Media organizations say Australia has become a secretive state that is actively restricting the press. The leaders of the country’s major newspapers and broadcasters have made the claims at the first public hearing of a parliamentary inquiry investigating Australia’s security laws and their impact on journalism.
Australia’s media bosses say journalists must be able to do their jobs without fear. The inquiry in Sydney was told that reporters who published stories based on leaked government documents were being treated as though they had received “stolen goods.”
The Australian parliament’s powerful intelligence and security committee is investigating the impact national security laws have on press freedom.
The probe was launched after the Australian Federal Police raided a newspaper journalist’s home in Canberra and the headquarters of the national broadcaster, the ABC, in June, over stories based on leaked confidential documents. The raids were widely condemned as heavy-handed and an “utter violation” of a free media.
The ABC was targeted for publishing allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan. They were based on hundreds of pages of classified military papers.
Media chiefs are calling for so-called “public interest protections” for reporters to be able to tell sensitive stories without fear of prosecution.
Michael Miller, the executive chairman of News Corp Australasia says national security concerns are unfairly outweighing the public’s right to know.
“We may not be living in police state, but we are living in a state of secrecy,” he said. “We have many laws that criminalize journalism. They are creating a secret society that most Australians would not recognize as our own.”
Police defend raids
Senior Australian Federal Police officers have insisted the raids on the media in June were in defense of national security and that the compromise of sensitive material “could cause exceptionally grave damage or serious damage” to Australia’s interests.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has stressed the importance of a free and open press in Australian democracy.
The parliamentary inquiry into press freedom is expected to report its findings by October.