Journalists who publish stories based on leaked Government documents are being treated as though they have received “stolen goods”, an inquiry into press freedom has heard.
- The parliamentary inquiry into press freedom follows raids on a News Corp journalist and ABC offices
- Media bosses are calling for public interest protections for journalists to do their jobs without fear
- The inquiry is to report by October on the impact on law enforcement and intelligence powers on the media
ABC managing director David Anderson told a parliamentary inquiry the world’s attention was on Australian media following the AFP’s raid on the national broadcaster’s headquarters in June.
He said the warrant on the ABC was issued with a “patchwork of laws” which relied on the criminal offence of “receipt of stolen goods”.
“Immediate and tangible reforms to legislation that inhibits the ABC’s ability to do its job are required,” he said.
“There must be a robust public interest protection for journalists in the criminal code.”
Mr Anderson was one of several heads of Australian media organisations who appeared before a parliamentary inquiry into press freedom which is reviewing the impact national security laws have on journalists.
He said Australia lags “far behind” its overseas counterparts in facilitating whistleblowers to shine a light on maladministration and corruption.
“And without whistleblowers we would not have the searing Four Corners exposes which directly led to the aged care and banking royal commissions.”
Executive chair of News Corp, Michael Miller, told the inquiry the Government talked about the value of a robust and free media, but legislative changes were needed to ensure Australians did not lose their democratic freedoms.
“[We’re] a fundamental pillar, they say, keeping the public informed, they say … the rhetoric plays to the right tune but we have many laws that criminalise journalism,” he said.
“We may not be living in a police state but we are living in a state of secrecy.
“They are creating a secret society that most Australians would not recognise as our own.”
Mr Miller said the media industry was not seeking to place journalists above the law, but simply demanding a whistleblower privilege, in the same form as patient-doctor and lawyer-client relationships.
Nine CEO Hugh Marks said the onus was on journalists to argue a public-interest defence, which worked on the premise that “we could be criminals”.
“[Whereas] an exemption is a mark of respect.”
The ABC raids were held over a series of 2017 stories, known as the Afghan Files, which revealed allegation of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.
The stories were based on hundreds of pages of secret Defence documents leaked to the ABC.
Last month the ABC revealed the AFP sought the fingerprints of the journalists involved in the stories, an action described by the ABC’s head of investigative journalism, John Lyons, as “a chilling development” akin to treating the journalists in “the same way as someone suspected of breaking into a house”.