“How much do we value press freedom? We, like the vast majority of journalists, would pick jail or a contempt charge over revealing a confidential source in court.”
Nick McKenzie, Fairfax Media
The Turnbull Government’s National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017, introduced on the last sitting day of Parliament in 2017, would criminalise all steps of news reporting and poses a grave threat to press freedom in this country.
One leading academic says the Bill would make Australia the worst nation in the free world for criminalising journalism. Peter Greste says the laws are a gross over-reach and make it “incredibly difficult” for journalists to do their duty of holding governments to account.
The Bill would make it a crime for anyone to “receive” and “handle” certain national security information. A journalist in possession of a document classified “top secret” could face 20 years in jail — even if they never broadcast or publish a story.
The result is that fair scrutiny and public interest reporting is increasingly difficult and there is a real risk that journalists could go to jail for doing their jobs. It also undermines the ability of journalists to work with their sources, including whistleblowers, on important news stories.
This applies to not only journalists but other editorial staff and support staff that knows of the information, from sub-editors and designers to even the receptionist who is handed a classified document.
Public interest defences for journalists are so broad and subjective at a time when accusations of “fake news” are raised so readily, that they offer no protection at all.
This Bill is just the latest in a raft of strict national security and anti-terror measures and have undermined the ability of the news media to report on matters in the public interest and to play its role in a health democracy by keeping Australians informed about their environment and communities. There have been 67 pieces of “national security” legislation passed since September 2001.
MEAA, along with all major media publishers and broadcasters, says the Bill should not proceed unless there is a robust general public interest/news reporting defence for both the secrecy and espionage elements.
In the name of press freedom and government accountability, we call on the Turnbull government to withdraw the Bill until it is rewritten to protect journalists from criminal prosecution.
“A functioning democracy requires freedom of expression, freedom of the press and transparency of reportage.”
“This bill is 1984-type stuff, and it’s a threat to our democracy.”
“A democratic country needs journalists doing their job without fear of the government.”
“A robust properly resourced free press is essential to a healthy democracy.”
“That’s right ….criminalize the truth tellers. NOT WHILE I STILL DRAW BREATH.”
“Freedom of press essential to a thriving Democracy. Important to hold governments accountable!!! ”
“A free press is fundamental to our democracy. These freedoms are being put at risk by over-reach of national security laws.”
“I believe in freedom of the press to hold governments accountable to the people.”
“This is bill was never about terrorism or national security, it is just about the government trying to avoid embarrassment and scrutiny. Australia is better then this.”
“This is a Bill that Turnbull’s pal, Trump, would love. I hope that we are not falling into that abyss.”
“Because news is a basic right for all people, so why should the people keeping us informed of what’s happening in the world be turned into criminals?? ”
“I call on the Government to stop wasting its time, and our time, and withdraw this Bill. If the Government has nothing to hide, then it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“I am appalled by the freedom of speech implications of this bill.”
“Australia’s journalists need to continue reporting the truth and matters that vitally concern members of the public. Don’t let the Turnbull Government hinder free speech”
“Journalists have to have the freedom to hold our government ( elected by the people ) accountable. This Bill is clearly against the public interest and severely limiting freedom of the press.”
“Freedom of the press is essential in a democracy, as is freedom of speech. I call on the Turnbull government to withdraw the Bill until it is rewritten to protect journalists from criminal prosecution.”
“A free press is a critical part of a democratic society. Do we want to become like Egypt and lock up journo’s whom are just doing their jobs? Go and see ‘The Post’ about the Pentagon Papers.”
“How thin skinned do you have to be not to take criticism. This is Soviet style control and not surprising from Christian Porter authoritarian instincts.”
“Press freedom is important to our democracy”
“I’m opposed to fascism.”
“Do not criminalise journalism. Press freedom and accountability are essential to a healthy democracy.”
