Espionage Bill will criminalise journalism
The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 threatens to curtail the ability of journalists to continue to report in the public interest on national security issues and will criminalise legitimate journalism in the public interest by threatening not only people who “communicate” certain information but also those who “deal” (i.e. handle) such information.
The proposed laws were introduced into Parliament on the final sitting day of 2017 and have greater restrictions and penalties for disclosures of classified information.
MEAA CEO Paul Murphy says it is just the latest in a series of national security laws that target free speech. MEAA has also launched a petition addressed to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Attorney-General Christian Porter.
In a joint submission with the other media organisations, MEAA warns the Bill “criminalises all steps of news reporting, from gathering and researching of information to publication/communication, and applies criminal risk to journalists, other editorial staff and support staff that know of the information that is now an offence to ‘deal’ with, hold and communicate. 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.”
MEAA is a member of the Joint Media Organisations that made a submission outlining their concerns over the Bill. On Tuesday this week, MEAA together with major broadcasters and publishers, fronted a public hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to highlight the threats to press freedom contained in the Bill.
Other members of the Joint Media Organisations are Australian Associated Press, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Australian Subscription Television and Radio Association, Bauer Media Group, Commercial Radio Australia, Community Broadcasting Association of Australia, Fairfax Media, Free TV Australia, HT&E, News Corp Australia, NewsMediaWorks, the Special Broadcasting Service and The West Australian.
These latest national security amendment laws continue to undermine the ability of the news media to report in the public interest and keep Australians informed about their environment and communities.
The Bill criminalises all steps of news reporting, from gathering and researching of information to publication/communication, and applies criminal risk to journalists, other editorial staff and support staff that knows of the information that is now an offence to "deal" with, hold and communicate. And this is another example where national security laws are being used to target, persecute and prosecute whistleblowers. MEAA believes that when you are going after whistleblowers, you are going after journalism.
The end result is that proper scrutiny and public interest reporting is made increasingly difficult and there is a real risk that journalists could go to jail for simply doing their jobs: reporting legitimate news stories that the public has a right to know, especially about what governments are doing in our name.
MEAA, together with the other major media organisations, recommend that a general public interest/news reporting defence be available for all of the relevant provisions in both the secrecy and espionage elements of the Bill. This is the only way to ensure public interest reporting can continue and Australians are informed of what is going on in their country. "Without a robust public interest /news reporting defence we do not support the passage of the Bill," the organisations say in their submission.