The Association for International Broadcasting (AIB), the global trade association for broadcasters, has made a submission to the Australian Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications Inquiry into Press Freedom.
This Inquiry, running in parallel with the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry into the impact of the exercise of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press, is gathering submissions from key stakeholders in the media industry and others with an interest in the highly topical issue of media freedom in Australia.
“We have been pleased to be able to submit evidence to this important inquiry in Australia,” commented Simon Spanswick, Chief Executive of the Association for International Broadcasting. “The AIB and its Members were appalled by the raids undertaken by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC and on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst earlier this year. The raids marked a low point in media freedom in Australia and had a chilling effect on the robust journalism of which Australians have been rightly proud. We are looking forward to helping the Senate Committee and the Parliamentary Committee in their work on this vitally important area in which Australia should be leading the Indo-Pacific region.”
The two submissions have been prepared in conjunction with London-based Doughty Street Chambers, a set of internationally-renowned barristers with a reputation for excellence, specialising in areas of law across multiple jurisdictions, often in cases which have a strong emphasis on human rights and civil liberties. Barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jennifer Robinson are acting for the AIB.
Lead barrister Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC said: “The heavy-handed way in which the Australian authorities targeted major media companies is almost unprecedented in a major democracy. The evidence that we’ve made on behalf of the AIB to the Australian Senate provides global perspective on the issue of Australia’s media freedom. The submission includes recommendations on best practice drawn from our extensive experience of media law in other jurisdictions that could be usefully applied in the Australian context, protecting journalism and journalists, as well as state security. We urge the Senate to make use of the AIB submission as it works to safeguard freedom of the media.”
The AIB has also made a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry which can be read here: https://aib.org.uk/Media-Freedom/AIB-submission-PJCIS-260719.pdf
On 7 November, the AIB will hold its second media freedom conference in London at Doughty Street Chambers with the support of Al Jazeera Media Network. This one-day event will bring together AIB Members and the wider media industry to hear evidence from broadcasters on how their operations are being impacted by restrictions on media freedom, and will explore ways to expand the AIB’s international work programme on media freedom. To register for this event, go to: https://forms.gle/wY26Kv37zLc4rfX9A
Meanwhile, the Law Council of Australia is concerned a new ministerial direction requiring the agreement of the Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter to prosecute journalists will not improve press freedom.
The direction of the Attorney-General dated September 19 to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) extends the range of offences covered by a similar direction given by former Attorney-General George Brandis QC.
The CDPP will now be required to obtain the agreement of the Federal Attorney-General for a prosecution of a journalist charged under section 131.1 (theft) and 132.1 (receiving stolen property) of the Criminal Code and section 73A of the Defence Act 1903 (unlawfully giving or obtaining information as to defences).
Law Council of Australia President, Arthur Moses SC, said the new direction will not allay important concerns about press freedoms in Australia sparked by police raids on journalists and media organisations.
“I have grave concerns that this sort of direction undermines the independence of the CDPP by requiring her to obtain the consent of the Attorney-General before prosecuting an offence,” Mr Moses SC said.
“What will enhance press freedoms in this country is a proper review of our laws to ensure that the actions of journalists doing their job as a watchdog of Government are not criminalised and put at risk of prosecution.”
The requirement for the CDPP to obtain the Attorney-General’s consent was not only inconsistent with long-held principles of the separation of powers and freedom of the press but placed both an Attorney-General and the media in a very difficult position, Mr Moses SC said.
“I have no doubt the Attorney-General would act in good faith. But it puts the Attorney-General – a politician – in the position of authorising prosecutions of journalists in situations where they may have written stories critical of his government.
“It creates an apprehension on the part of journalists that they will need to curry favour with the government in order to avoid prosecution. The media must be able to lawfully report on matters of public interest without fear or favour.”
The Law Council says it considers there is a need for improved safeguards in relation to warrants authorising investigative action and has proposed a Public Interest Advocate to provide greater transparency and accountability to search warrants relating to journalists.
“There is no doubt that the work of our national security agencies is vital,” Mr Moses SC said. “But journalists should not need to fear prosecution because of a story that embarrasses government.”