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AustraliaPress freedom inquiry must have wide terms of reference

23:36  11 july  2019
23:36  11 july  2019 Source:   watoday.com.au

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Britain's new Press Freedom Commissioner, Amal Clooney, said this week that at a time when dictators are mocking the very idea of a free An inquiry is certainly needed but it should be given the widest terms of reference possible to allow it to identify where the threats to press freedom lie and

An inquiry is certainly needed but it should be given the widest terms of reference possible to allow it to identify where the threats to press freedom lie and recommend remedies that go beyond tinkering. The Herald’s editor Lisa Davies writes a weekly newsletter exclusively for subscribers.

Press freedom inquiry must have wide terms of reference© ninevms The Australian Federal Police has defended raids on a journalist’s home and the ABC headquarters in Sydney.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

When Australian high commissioner George Brandis rose to address a select audience at the Latvian embassy in London early this week about the challenges to liberal democracy, including threats to freedom of the press and freedom of speech, he almost certainly didn't have himself in mind as an example.

Yet, as the Herald this week has revealed, laws on access to telecommunications metadata that Mr Brandis pioneered during his stint as federal attorney-general have been used by the Australian Federal Police to track the activities of journalists.

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The inquiry was referred by the Attorney-General, The Hon Christian Porter MP who noted that the The Committee invites written submissions addressing any or all of the terms of reference for the Prospective submitters are advised that any submission to the Committee’s inquiry must be prepared

There must be minimal impairment of rights. There must be proportionality between the infringement and objective. The inquiry focuses on balance of alternatives. The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms contains a section that has also been compared to section 1. Namely, section

Human rights commissioner Ed Santow has warned that laws passed on Mr Brandis' watch about the use of metadata are being overused in a way that can make it hard for journalists to work with confidential sources. The AFP disclosed that it accessed journalists' metadata, such as information about sites they visited, 58 times last year.

The AFP used these laws and also other longer-standing powers to demand records of ABC journalist Dan Oakes' travel from Qantas and to conduct raids of the ABC's Ultimo offices and the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst.

The raids, which Mr Santow said would be unthinkable in Britain or the US, have attracted international attention of a sort Australia can do without. Britain's new Press Freedom Commissioner, Amal Clooney, said this week that at a time when dictators are mocking the very idea of a free press these actions in a country like Australia sent a bad signal for countries with weaker democratic traditions.

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This included publishing the Inquiry ’s Terms of Reference . The Terms of Reference set the parameters of what the inquiry must investigate. No, the Inquiry ’s Terms of Reference do not require it to seek to investigate individual applications for accreditation or payment under the scheme.

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There is no question that the intelligence-gathering powers given to the AFP have helped it apprehend terrorists and keep Australians safe. The Sydney man Isaak el Matari charged last week with planning a terrorist attack and being a member of Islamic State was alleged to have used a range of social media platforms, some open, others encrypted, to communicate about his plans. There is also no question that some information is crucial to national security.

Yet it is worrying if these powers are used much more widely. For example, the whistleblower David McBride, who is alleged to have provided documents to the ABC about alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, was in court on Thursday and questioned why the documents about events 10 years ago on a matter of considerable public interest should still be classified as top secret.

As Nick McKenzie, an award-winning member of our investigative team, pointed out in our recent Please Explain podcast on press freedom, journalism is often about finding out what powerful people do not want us to know and obtaining such confidences can lead both the reporter and their source into a "grey legal area".

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The terms of reference of the Leveson inquiry set out the widest review of the media since the Annan Report in the 1970s. The inquiry team are asked to produce recommendations to support "the integrity and freedom of the press , the plurality of the media, and its independence, including from

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) presents the 2019 press freedom barometer.

Yet the laws the AFP seeks to enforce were created by the legislation of successive governments, in a liberal democracy that – uniquely – does not formally protect press freedom through an explicit charter. Instead, as McKenzie also pointed out, journalists have relied on "inbuilt discretion in our system" to protect them as they go about their work.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has proposed an inquiry by the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security into the balance between press freedom and the intelligence and police agencies' investigative powers, including their use of metadata and search warrants. The Labor Party has said it would like an inquiry that includes whether whistleblowers receive enough protection.

An inquiry is certainly needed but it should be given the widest terms of reference possible to allow it to identify where the threats to press freedom lie and recommend remedies that go beyond tinkering.

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