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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

'Dire year' for press freedom in Australia but you won't read about it in the media

Two reports on press freedom -The Freedom House world wide Freedom of the Press 2015 Report and the Media, and the Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) 2015 annual report on the state of things in Australia Going After Whistleblowers, Going After Journalism  - present different assessments of the situation here reflecting differences in the depth of inquiry and when the surveys were undertaken.  

The Freedom House report provides a worldwide snapshot based on a survey undertaken last year. The MEAA report focuses on Australia with some coverage of the regional big picture, provides more comprehensive examination of issues and includes developments up to publication on 1 May. 

Freedom House concludes generally "conditions for media freedom deteriorated sharply in 2014 to their lowest point in more than 10 years." 

Australia is rated overall "Free" and receives a numerical score of 22 on a scale of 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free), about where it has hovered since 2007. In the first survey in 1995 Australia's score was 7. There is no Australia country report.The score puts Australia at 31 in the global rankings (Report p 22). New Zealand with 19 points is at 26.

CEO Paul Murphy in the MEAA report describes "a dire 12 months for the state of press freedom in Australia." 

The report (in the first 47 pages) highlights concerns over the government’s three tranches of national security laws that were passed by the Parliament with by-partisan support, the failure to act to improve whistleblower protection, the undermining of journalist shield laws and Freedom of Information developments.

The section on Freedom of Information (p46) recounts matters raised in submissions to the Federal and NSW governments and reiterates the need for a comprehensive review of the kind Alan Hawke wasn't in a position to undertake.

Looking ahead the MEAA sees
The way forward from this point is a complete, comprehensive review of Australia’s counter-terror legislation and a concomitant review of Australia intelligence, surveillance and law enforcement agencies. The aim should be to introduce meaningful media exemptions from the excesses of these laws so that the vital work of public interest journalism can continue unheeded.

There must also be a rethinking of the role of public disclosure, freedom of information, open government and whistleblowers in our society so that these things are not feared, undermined and even attacked but are embraced as a necessary part of a healthy functioning democracy. To do otherwise means the war on journalism that has become a subset of the war on terror is fought and lost on the home front. And that is too dreadful an outcome to contemplate.” 
But if press coverage is any guide the media is struggling to get this message across. Two Australian outlets carried something about the Freedom House report but neither found the pages that included Australia's score or global ranking so this didn't get a mention in either. 

The MEAA report (dry as dust IMHO) attracted the attention of the Communist Party Of Australia Guardian but that seems to be it.

Maybe the woes of the media wouldn't have much impact on public thinking in any event given media types aren't rated highly.

In The Roy Morgan 2015 Survey of public opinion concerning ethics and honesty in the professions, Newspaper journalists came in at 19 of 30 ( rated highly by 18%), Talk back radio announcers at 21 (16%), and TV reporters 22 (15%).

At least ahead of State MPs 23 (14%) and Federal MPs 25 (13%).

Nurses as usual came in tops - 92%. 

Addendum: those reports don't feature but the SMH editorial "Free speech and democracy v metadata and Telstra" explains why it's not just journos who should be concerned about our metadata:
..the new laws give the authorities a comprehensive picture of the physical movements, interests, contacts, connections and digital trails of everyone in the country who has a smartphone or uses the internet. The implications are vast, and not just for private citizens who are uneasy about the potential for misuse of a vast digital dossier that collects their every move...
The Herald believes the new laws will have a chilling effect on public interest journalism which often relies upon leaks of government information by public servants. As it stands, whistleblowers have no protection at law, even when their leaks are indisputably in the public interest. Disclosing government information of any kind is a crime punishable with two years jail. Exposing official secrets will get you up to seven years. So whistleblowers, including those attempting to remedy official misdeeds, have only had the secrecy of their communications with journalists to protect them from prosecution.
Now, armed with straightforward access to two years of the communications data of everyone including public servants, MPs and journalists, the Australian Federal Police and related agencies will find it relatively simple to identify the source of leaks, effectively gagging bureaucrats who might otherwise have made significant revelations in the public interest. Waste, fraud, incompetence by public officials will go unexposed. Our democracy is much the poorer for it.

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