Too many journalists are being imprisoned for doing their job. That’s the sentiment coming from Paul Murphy, CEO of the Media, Entertainments and Arts Alliance (MEAA) on World Press Freedom Day, May 3.
“On this World Press Freedom Day it is worth remembering the slogan: Journalism is not a crime,” he said.
“But under a raft of laws passed by the Parliament with bipartisan support, journalists reporting legitimate news stories in the public interest can be locked up in prison for up to 10 years.”
Chair of the Australian Press Council David Weisbrot said while there’s many worse places to be a reporter in the world, Australia must not be complacent.
“Australia ranks 25th out of 180 nations in the World Press Freedom Index, so there are many worse places to be a reporter. However, we used to be ranked higher and we must not be complacent. Australia is the only democracy without a constitutional or statutory bill of rights protecting free speech and press freedom.
“Our whistle-blower protections are poor and rapidly going backwards and sadly our Freedom of Information regimes are also deteriorating. Given that free speech and press freedom critically underpin our democratic way of life, we need to be much more active and vocal in protecting these rights, and ensuring they are front and centre in public debates.”
News Corp CEO Michael Miller said we should never give in to governmental pressure. “Press freedom is crucial for democracy and freedom of speech,” he said. “We should be thankful for many freedoms we enjoy in Australia but must continue to oppose strenuously government attempts to restrict press reporting and the public’s right to know.
“In recent times governments have launched unprecedented efforts to limit reporting on matters of serious public interest and national security that have gone too far. We should never give an inch in opposing these threats to press freedom.”
Even in our own government, MEAA’s Murphy said there’s too many attacks on press freedom, alluding to the recent case of Guardian journalist Paul Farrell’s whose metadata was accessed by the Australian Federal Police.
“Such a process not only seeks to identify the confidential source in question but also threatens to compromise every one of the journalist’s sources,” he said, in the foreward to the union’s annual press freedom report, to be released this coming Friday.
“In order to further persecute and prosecute whistleblowers, the government has now equipped itself with the two-year mandatory metadata retention laws, and the Journalist Information Warrants that accompany them. Journalists’ telecommunications data can be secretly accessed by 21 government agencies.
“All this because government is embarrassed: not because a news story is wrong but because it’s true and everyone knows it. So press freedom and the public’s right to know are being trampled on in a mockery of open and transparent government.”
He expressed his disappointment in the Government’s movements in “pursuing journalists and their sources and criminalising legitimate journalism in the public interest and denying the public’s right to know with pressure mounting to further deny information from becoming public”.
“There is a great deal of effort being expended by government to avoid legitimate scrutiny,” he continued.
“And it’s getting worse. These attacks on press freedom undermine democracy and, once started, it is very hard to turn back the tide.”
Murphy urged Aussie politicians to protect press freedom, and to remember the journalists who have been killed for their profession – nine in Australia in the past 40 years, he said.
“Today, and in this election year, MEAA calls on Australia’s politicians to take positive action to promote and protect press freedom in Australia, to enable and encourage open and transparent government through freedom of information, and calls on the Government to thoroughly review the laws that criminalise journalism and suppress the public’s right to know,” said Murphy.
The MEAA is releasing its annual press freedom report this coming Friday.