Threats to media freedom in Australia so far in 2014

This semester I have had the privilege of working with two capable press freedom interns who have been helping me research my reports to Reporters Without Borders in Paris as their Australian correspondent.

Reporters-Without-BordersHere is a summary of the posts from TONI MACKEY and EVE SOLIMAN:

13/03/2014

ABC’s Two Independent Audits Clear Accusation of Biased Coverage

There were two cases where ABC was accused of having a biased coverage. These cases were the news coverage of the 2013 Election against the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the news coverage on Australian Asylum Seeker issues. Andrea Wills conducted an audit of 23 items that involved radio coverage of the 2013 election and found the items all followed the ABC’s Editorial Policies found in section 4. Gerald Stone conducted the audit on the asylum seeker issue and analysed 97 reports. He found the 93 were unbiased and followed ABC’s Editorial Policies. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/audits-exonerate-abc-over-bias-claims/story-e6frg996-1226852398864

Malcolm Turnbull’s Media Reform

Malcolm Turnbull is proposing media reforms however Labor is opposing them because they are worried that it will affect local TV news. These reforms could affect Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media and the Ten Network in preventing them owning regional affiliates. Turnbull is also considering repealing the laws that prevent anyone from owning two out of three media outlets in the one market. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/12/malcolm-turnbull-has-opened-a-can-of-worms-on-media-reform-labor

 18/03/2014

Rinehart’s Court Order to help the introduction of uniform shield laws

Mining magnate Gina Rinehart demanded Adele Ferguson to release her sources, however a court has ruled in Ferguson’s favour with Rinehart’s business having to pay all of her court costs. This case is also being used in support of uniform shield laws for journalists throughout Australia. There have been several previous cases in Australia where journalists have been threatened and charged over not releasing sources. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-15/rinehart-ordered-to-pay-journalist27s-costs/5323084

Politician warned over releasing media statements regarding the military unless given permission

Defence Chief General David Hurley has warned the newly elected Jacqui Lambie against using the media to criticise the military. This was after she released a statement about abuse being an intractable problem in the forces. He sent her a letter stating that if she had any problems with the military then she should take them up with him and not via the media. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-14/tasmanian-senator-elect-jacquie-lambie-labels-a-letter-from-the/5320106?section=tas

26/03/2014

Proposed Legislation Changes Freedoms on Hate Speech

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act –  making it illegal to publicly offend, insult, humiliate on the grounds of race – has been slated for removal in a reform. The proposed legislation states : “it is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if a) the act is reasonably likely (i) to vilify another person or a group of persons; or (ii) to intimidate another person or group of persons.” Section 18D would be repealed and replaced with “ this section does not apply to words, sounds, images, or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.” Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-25/racial-discrimination-act-changes-george-brandis/5343464

01/04/2014

Prime Minister Supports Australian Journalist in Egyptian Jail

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has finally intervened and asked the Egyptian President for the release of journalist Peter Greste. The President has assured Tony Abbott that Greste’s case would be subject to a fair and just trial. He has assured Greste’s family that he would receive all the legal support and assistance that is needed. This comes after a previous article reporting the Opposition Labor Party had pushed for the PM to intervene. They have also declared their support and assistance towards this matter. Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/grestes-family-hail-pms-intervention/story-fni0xqi4-1226867971205?from=herald+sun_rss

02/04/2014

Gag Order involving Gangland Lawyer X by the Victorian Supreme Court placed on Media Outlets

The Herald Sun  in Melbourne has received a gag order from the Victorian Supreme Court. This order is to prevent publication of any information involving Lawyer X which could give away his identity. This order was extended to all media outlets the following day. It is suspected that the lawyer was a police informant from 1996 to 2010. Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/herald-sun-silenced-in-latenight-court-case-from-telling-you-more-about-lawyer-x/story-fni0fit3-1226871611414

 

08/04/2014

Dob in a public servant campaign

Public servants have been urged to dob in their colleagues for posting political criticisms on social media. This comes under the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct and breaches of this act include “harsh or extreme in their criticism of the Government, Government policies, a member of parliament from another political party, or their respective policies, that they could raise questions about the employee’s capacity to work professionally, efficiently or impartially.” It covers posts that are made on facebook, twitter, youtube, pinterest, flikr, blogs, forums and wikipedia. Source: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/colleagues-told-dob-in-political-web-posts/story-fni0cx12-1226875635588

Seven Network’s reputation damage by the Australian Federal Police

Seven Network suffered damages to its reputation after an Australian Federal Police raid that was looking for evidence of a deal with Schapelle Corby. The network says that even if there was a deal, there was no criminal offence and that because of the raid it has suffered damage to its corporate image from it imply they have committed an offence. They stated that they complied with the instructions to hand over documents to the AFP, however it was implied that there was further material that was being withheld. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/07/seven-network-says-it-suffered-reputational-damage-after-afp-raids

