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Monday, May 04, 2009

Warming journalists' hearts- now that's a challenge

Particularly that of veteran journalist Laurie Oakes, political editor of the Nine Network. But he told the MEAA Press Freedom dinner on Friday that John Faulkner had done it in announcing the planned Freedom of Information reforms, even though other developments or non-developments leave Oakes somewhat chilled to the bone.This from Oakes in Saturday's News Limited publications including the Herald Sun :
"When John Faulkner unveiled proposed reforms to freedom of information laws a few weeks ago, his speech warmed the cockles of every journalist's heart. The Special Minister of State promised "a shift from the culture of secrecy to one of openness", and said his aim was to encourage "a pro-disclosure" attitude in the Australian public service. long as Faulkner's Cabinet colleagues don't get cold feet, and senior bureaucrats fail in their predictable attempts to water it down, the legislation will breathe new life into the system. Anything that lifts the veil of secrecy that governments in this country use to prevent publication of potentially embarrassing information is to be commended. Good on Faulkner for making a start. But that's all it is. A start.

Last night, speaking at a Press Freedom dinner in Sydney, I got stuck into the Federal Government because Faulkner's grand rhetoric about openness and transparency seems to stop at the FoI laws. If the Government was fair dinkum, you'd expect it to apply the principles espoused by Faulkner across the board. But that is not happening. Whistleblower protection laws recommended by a parliamentary committee headed by Labor backbencher Mark Dreyfus, QC, are actually aimed at keeping the lid on public disclosures. And "shield" legislation, ostensibly to reduce the threat of journalists going to jail for refusing to name their sources, also falls well short of what Faulkner says he wants to achieve."

Oakes was also on the money in saying that more needs to be done to bring home to members of the public that these issues impinge on them and their rights, given the fact that "journalists are on the nose." There has been little "reaching out" by media representative bodies to others who share their concerns. Some media groups have shown little interest in the rights charter now under discussion around the country, other than to oppose it. And then there is the blatantly silly position maintained by some that the media framework for dealing with privacy related issues is "working well." It isn't. The Australian Privacy Foundation has proposed a chat to Australia's Right to Know Coalition and the MEAA about this issue. No public sign so far that the media thinks there is anything to talk about.

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