Australia Government Operating Under Veil of Secrecy, Media Advocates Say

Democracy in Australia is under pressure, according to media advocates, who are urging the Australian government to implement a backlog of reforms to laws around national security, freedom of information, and defamation so journalists in Australia can do their job. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) is calling on the Albanese government to instigate reforms to ensure that the media can keep the public informed about what the government and the country’s institutions are doing in their name. MEAA Media Federal President Karen Percy said that over the past five years, Australia had slid down the ranks for press freedom to just 39th place in 2022 from 19th in 2019, according to Reporters Sans Frontières. “In Australia, we like to think of ourselves as progressive and world leaders when it comes to democracy, with a free media playing an important role in ensuring our democracy functions effectively,” she said. “But over the years, little by little, law by law, regulation by regulation, amendment by amendment, journalists and media outlets—and more importantly, the public’s right to know—have been squeezed in the name of national security.” Percy said the tightening of national security laws over a number of years had placed a “veil of secrecy” over much of the operations of government and seen journalists placed in danger of prison terms for being in possession of classified documents without even having published or broadcast a story on the information. She called on the Albanese government to protect whistle-blowers and urgently reform the defamation laws and freedom of information processes. “Another area that needs urgent change is our defamation laws which favour the rich and are designed to muzzle brave reporting,” she said. “Too many important stories never see the light of day because of the chilling effect these outdated laws have on journalism.” Former Jailed Journalist Calls Australian National Security Laws Draconian The call by the MEAA was echoed by Australian journalist Peter Greste, who has become a key campaigner for press freedom after he was jailed in Egypt while working on a story. Greste said the federal government needs to make substantive legislative reform to improve protections for journalists. “Australia is now at 39th position on the world press freedom index and that’s down from the high of 19 just about four years ago,” Greste told Sky News Australia. “Slipping 20 places over the past four or five years is, frankly, catastrophic (and) we’ve got to do something to improve the state of press freedom in this country.” He said the combination of “draconian” national security laws and highly concentrated media ownership created a difficult situation for journalists in Australia. “It’s not just about journalists’ freedom (because) journalists are only as good as their sources,” he said. “If we’re seeing whistleblowers being prosecuted, then it has a very chilling effect right across the industry.” Western Australian Police Search Homes of Two Journalists The comments from the press freedom advocates come as the Western Australian (WA) police reportedly searched the home and office of two journalists in Western Australia. According to the MEAA, the police seized a computer, phone, and SD card related to the work of the journalists. MEAA Media Director Cassie Derrick said in a press release on May 2, that journalists and their sources must be protected from disturbing raids and harassment from police. “From the information to hand, the WA police have urgent questions to answer about these raids,” she said. “Police have seized and retained property on what appear to be questionable grounds. The equipment seized contains confidential information that could jeopardise sources and prevents these journalists from being able to do their job of informing the public. “We are calling for the WA Police Minister to investigate the behaviour of the police in these cases and to publicly report the outcome of these investigations.” Derrick argued that the bottom line was that this type of police activity “utterly undermines journalism and the public’s right to knowledge.” “That these property seizures have taken place in the same week as World Press Freedom Day makes it even more important that this property is returned urgently.”

Australia Government Operating Under Veil of Secrecy, Media Advocates Say

Democracy in Australia is under pressure, according to media advocates, who are urging the Australian government to implement a backlog of reforms to laws around national security, freedom of information, and defamation so journalists in Australia can do their job.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) is calling on the Albanese government to instigate reforms to ensure that the media can keep the public informed about what the government and the country’s institutions are doing in their name.

MEAA Media Federal President Karen Percy said that over the past five years, Australia had slid down the ranks for press freedom to just 39th place in 2022 from 19th in 2019, according to Reporters Sans Frontières.

“In Australia, we like to think of ourselves as progressive and world leaders when it comes to democracy, with a free media playing an important role in ensuring our democracy functions effectively,” she said.

“But over the years, little by little, law by law, regulation by regulation, amendment by amendment, journalists and media outlets—and more importantly, the public’s right to know—have been squeezed in the name of national security.”

Percy said the tightening of national security laws over a number of years had placed a “veil of secrecy” over much of the operations of government and seen journalists placed in danger of prison terms for being in possession of classified documents without even having published or broadcast a story on the information.

She called on the Albanese government to protect whistle-blowers and urgently reform the defamation laws and freedom of information processes.

“Another area that needs urgent change is our defamation laws which favour the rich and are designed to muzzle brave reporting,” she said. “Too many important stories never see the light of day because of the chilling effect these outdated laws have on journalism.”

Former Jailed Journalist Calls Australian National Security Laws Draconian

The call by the MEAA was echoed by Australian journalist Peter Greste, who has become a key campaigner for press freedom after he was jailed in Egypt while working on a story.

Greste said the federal government needs to make substantive legislative reform to improve protections for journalists.

“Australia is now at 39th position on the world press freedom index and that’s down from the high of 19 just about four years ago,” Greste told Sky News Australia.

“Slipping 20 places over the past four or five years is, frankly, catastrophic (and) we’ve got to do something to improve the state of press freedom in this country.”

He said the combination of “draconian” national security laws and highly concentrated media ownership created a difficult situation for journalists in Australia.

“It’s not just about journalists’ freedom (because) journalists are only as good as their sources,” he said.

“If we’re seeing whistleblowers being prosecuted, then it has a very chilling effect right across the industry.”

Western Australian Police Search Homes of Two Journalists

The comments from the press freedom advocates come as the Western Australian (WA) police reportedly searched the home and office of two journalists in Western Australia.

According to the MEAA, the police seized a computer, phone, and SD card related to the work of the journalists.

MEAA Media Director Cassie Derrick said in a press release on May 2, that journalists and their sources must be protected from disturbing raids and harassment from police.

“From the information to hand, the WA police have urgent questions to answer about these raids,” she said.

“Police have seized and retained property on what appear to be questionable grounds. The equipment seized contains confidential information that could jeopardise sources and prevents these journalists from being able to do their job of informing the public.

“We are calling for the WA Police Minister to investigate the behaviour of the police in these cases and to publicly report the outcome of these investigations.”

Derrick argued that the bottom line was that this type of police activity “utterly undermines journalism and the public’s right to knowledge.”

“That these property seizures have taken place in the same week as World Press Freedom Day makes it even more important that this property is returned urgently.”