Environment and Communications References Committee press freedom inquiry hearing
– 12th August 2020
AJF evidence summary + key points
AJF noted that since our last hearing, a lot has happened to freedom of media both in Australia and across our region. This reaffirms our original proposition—the urgent need for a comprehensive Media Freedom Act (MFA).
Regarding the MFA, we know some colleagues have been calling for reform of specific laws. While we see value in that approach, we think a far more practical and effective approach would be to introduce a MFA that would codify in legislation the role of the media and its relationship to government.
AJF is an independent advocacy group campaigning for journalists’ freedom, we also believe that with rights come responsibilities. We recognise that in recent years the media has lost public trust and needs to do more to recover it. We are working to address this too. Our key proposal is for working group that brings together the security agencies, civil service and the media to work together to tackle these issues in a coordinated way to build consensus.
AJF is also exploring what journalism involves and the function it has in democracy, as one of the bases of an MFA. This involves consideration of an industry recognition – not accreditation –to provide an objective benchmark for ‘journalism’ and who would covered by the protections offered by an MFA.
AJF raised that the backsliding on media freedom also severely erodes our ability to lead the region in democratic reforms.Unless we move decisively to address our own weaknesses over press freedom, we will become an example to the region’s autocrats rather than a beacon for its democrats.
“The original motivation for this inquiry was to assess the balance between press freedom and national security. We disagree with the underlying premise that the two are necessarily in conflict. While it would be misleading to say there is no issue between those institutions, a free and vibrant press is fundamental to a working democracy. So, if the point of national security is to protect Australians and their way of life, that must also mean protecting our democratic system, including the media’s role within it.”
AJF also discussed the implications of the introduction of emergency measures during a crisis – whether that be the war on terror or Covid-19 – and how these measures, while introduced with the best of intentions, can be difficult to roll back. “This is not to suggest that those measures are unnecessary or illegitimate, but that we need to be very careful about the way in which these emergency measures become established as permanent features of our society that may undermine the way that our democracy works.”
You can read the full Hansard document via this link, however, please note that the AJF has submitted various corrections (largely due to tech glitches) and is now waiting for Hansard to publish the final version.
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