Pacific Media Watch

27 June 2019

AUSTRALIA: Journalists’ union joins media organisations in bid for press freedom protection

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MEAA supporters of press freedom in Australia declare "Journalism is not a crime". Image: MEAA

SYDNEY (MEAA/Pacific Media Watch): MEAA, the union for Australia’s journalists, today joined with other media organisations in calling for urgent legal changes to protect press freedom and the public’s right to know.

As a member of Australia’s Right to Know coalition, MEAA said in a statement it welcomed the united stance taken by media organisations following the Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC and the home of a News Corporation journalist earlier this month.

MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said the raids had solidified concerns about the impact of national security laws by seeking to stifle public interest journalism.

READ MORE: The public's right to know

“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.

“But they have also had the effect of saying to journalists and a media organisation that they will be punished for reporting what is clearly in the public interest.

“The reality is that legislative creep over a number of years has restricted the public’s right to know, criminalised journalism, and left whistleblowers exposed without adequate protection."

Federal president of MEAA’s media section, Marcus Strom, said: “If action is not taken now to reverse the worst of these laws, then our democracy itself is at risk.

“We call on the government and opposition to work together to provide protections for press freedom in the public interest.”

MEAA supports changes to provide a right for media organisations to contest all applications from enforcement agencies for warrants, including journalists’ metadata; robust protection of public sector whistleblowers; a properly functioning freedom of information regime; greater transparency over the designation of secret or confidential documents; and a public interest exemption from national security laws which have criminalised journalism.

Separately, MEAA also backs defamation reform which updates the law to be fit-for-purpose for digital news reporting.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) is Australia's main journalists' union and is affiliated with the International Journalists' Federation (IFJ).

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