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Monday, November 05, 2007

Independent Audit report released today

Regular readers will know that I have been involved for the last few months in an independent audit of free speech issues commissioned by Australia's Right to Know, a coalition of the major media organisations. The audit report was completed on 31 October and released today by the coalition. Here is the ABC News report and another from The Australian. I expect there will be plenty more in the next 24 hours.

The report identifies laws and practices that impact on freedom of speech, particularly the media, access to government information, and the public right to know.

Freedom of Information laws are not completely 'broke' as some claim, but are failing to hold government to account in the conduct of public functions. The problem won't be fixed by tinkering, as an enduring culture of secrecy remains in some areas of government, perhaps encouraged by secrecy provisions contained in 335 federal, state and territory laws. That's before you start counting other laws that restrict or limit access to information.

The report also analyses attempts by government to manage media relations through 'spin', whistleblower protection, shield laws for journalists, restrictions on information about the enforcement of anti terrorism laws, privacy and defamation, and the high incidence of suppression orders issued by the courts.

It isn't a pretty picture. Here is the full report (316 pages). State of free speech in Australia

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