Despite today being World Press Freedom Day multiple reports released by the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom suggests the media is far from free.
Alliance for Journalists advocated for media freedom and journalists’ rights.
The Alliance’s director Olivia Pirie-Griffiths says press freedom is essential to democracy.
“Without the public having the ability to know what’s going on, or to hold those in power accountable, the essence of democracy is lost,” she says.
Last year, Australia fell 14 points on the Press Freedom Index.
The country is now ranked 39 out of 180 countries.
According to the report, the Australian population has recently began to view the media as ‘untrustworthy’ with only 41% Australians have faith in the media.
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance president Kate Ferguson says digitalisation and a lack of funding are significant contributing factors.
“Because of that lack of funds, there’s been shortcuts. There’s a bit of a ‘churn and burn’ element that’s been introduce to journalism; hiring a lot of younger journalists that are inexperienced, working them hard. They leave the industry.”
Ms Pirie-Griffiths says because the public often struggle to define journalism’s nature, a certification program could be beneficial.
“Not only would it enable the public to understand what journalism is and the information they can trust, but also help incentivise the industry to meet a certain standard for the material they publish.”
Ms Pirie-Griffiths says public distrust caused by a combination of factors.
“Clickbait journalism disintegrates trust, but they (journalists) are also pressured to put out click bait journalism due to the failure of public interest journalism funding models and the rise of big tech,” she says.
In 2019, the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom outlined seven recommendations for press freedom.
In support of the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, Ms Ferguson says legalities around shield laws, whistleblowers and national security make it difficult for journalists.
Ms Ferguson says under current legislation, journalists face the risk of imprisonment.
“If a government employee provides a journalist with a tip off … that journalist goes and publishes that information, if the government then approaches that journalists and says ‘reveal your source’, and then refuse to, they could possibly go to jail,” she says.
Ms Pirie-Griffiths says change is needed but there is hope for the future of Australian journalism.
“We think the combination of the Media Freedom Act supported in law and the voluntary certification program are two essential elements that will help strengthen press freedom and strengthen Australia’s democracy in the years to come,” she says.
“We are making good progress but it takes the will of parliament to do that and the will of the people.”