2015-12-03 20:38:36 #MEAAMedia #walkleys Speeches

This is an edited version of the speech delivered by MEAA CEO Paul Murphy at the 60th annual Walkley Awards in Melbourne on 3 December 2015.

Earlier this year the Walkley Foundation recognised the Freelance Journalist of the year for 2015. The award, sponsored by NewZulu, was taken by photojournalist Andrew Quilty for his outstanding body of work. Andrew is on assignment in Afghanistan and so can’t be with us tonight, but we send him our best and again recognise that achievement.

Tonight is a celebration of the best that journalism has to offer. I commend all the finalists for having their hard work recognised and, on behalf of MEAA, wish you all the very best as the night progresses.

The stories we see being recognised tonight represent great journalism: the ability to bring an important story before our communities, and to tell that story well.

They reflect the fundamental principles of journalism – respect for the truth and the public’s right to know.  Principles fundamental to the health of our democracy.

But in the last twelve months, the Australian Parliament has passed laws which undermine these basic principles.

Of course, now more than ever, it is essential that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to protect us. But in our view, the legislation rushed through Parliament in the last year, without adequate debate and discussion, has got the balance between security and freedom wrong.

Laws that threaten whistleblowers with lengthy jail terms for speaking the truth about mistakes by government agencies, about fraud, corruption and threats to public safety.

Laws that threaten journalists with lengthy jail terms for reporting in the public interest what governments do in our name.

And of course the new data retention provisions with only the flimsiest protection for journalists. 21 government agencies can apply for a warrant to get your data. That application will be heard and determined in secret. You will never know. And if you were to find out and report about it, you can be imprisoned for up to two years.

These provisions attack the fundamental relationship between journalists and sources, and undermine the integrity of public interest journalism.

We all need to maintain pressure on our politicians to review these laws and restore a proper balance to protect the public’s right to know.

Attacks on press freedom take many forms. In much of the world, the most ghastly is the ongoing impunity that allows assaults and murders of journalists to go unpunished.

It is 40 years since five of our colleagues were killed in Balibo. And Tuesday next week marks 40 years since freelance journalist Roger East was murdered in Dili. MEAA this year launched a scholarship fund in the name of these six journalists, which will go towards developing the skills of journalists in East Timor.

And last month marked six years since the Ampatuan Massacre in the Philippines – 58 people dead including 32 of our journalist colleagues – and yet still there has been no justice, with dozens of the suspects in the massacre remaining at large and not a single person prosecuted.

We continue to campaign for justice in all these cases. But we need your help. A decade ago we established the Media, Safety and Solidarity Fund to assist colleagues in the Asia-Pacific region through times of emergency, war and hardship.

We’ll shortly explain how you can support those efforts tonight.

It is an unfortunate truth that journalism remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. This year has been no exception.