Journalists union stands against hate speech and rising threat to press freedom

Contributed by an MEAA member

The section of the Media Arts and Entertainment Alliance (MEAA) that represents journalists has made a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights that is holding an inquiry into parts of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The submission raises concern about the rise of hate speech in Australian, noting that Part IIA of the Act was introduced long before the widespread use of digital technology.

“Now there are a multitude of platforms available for the widespread dissemination of opinions and messages of all kinds. Social media platforms enable those engaging in hate speech to spread their message, call others together who share their views and to use these platforms to target and discriminate against individuals and groups on the basis of race… Hate speech is antithetical to ethical journalism, and in particular to MEAA’s Journalist Code of Ethics,” the submission said.

However, the submission argues that the use of the words “insult” and “offend” in s18C have become increasingly confusing.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has found that s18C lacked “sufficient precision and clarity in key respects” and that, as a consequence, an “incoherent body of case law has developed, where too much is left open to the decision maker in each case”.

Within the MEAA Media submission there is a recommendation that a review of the legislation should consider replacing “insult” and “offend” with “vilify”. The MEAA opposes any other change to s18D of the Act.

There is also a call to for action on other pressing areas that relate to threats to freedom of the press;

  • the persecution and prosecution of whistleblowers;
  • the threat of up to 10 years jail for journalists and whistleblowers contained in s35P of the ASIO Act;
  • the star chamber powers of anti-corruption bodies that bypass journalist shield laws (journalist privilege);
  • the use of Journalist Information Warrants to secretly access journalists’ telecommunications data to discover journalists’ sources;
  • the use of defamation, contempt of court and suppression orders to intimidate or muzzle legitimate reporting;
  • the efforts to hobble freedom of information; and
  • the refusal of government to provide access to information.

Australia is facing an ongoing erosion of traditional rights that are not only having an impact on the ability of journalists to do their job, but which also affects the right of citizens to choose who they associate with, the right to privacy, to be protected by legal process and to be free from the threat of victimisation. It is up to all of us to make a difference.



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