JOURNALISM’s Role must be Protected

VIDEO: blob:https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/0999fe02-2ca0-4343-9848-4bf3047f3228

All of us should be suspicious when the government is introducing laws that mean we don’t know what’s going on.

Journalism’s role must be protected

Peter Greste

Professor Peter Greste October 23, 2019

In the debates around press freedom, a lot of the media’s critics tend to dismiss journalists as pleading for special privileges.

“No one is above (the law), including me or anyone else, any journalist or anyone else,” the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said on Sunday, anticipating the campaign by the Australian Right To Know coalition, which is calling for legislative changes to protect press freedom.

The language is a form of misdirection. It seeks to portray journalists as some kind of self-appointed elite who consider themselves to be above ordinary citizens.

The comments also invite scorn from everybody else. They focus our attention on the individuals rather than the issue at stake.

The danger of that approach is that it undermines the watchdog role that a free press plays in our democracy — a role that assumes that there are times when exposing wrongdoing trumps the secrecy used to cover it up.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far sidestepped the issues presented by the Right To Know coalition. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has so far sidestepped the issues presented by the Right To Know coalition. Picture: AAP/Mick Tsikas

The reason the Right to Know Coalition launched its campaign is that a recent slew of national security laws have weakened and confused protections for journalists to the point where a lot of reporting that might have been considered legitimate in the past is now criminalised.

So how do we avoid the problem of protecting that role that journalists play without giving a self-appointed elite some kind of special legal status?

This week, I gathered a group of some of the country’s leading journalists, lawyers, academics and civil servants at the University of Queensland to discuss the problem and it quickly became clear that rather than focusing on the person, we should be protecting journalism’s function.

YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW: Question all Australians should be asking

That is not as hard as it might seem. In fact, that concept already exists in our legislation, buried in section 122.5 of the Criminal Code.

That section offers journalists a defence if they commit a general secrecy offence. To qualify, the person must have:

“DEALT with the information in their capacity as a ‘person engaged in the business of reporting news, presenting current affairs or expressing editorial or other content in news media’, and

“HAVE reasonably believed that engaging in the conduct was in the public interest.”

Notice that the statute does not define “journalist”; it doesn’t even use the term. Instead, if focuses on what the person is doing, and so it implies that anybody who meets the standards set out in the law is able to use the defence.

Australian newspapers featuring redacted front page stories on Monday this week. The campaign has made headlines around the world. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
Australian newspapers featuring redacted front page stories on Monday this week. The campaign has made headlines around the world. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

With a minor adjustment, this could provide the way forward. Logically, the law should focus on what a journalist actually believed — not what a judge might believe months or possibly years later.

That change is needed to ensure journalists are not required to reveal their confidential sources in order to use this defence.

And this provision applies a public interest test, where there has to be a higher purpose to any investigation.

YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW: The slide into secrecy must stop

During our discussion at the university, we recognised that there is a wider public distrust of journalists, and that the media can’t work effectively without a social licence.

In other words, people need to trust journalists’ motives and ethics before they accept any law that grants their work special legal privileges.

NED-539-Press-Freedom-Fact-Box - 0

That’s why we also recognised that to qualify for legal protection, the work needs to meet certain professional standards.

There is no reason why the law can’t include a set of tests, asking whether reporting is accurate; whether the person has tried to verify facts; whether it is balanced and fair; and so on.

Journalist Peter Greste arrives back in Brisbane a free man after being released from an Egyptian prison - simply for doing his job. Picture: Marc Robertson
Journalist Peter Greste arrives back in Brisbane a free man after being released from an Egyptian prison – simply for doing his job. Picture: Marc Robertson

The standards should necessarily be high; after all, we are talking about giving someone the right to avoid prosecution for exposing issues that are otherwise protected under national security legislation, but that would also give the public confidence that the journalism is worth protecting in the first place.

The final test is that any journalism needs to be intended for publication (as opposed to sending classified documents to a mate, or a foreign power).

My organisation, the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, agrees that we urgently need to update the way we protect journalism in our unworkable messy legal code.

YOUR RIGHT TO KNOW: Geoffrey Robertson, QC, warns Australia looks second-rate

Clearly any system that criminalises the kind of journalism that exposes issues that are genuinely in the public interest, without damaging national security, is a problem. But rather than a piecemeal set of tweaks to individual statutes, we need to embed the role of the press in the very DNA of our legal code.

That is why we are calling for a comprehensive Media Freedom Act that would filter down to fill all the loopholes in our legislation.

If we define legitimate journalism (as opposed to journalists) in this way, and recognise that it deserves exception from prosecution in cases where there is a genuine public interest in publishing, all of us will be better off.

Timeline

Press freedom

Jun 4, 2019

AFP raid on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst over a story published in April 2018.

Timeline

Press freedom

Jun 5, 2019

AFP raid on ABC Sydney offices.

Timeline

Press freedom

Jun 17, 2019

Christian Porter says he is “seriously disinclined to approve the prosecution” of journalists over the publishing of leaks “except in the most exceptional circumstances”.

Timeline

Press freedom

Jun 26, 2019

News Corp lodges a challenge to the warrant in the High Court. Michael Miller (News Corp), David Anderson (ABC) and Hugh Marks (Nine) present a united front at the National Press Club.

Timeline

Press freedom

Jul 3, 2019

News Corp, ABC, Nine, Seven, Free TV and SBS meet Attorney-General Christian Porter and Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher. Government announces Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on impact of law enforcement and intelligence powers on media freedom.

Timeline

Press freedom

Jul 10, 2019

Foreign Minister Marise Payne speaks at press freedom forum in London and is chastised for suggesting Australia’s has a free media.

Timeline

Press freedom

Jul 12, 2019

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says: “Nobody is above the law and the police have a job to do under the law.”

Timeline

Press freedom

Aug 9, 2019

Dutton issues a Ministerial Direction to the AFP “to take into account the importance of a free and open press” when investigating journalists.

Timeline

Press freedom

Aug 13, 2019

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security hearing. Michael Miller, Hugh Marks and David Anderson give evidence.

Timeline

Press freedom

Sep 4, 2019

AFP raid on public sector employee Cameron Gill’s home.

Timeline

Press freedom

Sep 20, 2019

Second hearing of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Timeline

Press freedom

Sep 30, 2019

AG issues a direction to the Commonwealth DPP. News Corp responds: “… they offer no comfort for journalists disclosing information in the public interest… This so-called safeguard falls a long way short of what media organisations are seeking.”

Jun 4, 2019

Jun 5, 2019

Jun 17, 2019

Jun 26, 2019

Jul 3, 2019

Jul 10, 2019

Jul 12, 2019

Aug 9, 2019

Aug 13, 2019

Sep 4, 2019

Sep 20, 2019

Sep 30, 2019

2019Jun 09Jun 16Jun 23Jun 30Jul 07Jul 14Jul 21Jul 28Aug 04Aug 11Aug 18Aug 25SeptemberSep 08Sep 15Sep 22Sep 29Oct 06

Peter Greste is UNESCO Chair in Journalism and Communication at the University of Queensland

Originally published as Journalism’s role must be protected

SOURCE: https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/rendezview/journalisms-role-must-be-protected/news-story/446a17fb89edc9041be84746d1394ad6#_=_

CAAN FACEBOOK:

https://www.facebook.com/Community-Action-Alliance-for-NSW-744190798994541/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

WEBSITE:

https://caanhousinginequalitywithaussieslockedout.wordpress.com/