are having no impact on global emissions and global temperature; they’re too small to have an impact.”
Federal minister for energy and emissions reduction Angus Taylor has a crack at Victoria for reducing emissions.
Protest in Hong Kong
As millions protest on the streets of Hong Kong, the democratic freedoms promised in the handover to China are being tested. Louisa Lim on the character of the movement and the changes for which it is asking.
The record low proportion of Australians who trust China to act responsibly, according to a Lowy Institute poll, a 20-point plunge from the survey in 2018 (although this is higher than the proportion who trust US president Donald Trump to be a positive global actor).
“It is now evident that the US believes that the rule-based trading system – in its current form – is not capable of dealing with China’s economic structure and policy practices. Many of these concerns are legitimate. Forced technology transfer is unfair. Intellectual property theft cannot be justified. Industrial subsidies are promoting over-production. China’s rise has now reached a threshold level of economic maturity.”
“The word ‘culture’ comes from the Latin cultura, which means ‘agriculture’. It shares roots with the word colonia – the ancestor of the English word ‘colony’ – which in Latin means farmed or settled land. Language – in this case, etymology – can be a rope around our tongue, tying us to history, and to the stories of the past. Those stories are often unpleasant but it is our responsibility to reckon with them.”
“If Australians want our essential community services to be delivered by the best possible staff, a right to select employees based on religion must never be enshrined in law. We need to defend the services everyone pays for, most people will use at some point in their lives, and generations of Australians fought to create as an integral component of a just, inclusive and compassionate society.”
“The nerd in me is still utterly fascinated by what parliaments do in the abstract sense. Here is a physical place structured to make and justify binding decisions, an architecture of choice and consequence. On induction – well after election but well before you get to take your seat – you get three days of Senate School, conducted by people who live and breathe the building’s sombre role as a brake on tyranny ... My political theory – that we should all just be nicer to each other – was dashed before I’d even started.”
Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?
The country’s three most powerful media executives united today to defend press freedom, demanding urgent legislation to protect journalists and whistleblowers in the wake of the twin federal police raids on the ABC and the home of News Corp’s Annika Smethurst earlier this month. ABC managing director David Anderson described the trio as an “unlikely coalition of the willing”, adding that “decriminalising journalism is the mandatory first step”. Nine chief Hugh Marks called for an immediate overhaul of the mess of laws affecting press freedom – “the stuff of pantomime, were it not so serious”. News Corp Australia executive chairman Michael Miller said the purpose of the raids was “intimidation, not investigation”, and directed his closing line to Scott...