09/04/2014

Mamma Mia Faces Possible Contempt of Court

Mamma Mia journalist Kate Leaver’s article included alleged prejudicial remarks on the Hughes case. At this time however the jury was still in session, the article was published with a headline that did not state the subject of Robert Hughes which meant that the jury members could have been exposed to biased information. Coverage on this possible conviction of contempt of court was banned to be reported on until after the trial was over. The article involved accusations against Hughes’ wife. Judge Zahra referred the matter to the NSW Attorney General Source: http://mumbrella.com.au/mamamia-face-possible-contempt-court-charges-robert-hughes-case-219065

15/04/2014

Clive Palmer may back Cross Media Law Changes

Clive Palmer has said that he is considering voting for the repeal of cross media ownership. This is because of the introduction of new media outlets such as internet. Source: http://www.smh.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/clive-palmer-mulls-vote-for-cross-media-law-change-20140407-368xn.html

Journalist Wins First Round in Court Case

Natalie O’Brien has sued ABC’s Media Watch over defamatory remarks critiquing her reporting. She has won the first round of legal battles. This is in regards to her report over poisonous chemicals detected near a children’s playground in July last year. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/broadcast/journalist-wins-first-round-in-court-case/story-fna045gd-1226883045684#

13/05/2014

Australian Journalist Deported

An Australian journalist was deported from Myanmar. This was because he was covering a press freedom demonstration. The authorities accused him of breaching the terms of his business visa. They believe that he was taking part in the demonstration. This follows a previous journalist working for the same website Democratic Voice of Burma, being sentenced a year in jail. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-09/australian-journalist-deported-from-myanmar/5440830

Photographer attacked

The photographer  Sam Mooy was taking photographs of former boyfriend of previous PM Julia Gillard. Bruce Wilson is reported to have just lashed out and struck the photographer’s equipment, grabbed him by the collar and attempted to strike him. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/julia-gillards-exboyfriend-bruce-wilson-attacks-photographer/story-fn59noo3-1226914699235

20/05/2014

A Senate Inquiry found that the AFP bungled the raid on the Seven Network and that sources should be protected.

A government inquiry has found that the AFP raid on Seven network attempting to gather evidence of chequebook journalism being used in an exclusive interview with Schapelle Corby was incompetent and costly. The inquiry also found that sources should be protected in the case of such raids. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/afp-bungled-seven-network-raid-and-sources-should-be-protected-senate-inquiry-finds/story-e6frg996-1226919836654#mm-premium

21/05/2014

Budget Cuts Get Rid of Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

The Federal Budget has called for the disassembly of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner by 1 January 2014. This is an effort to save $10.2 million a year. This dissolution means the duties will have to be relocated to four other bodies. Source: http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/government-it/abbott-government-uncomfortable-with-freedom-of-information-laws-opposition-20140514-zrc1r.html

27/05/2014

Treasurer Joe Hockey Suing Fairfax

Treasurer Joe Hockey is suing Fairfax over articles published that defamed him. They are about a fundraising event alleging in exchange for donations the donors gained access to him. He believes he has been greatly injured, shunned and avoided. His lawyers say his reputation has been brought into disrepute, odium, ridicule and contempt. He is claiming damages, interest and costs. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/the-media-debate-over-hockey-suing-fairfax/story-e6frg996-1226931129296#

Budget Media Cuts

Treasurer Joe Hockey’s budget contains a 1% cut to ABC and SBS funding for the next four years. Although this may seem minute in reality this also includes the media outlet not benefiting from the 3% inflation rate adjustments and remaining stagnant. The 1% cut amounts to an annual decrease of $9 million the first year, also the complete cancellation of funding for The Australia Network. ACMA (The Australian Communications and Media Authority) also is receiving a $3.3 million cut over four years. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/abc-news-to-feel-effect-of-australia-network-axe/story-e6frg996-1226917173980

Asher Wolf Case

Asher Wolf is a freelance journalist reporting of privacy breaches made by the Department of Immigration. However they then demanded Asher Wolf to hand over the materials relevant to the story. This breach was found on the Department of Immigration’s website where complete personal information of over 10,000 (1/3) of Australia’s asylum seekers with full name, birth date, arrival, placement etc. was accessible to unauthorized personnel. Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/19/asylum-seekers-identities-revealed-in-immigration-department-data-lapse