“This proposed legislation is not the way to go. It harms journalists and news organizations who are simply trying to do their jobs. It is following the route established by the Nazis in the mid 30s. We are better than that. The “national security” argument is trite and way overstated”
“Because these laws undermine the ability of journalists to work with sources and do our jobs. Please think about the wider ramifications before you doing this.”
“an unfree press is the road to fascism.”
“Informative Journalism is for the governed – NOT for the governors to control or manipulate.”
“free press is a fundamental requirement of a democratic society
“This is such a dangerous move. Too many power grabs are made in the name of ‘.security’. 1984 is here again”
“This is Bill is alarming and a dangerous overkill – prompting concern about the government’s darkly mixed motives. It cannot go through as a Bill that allows then even encourages prosecution and punishment of free – and necessarily uncomfortable at times – journalism.”
“This government continually goes to far in the name of National Security. They need to be stopped.”
“Journalism is about presenting truth with all its complexity. Journos are fundamentally truth seekers. We know some have gone to the dark side but essentially individuals attracted to journalism want to nut out what’s really going on. They are the wombats and badgers and beavers of the human race digging deep looking for good food.”
“What is the Government trying to hide,they just would like us all to be followers.As far as we are concerned they lie thru their teeth.”
“Freedom of the press is sacred.”
“I dont want our country to become a state with no freedom of speech. All opinions should count.”
“Governments are very secretive as to what their dealings are with big business,the banks and multi national companies. Therefore investigative journalism is another source of dealings that should be in the public domain”
“This could only be deemed necessary by a government who does not want the people who pay it to serve to know what they are really doing. This is an extension of persecuting those that have told us he reality of government actions such as Nauru, negative gearing, immigration, the TPP, mining and taxation laws that were not publicised in full.”
“It is on the public interest for journalists to be able to report the news unhindered by the threat of prosecution.”
“Without a free, quality press there can be no democracy.”
“Press freedom is a crucial pillar of our democracy. Journalists should not face prosecution for doing their job. I hope that in Australia, we are better than this.”
“Far too dangerous. Who do you trust? And fix numerous other invasions while you’re at it.”
“If we lose the free press, we can lose everything.”
“Freedom of press is vtal for a thriving democracy”
“The Turnbull Government’s National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017, introduced on the last sitting day of Parliament in 2017, would criminalise all steps of news reporting and poses a grave threat to press freedom in this country.”
It goes without saying that in an open democracy, a robust free press is essential.
Press freedom allows journalists to scrutinise and report accurately on governments, big corporations and the powerful in our society.
Only with genuine press freedom can we, the voters, make informed decisions at the ballot box every couple of years. Without it, the public can be kept in the dark about what is really going on and what governments do in our name.
In Australia recently, we have seen changes that threaten to restrict press freedom, constrain the way journalists work, and muzzle legitimate news stories from becoming public.
It is no exaggeration to say that when these changes are combined, they represent the greatest assault on press freedom in Australia in peacetime and legitimate journalism in the public interest is being “criminalised”.
And of course, press freedom is a global issue.
Around the world, our colleagues face government intimidation, restrictions on free speech, arrests and violence, and even death as they go about their jobs of exposing corruption, injustice and abuses of power. Worse still, the killers of journalists are getting away with murder because of the global problem of impunity.
Australian journalists working overseas are not immune from these attacks; just ask Peter Greste or the Four Corners team recently detained in Malaysia. But also think about the failure of successive Australian governments to bring to justice the killers of the Balibo Five, Roger East, Paul Moran, Juanita Nielsen and Tony Joyce.
Campaigning for press freedom, for the right of journalists to go about their business without harassment, persecution or censorship, is at the very core of the work of MEAA.
Criminalising Journalism – the MEAA Report into the state of Press Freedom in Australia in 2018, is available to view online at www.pressfreedom.org.au.
Sign up to keep in touch with the Press Freedom Australia campaign.
And follow the campaign on Facebook.