Fighting to defend the right to report the wrongdoing of the powerful

By members of the Media Entertainment and Arts alliance (MEAA)

The National Justice Project, a not-for-profit legal service dealing with human rights issues, has launched a petition. It calls for legislative change and immediate action to protect journalists and whistleblowers.

Triggering this, was last week’s raid on the ABC and the home of journalist Annika Smethurst. This was for exposing wrongdoing in Afghanistan, and a new plan by the Australian government to spy on Australians.

For those who don’t know, another journalist, Ben Fordham, is also a target. He revealed information refugees coming to Australia by boat. And there is witness X and his lawyer Bernard Collaery, facing punishment for exposing the bugging by Australia of meetings of East Timor’s government.

There are more cases.

what they have in common is that they are being accused of endangering Australia’s security.

Yet the Australian government hasn’t even bothered to explain how this is the case. It can’t. Exposure of wrongdoing might be an embarrassment, but this does not constitute a breech of national security. To deny this difference is dangerous, moving Australia into big brother territory, where anyone seen to criticise the government is immediately branded and hunted down.

The truth is that these cases relate to wrongdoing and corruption, which is much more a threat to national security, than reporting that they have taken place.

The final target in all these cases are the whistleblowers who passed on the information. The journalists had the courage to not reveal the sources. To do so, would have been in contradiction to an important principle preserving investigative journalism and the right of the public to know, when those who have power step out of line.

The government has in its hands, a law, enabling the issuing of warrants that give authorities the power to access, alter and delete material held by journalists, publishers and broadcasters. It is being used as a means to pressuring journalists and silence unwanted news.

This is being backed up with the anti-terror laws and the much older Crimes act, providing the means to use what amounts to secret trials, compromising the ability to a fair hearing, and making it a crime for anyone else to publicly share information, about what is going on inside these trails.

It would have made Hitler and Mussolini proud.

This is a serious attack on democratic rights in Australia, and the right to report wrongdoing must be fought for.

The petition backs the Journalism Is Not A Crime campaign, launched by the Media Entertainment and Arts alliance (MEAA). The alliance is the journalist’s union.

Actions by members have already taken place and more are on the way. A report on press freedom in Australia has been released.

The MEAA said in a statement: “These raids are about intimidating journalists and media organisations because of their truth-telling. They are about hunting down whistleblowers that reveal what governments are secretly doing in our name.”

See Media Watch‘s coverage of the raids and MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy’s comments.

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