Contributed by Joe Montero
There is serious concern over the latest national security crackdown by the Turnbull government. People in the media have warned that this could result in journalists going to jail for doing their work.
Wide-ranging secrecy provisions mean that anyone who communicates or deals with information, could be jailed for up to 20 years.
This proposed new law is in the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017, which is before a joint house committee.
Wording of the bill remain almost the same as it was, when first introduced last year. The only change since the bill first appeared is that journalists may be free from prosecution, if they can prove that the reporting is in the public interest.
It is not so easy to do, and the condition can be removed, if the journalist is not “engaged in fair and accurate reporting”. Who decides? The government of course. The new intended law also rules out any reporting that involves “information that will or is likely to harm or prejudice the health or safety of the public or a section of the public”. This is not defined and therefore potentially outlaws all reporting, creating a gateway to large scale censorship.
Paul Murphy, the Leader of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which is the journalist’s union, said that “it’s not necessarily clear to the journalist, their editor, or the lawyer as to what is or isn’t going to constitute an offence.
“It’s criminalising journalism. And other elements of the bill increasingly criminalise the brave people who come forward as whistleblowers”.
He added that along with previous amendments to the national security laws, the bill “has a chilling effect and discourages journalists and media organisations from reporting important stories”.
The union has put it name to a joint submission with the other media organisations and warns that the proposed new law “criminalises all steps of news reporting, from gathering and researching of information to publication/communication, and applies criminal risk to journalists, other editorial staff and support staff that know of the information that is now an offence to ‘deal’ with, hold and communicate. The result is that fair scrutiny and public interest reporting is increasingly difficult and there is a real risk that journalists could go to jail for doing their jobs.
This law threatens not only journalists, because it allows government to hide behind a wall of secrecy and limit public scrutiny about what it does. It is a fundamental threat to basic human rights, in a political climate an increasingly big brother style of politics, rising restrictions put on citizens and stepped up surveillance of everyday activities.
Attacks on the right to know what is going on, leave everyone, except for those with power in their hands, much less capacity to defend themselves, open to bullying and discrimination. Stopping this is a fundamental duty for all who stand for the truth and justice.