Pacific Media Watch

21 July 2017

AUSTRALIA: Increasing surveillance 'deeply concerning', says MEAA

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Revelations about increased surveillance by Australian government and its ties to press freedom ... MEAA 'deeply concerned'. Image: Tom Jellett/MEAA.

SYDNEY (MEAA/Pacific Media Watch): Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has voiced several concerns surrounding the government's recent and alleged encroaches on press freedom.

In the past week, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) - the union and industry advocate for Australia's journalists - has not been afraid to draw attention to its alarm at efforts by the Australian government to curb press freedom through increased surveillance.

Not only has Australia's government pushed for tech companies to break encrypted communications, it has also created a "super" Home Affairs ministry which the MEAA says concentrates surveillance powers.

“We now have a situation where the militarised Australian Border Force, with its extreme powers to imprison whistleblowers now sits alongside ASIO, with its ability to imprison journalists and their sources for up to 10 years.

"These two agencies will now sit together with the Australian Federal Police which in April admitted it had illegally accessed a journalist’s telecommunications data without a warrant,” says MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy.

The concentration of organisations such as the Australian Border Force into this new ministry may endanger whistleblowers and journalism itself, the MEAA fears.

“It seems the only law reform the Government is interested in is re-doubling its efforts to punish those who dare speak out in the public interest.

"The Government seeks utter transparency from its citizens, but is not prepared to demonstrate some if its own.”

Such fears created by the "super" ministry announcement have been compounded by alleged government pressure to break encrypted communications which may further endanger whistleblowers - giving the Australian government the ability to identify them.

“For more than 15 years now, we have seen government introducing anti-terror laws that erode press freedom, persecute whistleblowers and attack journalists for simply doing their job.

"Laws that are meant to protect the community and go after terrorists are being used to muzzle the media, cloak the government in secrecy, hunt down and identify journalists’ sources, and imprison journalists for up to 10 years for reporting matters in the public interest, “ Murphy says.

In light of such dangers, the MEAA is encouraging the government to take immediate steps to protect human rights and press freedom.

It says these "immediate steps" should be taken before it "indulges" agencies with any more anti-terror powers.

The MEAA releases annual reports into the state of press freedom in Australia and has catalogued numerous attacks and threats against journalists and their sources since 2001.

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