Media leaders unite to demand change to protect our right to know

• The three media leaders united in calling on the government to change existing laws

The leaders of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Nine and News Corp Australia have today called for better protections of media freedom in a joint presentation at the National Press Club (NPC) in Canberra.

The live television forum followed on from Australian Federal Police raids on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the offices of the ABC and saw the three media leaders united in calling on the government to change existing laws to protect the Australian public’s right to know.

Together David Anderson (Managing Director of ABC), Hugh Marks (CEO of Nine), Michael Miller (Executive Chairman of News Corp Australasia) outlined increasing secrecy around national security, the persecution and lack of protection for legitimate whistle blowers, Australia’s defamation laws, and the rise and lack of transparency around suppression laws as four areas hindering public interest journalism.

The laws being called out by the media organisations for reform today are:

• The right to contest any kind of search warrant on journalists or news organisations before the warrant is issued.
• Public sector whistleblowers be adequately protected with current laws to be changed.
• A new regime that limits which documents can be stamped ‘secret’.
• A proper review of Freedom of Information laws.
• Journalists be exempted from the national security laws enacted over the last seven years that can put them in jail for just doing their jobs.

David Anderson, Managing Director of the ABC, said: “The rhetoric of the importance of a free media to Australian democracy is not being matched by the reality. Journalists are increasingly accused of crimes for performing their job. Whistleblowers, whose brave interventions are so important to identifying wrongdoing, run the risk of being cowed out of existence. Freedom of Information (FOI) has failed to deliver transparency. Defamation laws appear only to protect the rich and powerful.”

Hugh Marks, CEO of Nine, said: “As a society we shouldn’t fear truth. We shouldn’t fear debate. We shouldn’t fear opinions. The Australian public’s right to know makes our democracy function. We are operating at a time when a combination of factors – including technological change, bad legislation across several fronts and overzealous officials in the judiciary, bureaucracy and security services – have steadily eroded the freedom within which we the media can operate.”

Michael Miller, Executive Chairman of News Corp Australasia, said: “We support laws that keep Australia and journalists safe. We believe in being tough on terrorism and strong on border security. With the current laws, journalists, and even support staff, face jail for handling information which they may not even know is secret or sensitive. We do not accept that safety has to equal secrecy.”

Photo: Steve Lewis

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