Press freedom getting worse, report says

Press freedom in Australia has deteriorated over the last 10 years according to a report released on World Press Freedom Day today.

Almost 90-per-cent of people surveyed by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which represents journalists, believes press freedom in Australia has worsened over the last decade, with only 1.3-per-cent of people rating the situation as very good.

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy says there is widespread concern about press freedom in Australia.

“Journalists and whistleblowers bring important stories to light in the public interest,” he said.

Curtin University Associate Professor Joseph Fernandez

“Increasingly they face criminal prosecution as a response.”

The top press freedom issue identified by the report was national security laws.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pushed to broaden Australia’s espionage laws in December, but 15 of Australia’s largest media organisations opposed the move in support of press freedom.

Curtin University Head of Journalism Associate Professor Joseph Fernandez says laws like these fail to provide adequate protection for journalistic activity.

“While law needs to respond to growing defence and security threats it must take care not to over-reach and obstruct legitimate public discussion that is informed by the proper flow of information,” he says.

“We also need to do a lot more to protect journalists’ sources and whistleblowers, ensure proper checks on surveillance-powers, and ensure that our defamation law does not unduly chill speech.

“The belated discovery of information concerning various kinds of misconduct involving sexual abuse, the banking sector’s scandals, and corruption by people in high office should remind us of the importance of protecting those whose job it is to bring these stories to light in a timely way.”

A MEAA spokesperson says there needs to be greater respect shown for the role of public interest journalism and the fourth estate in a healthy, functioning democracy.

“If governments genuinely believe that ‘journalism is not a crime’, they should reverse the trend of introducing laws that punish journalists with jail for reporting legitimate news stories,” he says.

“They should increase efforts to operate openly and transparently, and protect whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing.”