Senate Inquiry Urges Reforms To Protect Press Freedom

Senate Inquiry Urges Reforms To Protect Press Freedom
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The Senate inquiry into press freedom has made 17 recommendations related to the rights of the Australian media.

Chaired by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the inquiry was established after raids by the police on high profile News Corp and ABC journalists in 2019.

NewsCorp’s Annika Smethurst had her home raided, and ABC’s Sydney headquarters were raided, both amid alleged issues of national security.

ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark were pursued over their publication of the Afghan Files, which exposed allegations of war crimes by Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan.

Neither Smethurst, Oakes, or Clark had charges pressed against them, despite lengthy investigations.

The committee recommended that Australia remove the “onus on journalist defendants to establish that an unauthorised disclosure is in the public interest” and instead require the prosecution to prove that secrecy or nondisclosure offenses are not in the public interest.

They also recommended that the government conduct an independent review of law enforcement and national security laws, and that they develop material to help journalists and media organisations comply with secrecy and unauthorised disclosure provisions, among others.

Media organisations have been calling for increased protection for journalists, and for defense of press freedom, since the raids. News Corp, Nine, ABC, and SBS joined to create the ‘Right to Know Commission’, which calls for greater freedom of the press.

According to the report’s conclusions, “the committee heard that there are multiple factors which contribute to an environment where press freedom is under­valued and a pervasive chilling ­effect significantly undermines public interest disclosures and public interest journalism, with consequent impacts on the role of the media in the Australian democracy.”

“Clearly, there is recognition of the need for urgent reform.”

“The committee urges the Australian Government and the Parliament to give
serious consideration to the issue of press freedom in Australia.”

The inquiry also recommended that the prosecution of David McBride, whistleblower on ABC’s Afghan Files, be reconsidered.

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