A “war on journalism” has emerged in Australia as “a subset of the war on terror”, according to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance 2015 press freedom report, which calls for thorough review of the country’s counter-terror laws and the introduction of exemptions for journalists.
The report, Going After Whistleblowers, Going After Journalism, describes the national security laws passed by the Australian Parliament over the last year as “the greatest assault on press freedom in peacetime”.
“In short, the three tranches of national security legislation passed by the Parliament represent a colossal failure to stand up for press freedom, freedom of expression, privacy, freedom to access information and the public’s right to know,” the report states.
The new laws undermine the principle of the confidentiality of sources, the MEAA says, and “nullify the intent” of journalist shield laws, which have been introduced in most Australian jurisdictions in recent years.
The report notes that Attorney-General George Brandis admitted last year that the aim of section 35P of the first of the bills, which introduced penalties of between five and 10 years jail for disclosing information about a “special intelligence operation”, was primarily “to deal with a Snowden-type situation”.
Whistleblowers were also targeted in the third tranche of laws introducing the government’s metadata retention scheme, which would make journalists’ metadata accessible for the explicit purpose of determining the identity of their sources, according to the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
The report, which was released in the lead-up to UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, takes its name from the vital relationship between whistleblowers and public interest journalism, which the MEAA believes politicians from both major parties fail to appreciate.
Read more on the report and download it at pressfreedom.org.au