Australia: Australian media groups reject claims they are seeking 'blanket exemptions' - - PressFrom - Australia

Australia Australian media groups reject claims they are seeking 'blanket exemptions'

22:52  22 october  2019
22:52  22 october  2019 Source:

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Australia's major media organisations have sent an open letter to all federal MPs in the country demanding protections to freedom of speech amid growing concerns over secrecy laws.

In the letter signed by Australia's Right to Know coalition — which includes Nine, News Corp Australia and the ABC — all MPs and senators have been asked to consider changes to laws that have exposed journalists to criminal charges for doing their jobs.

"The reason we are in this situation is that government has passed laws that have made the ordinary work of journalists to keep the public informed a crime," the two-page letter, signed by News Corp Australia executive Campbell Reid on behalf of the ARTK, said.

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a close up of a piece of paper: The front pages of Australia's newspapers today.© AAP The front pages of Australia's newspapers today.

"These matters should not be dependent on the subjective assessment or good graces of any individual politician. The laws should strike the right balance."

He said in recent years the government had "passed too many laws that favour secrecy over openness".

"They are at odds with the expectation that we live in an open and transparent society."

Yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared journalists should not be prosecuted at the "whim of politicians". In September, Attorney-General Christian Porter assumed the powers to make the final call to prosecute a journalist for exposing government secrets.

Mr Morrison's comments came hours after national newspaper front pages were printed blanked out in a united protest by ARTK members.

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"Like the Prime Minister, we do not believe an individual politician should be placed in the dangerous position of being the final arbiter on whether or not a person should be prosecuted," Reid said.

"We believe that laws that put a politician in this compromising position should be amended so this situation does not arise."

The ARTK coalition is calling for support on the right to contest the application for warrants for journalists and media organisations, exemptions for journalists from laws that would put them in jail for doing their job and public sector whistle-blowers to be adequately protected.

It is also calling for a new regime that limits which documents can be stamped secret, a properly functioning freedom of information regime and defamation law reform.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Nine Entertainment Co CEO Hugh Marks and Executive Chairman of Australasia News Corp Michael Miller discuss law reform to stop the suppression of information. Nine Entertainment Co CEO Hugh Marks and Executive Chairman of Australasia News Corp Michael Miller discuss law reform to stop the suppression of information.

"We are not seeking anything like the 'blanket exemption' that some have claimed. We are asking for common sense changes to laws so that, like politicians, the unique role journalists have in serving society is acknowledged," the letter says.

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"In the countries that share our democratic values this responsibility is enshrined and protected in their constitutions and guiding documents.

"In Australia, there is no such protection for freedom of speech and that is why we are fighting for it now."

Earlier this year, Australian Federal Police officers raided the Canberra home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the Sydney headquarters of the ABC.

Sydney Mornign herald Front Page© Nine Sydney Mornign herald Front Page

The back-to-back June raids were in relation to separate stories based on leaked government information. Smethurst's story outlined a government proposal to spy on Australian citizens without their knowledge.

The ARTK campaign, launched on Sunday night with national TV advertisements, widens the public debate beyond "the right to know", by highlighting the harm to Australians if corruption and abuse are not revealed.

The campaign highlights how government bureaucrats are holding back information which matters to everyday Australians. It is also demanding legal reforms to stop information being held that is vital to consumers, such as details about abuse of the elderly in aged care homes.

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Nine CEO Hugh Marks said the new campaign was "much bigger than the media" because it was about the right of all Australians to know about decisions made in their name.

"Nobody here is saying anybody should be above the law, the question is does the law serve the public interest," he told 2GB on Monday.

"If the government operates on the basis of a culture which is keep things secret because we don't want it being discussed then we as people, we as taxpayers, we as owners of the government miss out because we don't have the information to make informed decisions."

Two parliamentary inquiries are under way — one into press freedom and whistleblowers, and the other looking at the impact of police and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press.

New research reveals 87 per cent of Australians value a free and transparent democracy where the public is kept informed — but just 37 per cent believe this is happening in Australia today.

Some 88 per cent of Australians want stronger protections for whistleblowers who play a vital role in calling out wrongdoing in society.

And more than three-quarters believe journalists should be protected from prosecution when reporting in the public interest

More information about the media campaign against the government can be found at the Your Right To Know website and on social media under #righttoknow.

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