Morcombe’s publicly call for a Change in Laws

Father of murdered schoolboy Daniel Morcombe, Bruce Morcombe,  has publicly pleaded for a change in law to allow juries to know about a defendant’s past crimes when they are on trial. Morcombe believes that “members of the public are smart enough to hear the truth in court”. During the murder trial the jury heard about the past crimes of another suspect, but not of the defendant’s. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/bruce-morcombe-calls-for-jurors-to-hear-past-crimes-of-defendants-after-his-son-daniels-killer-brett-peter-cowan-was-tried-without-his-criminal-history-being-revealed/story-e6frg6n6-1226905141811

Government Snooping

Accusations have arisen regarding Government bodies snooping on the public’s social media pages. It started from a tweet from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) to a pro-asylum seeker activist that gave the impression that they had seen posts on her private Facebook page. On April 4 2014, the DIBP sent Vanessa Powell a twitter message stating “it’s come to our attention that a Facebook post on your wall contains an offensive remark directed at a staff member”.  The tweets from the DIBP stated “If you do not remove your Facebook post with immediate effect, we will consider our options further” and “Post in question is dated yesterday, with a picture of a bus and contains a comment by George Georgiadis”.  This last tweet is in response to Ms Powell asking what tweet they were referring too. This post has since been removed from Ms Powell’s Facebook page. According to a Sydney Morning Herald article the DIBP hires private contractors who monitor social media every day to determine Australian perceptions on different policies. Source: http://www.smh.com.au/national/public-service/government-cyber-snoops-scouring-social-media-20140410-36gen.html

Australia-based African Defamation Case

Australian- based Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front writer Reason Wafawarova is being sued for defamation by former Zimbabwe Envoy ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila. Zwambila filed for a lawsuit back in 2011 where she claimed that Wafawarova defamed her in an article published in the Zimbabwean state media in 2010. This article claimed that a former Zimbabwean envoy had stripped in front of embassy staff. She has claimed that the article has followed her around, her name had been stigmatised and that it had taken dignity away from the country. Wafawarova has said that he is unable to receive a fair trial because his witnesses are Zimbabwean diplomats that have since been redeployed from the embassy and that their governments had refused his request for their appearances. He has also argued that the article was about something that happened on Zimbabwean soil and in a Zimbabwe newspaper so therefore Australia should have no jurisdiction over the matter. Source: http://www.swradioafrica.com/2014/05/12/former-envoy-sues-zanu-pf-writer-for-200000/

Senator Faulkner and Spy Cameras

Senator Faulkner has accused the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) of spying on him using CCTV cameras, which he says is a breach of parliamentary privilege. The head of DPS has been questioned by Senator Faulkner in a Senate Estimates hearing, where she has admitted to the footage being accessed “to gather evidence in a potential code of conduct case around an individual, yes”. It is believed by media that the reason behind this was to identify a whistleblower who was leaking information to the Senator. Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/parliamentary-cameras-monitored-john-faulkner-with-whistleblower/story-fn59niix-1226931722580#

Fairfax Defamation Cases

Nick Di Girolamo who was the former chief executive of Australian Water Holdings is also suing Fairfax media in a $12.5 million defamation suit. He says that his reputation was trashed by stories published in the Sydney Morning Herald. These stories were from 2012 and 2013 and investigated involvement of the corrupt former Labor Minister Eddie Obeid in the water company. Sources: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/23/nick-di-girolamo-launches-125m-defamation-suit-against-fairfax-mediahttp://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/media-diary/obeids-to-sue-fairfax-for-50m/story-fnab9kqj-1226931115298#

Australian journalists face the possibility of extra delays in their freedom of information appeals with Australian federal budget cuts doing away with the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) by January 2015.

The cut is meant to save $10.2 million a year, but dissolving  the OAIC will mean the duties that the agency carried out will have to be shifted into four other bodies.

The privacy functions that are carried out by the Privacy Commissioner will continue as an independent legislative position within the Human Rights Commission.

The external examination of Freedom of Information (FOI) will be adopted by the Administrative Affairs Tribunal.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman will take the responsibility of filing and treatment of FOI complaints.

The last function will be divided into the Attorney General’s Department, whose responsibility will include the administering of “FOI guidelines, collecting statistics and providing explanatory material on the operation of the Freedom of Information Act 1982” (Office of the Information Commissioner disbanded as part of budget reforms, Ashurst Australia).

The budget cuts aimed at saving $10.2 million annually but will only save $3.3 million in direct financing this year and the cost of financing the continued duties, once carried out by the federal budget will be passed onto the four separate departments that it absorbed into. Source:

http://www.oaic.gov.au/news-and-events/statements/australian-governments-budget-decision-to-disband-oaic/australian-government-s-budget-decision-to-disband-oaic

© Toni Mackey and Eve Soliman 2014

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