Media bosses unite to demand law changes after police raids on ABC, News Corp journalists

| 26.06,19. 08:43 AM |


Media bosses unite to demand law changes after police raids on ABC, News Corp journalists



Photo: The AFP raids on the ABC and a News Corp journalist have united media bosses. (ABC News: Taryn Southcombe)


Three of the nation's media bosses are demanding greater protections for whistleblowers and journalists, in a rare show of public unity prompted by recent police raids.


Last month, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) searched the home of News Corp political journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC's Sydney headquarters, over two separate stories based on the leaks of highly classified information.


In the days after the raids, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he understood the concerns from the media and the public about the way the situation had been handled, and suggested there could be a discussion on how to protect the work of the press and those who provide information that is in the public interest to be published.


Few incidents have brought the media together in such a way, and the National Press Club (NPC) in Canberra will today play host to executives from the ABC, Nine and News Corp in a debate about the freedom of the fourth estate.


ABC managing director David Anderson will tell the NPC he is heartened to hear members of the Government suggest a free media is a "foundation stone of democracy", but argues the law does not adequately reflect those ideals.


"Decriminalising journalism is a mandatory first step," he will say.


"The Criminal Code and the Defence Act both make it an offence for reporters to receive certain types of information.


"No-one deserves to be punished for doing their job and pursuing information that is clearly in the public interest."


The ABC is taking the AFP to the Federal Court, challenging the search warrant relating to the Afghan Files investigation published in 2017.


News Corp is taking its legal fight straight to the High Court, arguing the raids on its reporter's home over her story on plans to expand the powers of the nation's intelligence agencies breach the constitution's implied right of political communication.


The company's executive chairman, Michael Miller, argues there is a strong need to "protect the public's right to know".


"We demand the right to contest any kind of search warrant on journalists or news organisations before the warrant is issued," Mr Miller is expected to tell the NPC.


"Public sector whistleblowers must be adequately protected and the current laws need to change.


"We need a new regime that limits which documents can be stamped 'Secret'."


Miller is demanding a review of freedom of information laws, and says journalists should be exempted from the last seven years' worth of national security laws "that put can put them in jail for just doing their jobs".


Bad legislation and overzealous officials hampering media: Marks


Nine chief executive Hugh Marks, whose responsibilities have been expanded from overseeing the company's core television operations to include former Fairfax newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review, will echo Miller's concerns about the "right to know".


"As a society, we shouldn't fear truth. We shouldn't fear debate. We shouldn't fear opinions," he is expected to say.


"We are operating at a time when a combination of factors — including technological change, bad legislation across several fronts and overzealous officials in the judiciary, bureaucracy and security services — have steadily eroded the freedom within which we the press can operate.


"Doing what journos do best is never easy. Breaking big stories and conducting major investigations that serve the greater good is tough, relentless work. But work rendered increasingly difficult by the myriad of hurdles I've mentioned."


However, Marks will tell the NPC that there is a balancing act when it comes to national security, and warn that journalists may have to put such interests "before their desire to publish or broadcast".


The National Press Club will be live on the ABC News Channel from 12:30pm AEST on Wednesday.


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