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Monday, August 16, 2010

Decision 2010 sees Opposition up for journalist shield laws

In the Attorney General's debate, Opposition shadow Senator Brandis also reiterated the Coalition's commitment to act on shield laws for journalists:
Another area in which the Government has been all talk and no action is journalists’ shield laws. The introduction of such laws was a Labor promise in 2007. The Bill which the Government  introduced only provided for defence which was in fact narrower than the existing provisions of the New South Wales Evidence Act. The legislation was so inadequate that faced with a storm of criticism the Government abandoned it and there has been no action since..... Recognising that the public interest is advanced by a better informed community an incoming Coalition Government  will introduce a new shield laws bill, the substantive provisions have already been drafted enacting a rebuttable presumption against disclosure along the lines of the regime operating in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Attorney General McClelland let it go through without comment. 

The Government has (publicly at least) sat on this since the House passed its bill in May and the bill languished in the Senate since.The Government's position is that a court should have a guided discretion to make a decision, and was prepared to accept the recommendation by ALP members of a Senate committee, that it should be mandatory for a judge to take into consideration the public interest in disclosure of a protected confidence and/or protected identity information.

The Opposition goes a step further in supporting a rebuttable presumption against disclosure, in line with what the media has been arguing for. It's position, supported with a few extra demands from The Greens and Senator Xenophon, would pass the Senate, if legislation gets to be debated there, while the Government seems all alone on this one, although to date it has been in the position of calling the shots. The numbers in the House of Representatives after Saturday will determine where if anywhere legislation goes from here.

While newspaper journalists rank 27 out of 30 professions (TV reporters 20th?) for honesty and ethics, as reported in the Roy Morgan research in June, and there are many fine exceptions, they and media organisations are hardly in a position of strength in arguing the 'trust us we're journalists" line in seeking a special position under the law. But enough politicians may finally be prepared to grit their teeth and provide an adequate and balanced approach to protection of journalist sources.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:58 am

    Sounds good in theory, but I will believe it when I see it....
    I have been "stiffed" with FoI excuses and the like many times over the years, even in matters as "obscure" as information on snakebites casualties involving government department employed snake handlers, reptile shows and the like involving State wildlife departments.
    All the best
    Snakeman Raymond Hoser