In a country without constitutional freedom of speech and the press barred even from reporting the names of people found guilty at trials, Australia’s three largest media organizations teamed up to fight back after police raids they said were aimed at muzzling the press.
The companies – News Corp., the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Nine Entertainment – demanded legal reforms to prevent journalists from facing jail over accurately reporting stories that challenge government credibility.
The otherwise competing media groups came together in the face of a full-court press by the government to silence journalists after two raids by police looking for the sources of leaked documents. This included an ABC story about alleged war crimes by the Australian military in Afghanistan, with a former military lawyer turned whistleblowing facing prison.
The organizations want journalists exempt from national security laws passed since 2012 that “would put them in jail for doing their jobs,” officials from the companies said according to Associated Press. ABC Managing Director David Anderson said government rhetoric about the importance of a free press was “not being matched by the reality”.
“Our journalists have too many impediments in their path, including the unacceptable risk of being treated as criminals,” Anderson said as the heads of the groups talked to the National Press Club. “Clearly we are at a crossroads. We can be a society that is secret and afraid to confront sometimes uncomfortable truths, or we can protect those who courageously promote transparency, stand up to intimidation, and shed light on those truths to the benefit of all citizens,” he added.
News Corp. Australia Executive Chairman Michael Miller said the raids, including one on the home of Annika Smethurst, Political Editor of Sydney’s The Sunday Telegraph, were “intimidation, not investigation.”
“But there is a deeper problem — the culture of secrecy,” Miller said. “Too many people who frame policy, write laws, control information and conduct court hearings have stopped believing that the public’s right to know comes first.”
Nine Chief Executive Hugh said, “Bad legislation on several fronts and probably overzealous officials … in the judiciary, in the bureaucracy and our security services have steadily eroded the freedoms under which we, the media, can operate.”
“Put simply, it’s more risky, it’s more expensive to do journalism that makes a real difference in this country than it ever has been before,” Marks said.