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Australian media unite to demand government change laws after AFP raids

ABC, News Corp and Nine call for legislation to protect journalists and whistleblowers, saying a free press must be ‘entrenched in law’

WT24 Desk

Media executives have united to call on the government to amend a range of laws to protect journalists and whistleblowers after a series of widely condemned raids on media organisations by the Australian federal police, The Guardian reports.

The country’s three biggest media organisations – the ABC, News Corp and Nine – called for legislative and cultural change in an unprecedented show of unity at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

The ABC managing director, David Anderson, who has asked the federal court to set aside the warrant that authorised the AFP raid earlier this month, was joined by the executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, Michael Miller, and the Nine chief executive, Hugh Marks.

Marks said he was shocked to discover how laws had multiplied over the past few years to stifle the media, and he likened the process to a frog in boiling water.

News Corp is also going to mount a legal challenge against the AFP raid on Annika Smethurst’s home.

Anderson told the press club that a free media must be “entrenched in law” and journalism must be decriminalised.

“The legacy is a patchwork of laws that make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for the media to do its public duty,” Anderson said.

“Journalists are increasingly accused of crimes for performing their job. Whistleblowers, whose brave interventions are so important to identifying wrongdoing, run the risk of being cowed out of existence.”

The three men represent the views of Australia’s Right to Know Coalition, which includes Guardian Australia, Australian Associated Press, the West Australian, Bauer Media, subscription and free-to-air television, community broadcasting, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and commercial radio.

The media executives handed out a six-point plan that includes a review of defamation law, protections for public-sector whistleblowers, a stronger freedom of information scheme and a new regime that limits which documents can be stamped secret.

The media is also calling for journalists to be exempted from tough new national security laws in the name of public interest reporting and for all warrants to be contestable.

The AFP raided the broadcaster earlier this month over a 2017 report into the clandestine operations of Australian special forces in Afghanistan just one day after the AFP raided the home of a News Corp political editor over articles she published in 2018 on proposals to expand Australia’s domestic surveillance capabilities.

“As a society, we shouldn’t fear truth,” Marks told the press club. “We shouldn’t fear debate. We shouldn’t fear opinions. The Australian public’s right to know makes our democracy function.

“We are operating at a time when a combination of factors – including technological change, bad legislation across several fronts and overzealous officials in the judiciary, bureaucracy and security services – have steadily eroded the freedom within which we the media can operate.”

In his speech Miller demanded the right to contest any kind of search warrant on journalists or news organisations before the warrant is issued.

“Public-sector whistleblowers must be adequately protected and the current laws need to change,” Miller said.

The CEO of the MEAA, Paul Murphy, added the media union’s voice to the call to stop laws stifling public interest journalism.

“The raids by the AFP earlier this month have highlighted just how vulnerable press freedom is in Australia,” Murphy said. “Those raids were not justified on national security grounds and were intended to identify the sources of leaks which have embarrassed the government and the defence establishment.”

The media organisations want:
• The right to contest any kind of search warrant on journalists or news organisations before the warrant is issued
• Public-sector whistleblowers to be adequately protected with current laws to be changed
• A new regime that limits which documents can be stamped “secret”
• A proper review of freedom of information laws
• Journalists to be exempted from the national security laws enacted over the past seven years that can put them in jail for just doing their jobs

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