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Australia Peter FitzSimons calls for change in 'draconian' laws to protect press freedom in Andrew Olle lecture

13:50  01 november  2019
13:50  01 november  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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Author and columnist Peter FitzSimons has delivered a strong message that press freedom is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy and called for changes in the law to protect journalists. He made the comments while delivering the keynote address at the annual Andrew Olle Media Lecture

The journalist and author uses his keynote address at the Andrew Olle Media Lecture in Sydney to criticise the AFP raids on reporters in June and call for changes to the law . news/2019-11-01/ peter - fitzsimons - andrew - olle - lecture -blasts-afp-raids-media- laws /11664220. Top. Controversial.

Australian Republic Movement chair Peter Fitzsimons.© AAP Australian Republic Movement chair Peter Fitzsimons.

Author and columnist Peter FitzSimons has delivered a strong message that press freedom is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy and called for changes in the law to protect journalists.

He made the comments while delivering the keynote address at the annual Andrew Olle Media Lecture in Sydney on Friday night, where he emphasised the need to support robust journalism for the good of the "national fabric".

FitzSimons said the June raids by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC offices and the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst were an affront to democracy.

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"It was an outrage that effectively equated fearless investigative journalism with criminality," he said.

He cited Watergate as "the greatest journalistic triumph of our times" which never would have happened had the United States had similar laws to Down Under.

"How did we allow such ludicrously draconian legislation to be passed in sunny Australia?"

'Change the law'

The AFP raids on the ABC related to a series of stories by investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark called the Afghan Files.

The stories contained allegations there were unlawful killings by Australian special forces in Afghanistan based on information from leaked Defence documents.

The search warrant was issued on the basis of allegations of publishing classified material, based on the Crimes Act 1914.

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"If the law is the law and the AFP raids on the offices of the ABC and the very home of the News Limited journalist Annika Smethurst had nothing to do with the Government, change the law that led the Australian Federal Police to commit this outrage," Mr FitzSimons said.

Ms Smethurst was raided over her reports on leaked information that alleged the Government was seeking to boost domestic spying powers.

"We are in difficult times, facing serious issues," Mr FitzSimons said.

"The more that strong journalism, across the board, is supported and defended by the Government, embraced by the population and fearlessly pursued by its adherents … the stronger our nation will be."

The Andrew Olle Media Lecture is held in honour of the ABC broadcaster of the same name who died in 1995.

Money raised from the event goes to brain cancer research under a memorial fund which has been running for 21 years.

ABC managing director David Anderson delivered the news at Friday's event that Olle's family had decided to wind up the fund due to factors including increased commitments elsewhere.

Mr Anderson praised the work of Olle's wife, Annette, in running the fund.

"Her dedication and determination have resulted in several millions of dollars raised which has had a direct impact on advances made in how we treat brain cancer," he said.

Despite the closure of the fund, the annual media lecture will continue.

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