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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

MEAA on the State of Press Freedom

cover 2013The State of Press Freedom Report 2013 (pdf) published by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance contains a generally good summary and plenty of opinion from a media perspective on a whole range of relevant issues.(The report is is searchable here with chapters on privacy, suppression orders, anti-terrorism laws, whistleblower protection etc.)

Shield laws are a major concern this year, not surprising given current court challenges to the confidentiality of sources involving Steve Pennells, Adele Ferguson,Richard Baker,Nick McKenzie and Philip Dorling to name some high profile journalists on the receiving end. 

But Opposition Shadow Attorney General Senator Brandis was flabbergasted this was a high priority. And overblown in comments about the parlous state of press freedom here. Not mentioned is that Australia is ranked 26 of 179 countries by Reporters Without Borders

Associate Professor Fernandez of Curtin University includes a handy summary of the shield law provisions around the country- the gaps are Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australia that don't provide specific protection, there is no specific reference to ‘journalist’ in the Tasmanian Evidence Act, and those that have legislated in recent years (the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria and Western Australia) haven't adopted uniform provisions. Standard federation practice you might say.

Michael McKinnon of Seven Network on freedom of information writes
..the promise of the reforms of 2010 have not been met and FoI is still a battleground. The OAIC has proven to be more of a problem than a solution to exercising a legal right of access of information.
McKinnon is critical of the Hawke review terms of reference and most reform ideas floated from within government, and makes a strong case for disclosure of advice documents in the public interest as a way of focusing on the quality of government decisions. 

I'm with him thus far but start to part company when he returns to familiar themes in discussing the performance of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

McKinnon sees inconsistency in the OAIC role in review on the one hand, and other FoI functions (leadership, guidance, regular meetings with agencies and their representatives) on the other. I think they're complimentary not inconsistent. And that applicants should have a right of appeal to the AAT as well as the option of the OAIC, "as the OAIC is failing its core purpose of providing a timely and independent merits review mechanism." While there are serious questions about timeliness, I don't think the AAT as an option instead of OAIC review is the answer-lawyers for the agency at cost to the taxpayer and to the disadvantage of most applicants, although I know McKinnon is well able to handle things in the AAT himself. And no evidence that the AAT would be more timely.

(Addition: See McKinnon's assessment last year and my comments at the time.)

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