Lawyers call for Media Freedom Act to protect ‘frank and fearless’ journalism

13th Aug 2019

A Media Freedom Act would help address the current imbalance between national security laws and the important need to protect the independence of the media, said the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) giving evidence today to the parliamentary inquiry into media freedom.

“In the absence of a federal legislative human rights charter to protect freedom of expression, there is a need for separate legislation that guarantees media freedom and provides protection for journalists and publishers engaged in legitimate journalistic work, and also their sources,” said Mr Greg Barns, barrister and spokesperson for the ALA.

“A free and independent media is an essential part of our democracy. Governments and other organisations must be able to be held to account by whistleblowers, journalists and publishers without fear of criminal action.

“Our current security laws have gone too far. They are now so broad that journalists, publishers and whistleblowers face real and disturbing risks of prosecution.

“True government accountability is possible only where journalists, publishers and whistleblowers are able to report in a frank and fearless manner.

“This requires vigilant protection of both the rights to freedom of speech and privacy for journalists, publishers and their sources.

“It is critical to ensure that any legislation that protects the rights of journalists, publishers and whistle blowers recognises that the traditional media is not the only mechanism and avenue by which ‘truth outs’. 

“As we have seen with WikiLeaks in its fundamentally important expose of the war crimes committed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the Witness K and Bernard Collaery case, in today’s era the revelations of abuse by government and others can take many forms.”

The ALA recommends that a Media Freedom Act should include:

  • explicit legislative recognition of the freedom of the press;
  • subject to reasonable and proportionate limits, explicit recognition of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as articulated in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
  • amendment of national security legislation to better protect journalists from criminal prosecution for journalistic work. In particular, replace the defences currently available to journalists for particular national security offences with exceptions from prosecution where the underlying conduct in question relates to legitimate journalistic work;
  • protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ material and notes developed in the course of legitimate journalistic work;
  • protection of journalists from being forced to reveal their sources by government agencies; and
  • safeguards for journalists and their sources through enhanced whistleblower protections.

The ALA is a national association of lawyers, academics and other professionals dedicated to protecting and promoting justice, freedom and the rights of the individual.

Tags: National security Freedom of media