Press freedom reforms welcomed, but more needed say media companies

Law enforcement agencies will need a warrant from a Supreme or Federal Court judge before raiding journalists under a range of press freedom reforms agreed to by the Morrison government.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government would adopt all 16 recommendations made by the Parliament's intelligence and security committee, following its inquiry into the impact of law enforcement powers on the freedom of the press.

Media organisations have campaigned for legal reforms to protect press freedom.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

But the proposed changes were criticised by News Corp Australia for failing to adequately address "Australia's press freedom problem".

"The police and other agencies can still obtain warrants to investigate journalists without media companies having any ability to argue their case," said News Corp Australia executive chairman Michael Miller.

"These recommendations have changed procedures but they haven't addressed the real issues that mean journalists still face the risk of jail for simply doing their job."

In line with the committee's recommendations, the government will also draft new laws to expand the role of a public interest advocate to contest agencies' applications for warrants against journalists and media outlets for publication of leaked material in breach of secrecy laws.

The changes will also ensure the advocate role can only be fulfilled by someone who is senior counsel, a former judge, or who have served at least five years in the role.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the changes would “support the right of journalists and whistleblowers to hold governments to account”.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Mr Porter said the changes would "support the right of journalists and whistleblowers to hold governments at all levels to account by shining a light on issues that are genuinely in the public interest".

The committee's report disappointed media organisations when it was released in August as it rejected their key demands, including that journalists be given advance notice to contest warrants before raids are carried out.

The Alliance for Journalists' Freedom welcomed the government's move on Wednesday as a "good start", but said a separate Act was needed to legislate press freedom to counter the weight of national security laws passed in recent years.

"A media freedom Act is needed as a buffer against all the legislation that has been created to keep Australia safe but has unfortunately weakened presse freedom," AJF chair Peter Wilkinson said.

The parliamentary inquiry was set up in response to the raids by the Australian Federal Police last year on the home of News Corp political journalist Annika Smethurst and the Sydney headquarters of the ABC.

The decision to strengthen the current laws to require that warrants relating to journalists be issued by senior courts addresses criticism in the wake of the ABC raid, which was authorised by a NSW local court registrar.

Hugh Marks, chief executive of Nine Entertainment Co, owner of this masthead, described the committee's report in August as a "missed opportunity" but on Wednesday welcomed the govenrment's response as a "strong positive step".

"But there will always be more work to do to ensure the right settings for media freedom in Australia and we will continue to advocate for that to enable our people to serve their audiences," Mr Marks said.

Mr Porter also announced on Wednesday the government would implement a raft of recommendations in response to a review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which he acknowledged had been "widely criticised for being confusing and impenetrable".

Start your day informed

Our Morning Edition newsletter is a curated guide to the most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up to The Sydney Morning Herald’s newsletter here, The Age’s here, Brisbane Times’ here, and WAtoday’s here.

Most Viewed in Politics

Source: Read Full Article