Tag Archives: press regulation

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:


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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#


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


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


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


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:


© Toni Mackey and Eve Soliman 2014

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Budget cuts to FOI body could prompt delays

By guest blogger EVE SOLIMAN – press freedom intern

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.

The Attorney General’s Office will be funding $500,000 this year and $900,000 annually in the following years, the Human Rights Commission will contribute $2.7 million in 2015 and around $5.5 million annually the following years and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will pay $300,000 this year and half a million dollars annually in the following years.

The reasons behind the budget cut can only be speculated, but could have a negative impact on the freedom of information and ways that the functions can be met.

A major critique by the government, agencies and other commentators on the OAIC, is that it has been inefficient in delivering information and reviewing FOI applications.

But despite claims of the OAIC’s efficiency, or viewing the institution as unnecessary there is copious amounts of evidence on the accomplishments and progress of OAIC to counter the arguments.

The completion of cases per day has increased from .37 cases in the first year and a half of its establishment, to 4.7 cases per day, the completion and cessation of FOI requests and privacy complaints also increased substantially.

The OAIC was formed in 2010 as an independent bureau within the Attorney General’s Department that’s purpose involved several elements of information dispersal and management: privacy, FOI and policy.

Predating the formation of the OAIC, the Privacy Commissioner belonged to the Human Rights Commission. The OAIC has 76 staff.

The OAIC has accomplished many things within the spectrum of privacy, freedom of information and information policy.

The agency had conducted an audit of the information management policies belonging to 191 Australian government agencies.

OAIC also resolved a total of 1,191 appeal applications and requests for information and published the reasoning for 186 of those cases, handled 4521 phone enquiries and 1891 written enquiries involving freedom of information and closed 394 FOI complaints.

In 2011, the OAIC hosted a National Information Policy Conference, that was attended by hundreds of people and created and dispersed the Principles on open public sector information which the government utilises and relies on.







© Eve Soliman 2014

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How the ABC cuts will damage media freedom in the region

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

[Thanks to press freedom intern Eve Soliman for her research assistance here.]

One of the saddest aspects of Tuesday’s budget cuts to the ABC and SBS and the axing of the $220 million Australia Network contract is the impact on media freedom in the Asia-Pacific region.

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 11.13.07 AMAmong the Australian values the Australia Network has advocated to neighbouring countries has been the effective operation of a genuinely independent national broadcaster – funded by the government yet producing high quality Fourth Estate journalism exposing corruption and questioning policy in the public interest.

Its current affairs schedule has included top shelf news and current affairs programs like 7.30, Dateline, Lateline, Foreign Correspondent, Q&A, The World This Week and of course ABC News Breakfast. Add to that the online curation via the Australian News Network website and you have a showcase of the media playing a watchdog role in a functioning democracy.

Many of the countries receiving the Australia Network fare much worse than Australia’s 28th position on Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, including Vietnam (174th), Singapore (150th) and Malaysia (147th).

These are nations where ‘public broadcasting’ means something quite different and journalists are subjected to licensing regimes and even jail, with 232 imprisoned in Vietnam in 2012 and, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more this month.

Our quality public broadcasting content has operated as an exemplar of how journalism can work in a properly functioning democracy.

The Australia Network commitment was one of the few budgetary investments in media freedom made by this country – and now it is gone.

So too will many journalism jobs if ABC management is unable to find further cuts in its tight administrative budget – which is unlikely according to managing director Mark Scott.

The Budget announcement that the ABC was suffering only a 1 per cent cut over four years might not sound much, but this needs to be combined with inflation of around 3 per cent increasing operating costs.

Anyone familiar with compound interest would understand that this 4 per cent annual deterioration represents an escalating erosion of the ABC’s budget over that period – down to 96% of its current budget in the first year, 92% in the second, 88% in its third, and 84.5% in the fourth.

You can see how – when combined with inflation – the 1 per cent haircut actually becomes a 15% decrease over those four years.

That means either fewer staff, fewer programs, or low cost junior personnel replacing experienced colleagues at the public broadcasters in coming years.

Australia Network viewers seem less likely to have the opportunity to view some of the Walkley Award winning reportage brought to them through its programming in recent years.

Our Asian and Pacific neighbours have been witness – via the Australia Network – to corruption being exposed in all quarters by leading Australian journalists whose media organizations are now under threat.

The network also relayed other news stemming from the work of Kate McClymont of the Sydney Morning Herald which led to many of the recent revelations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

They have also heard news of the Royal Commission into Child Abuse – also triggered by top notch investigative reporting by the Newcastle Herald’s Joanne McCarthy.

But recent Fairfax redundancies and pressures on other news organizations combines with this Budget decision to send a somber message to the region  – the quality and quantity of news and current affairs in this Western democracy is on the decline.

It will be interesting to see how this development feeds into Australia’s ranking in the 2015 RSF World Press Freedom Index.

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014


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Why Australians should care about World Press Freedom Day: My blog for No Fibs

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

CITIZEN journalism site No Fibs has just posted my latest blog on today’s international marking of World Press Freedom Day.

It got a nice nod from Paul Barry of ABC’s Media Watch. Cheers Paul!

You can view the full piece here, but here is a taste:


Readers of the NoFibs site reap the rewards of citizen journalists expressing their news and views with a high level of free expression by world standards.

So why should Australians care about media freedom on World Press Freedom Day 2014?

Quite simply, because it is a ‘fragile freedom’ – continually under threat and only noticed by most people once they have lost it.

Just ask any of the refugees who have fled to Australia over the past century from regimes that have robbed them of their human rights. One of their first responses is typically that they love their new home country because it is ‘free’ and they can express themselves freely here.

Screen Shot 2014-05-05 at 4.50.16 PMWhen you look at international indices of media freedom like that of Reporters Without Borders, Australia (ranked 28th) sits in stark contrast to the censorship and intimidation of journalists in many other countries like Vietnam (174th), China (175th) and Somalia (176th).

Journalists are not usually jailed in this country (although Melbourne broadcaster and blogger Derryn Hinch was a recent exception) – and they are certainly not tortured or murdered for exercising their right to free expression here.

At least in Hinch’s case he was duly tried and convicted (for breach of a suppression order) in a legal system that is open, just and in accordance with the rule of law.

The same cannot be said of another jailed Australian journalist, Peter Greste, who remains in jail in Egypt after 130 days along with five of his Al Jazeera media colleagues (and 14 others) on trumped up charges of defaming the country and of consorting with the Muslim Brotherhood.

While Greste’s plight has been highlighted here because of his nationality, he is just one of 168 journalists jailed throughout the world this year for just doing their job. The expression ‘shoot the messenger’ takes on a chilling reality when you also consider the 25 journalists, bloggers and citizen journalists killed already in 2014.

Australia’s relatively good performance in these press freedom rankings belies the fact that there are ongoing and emerging threats to free expression.

… and that’s just half of it. Read the full blog at No Fibs.

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014

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Threatening letters from officialdom chill free expression – @journlaw blog #MLGriff

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

[With research assistance from RSF interns Toni Mackey and Eve Soliman]

Intimidating letters sent by two of Australia’s most senior public servants in recent weeks sound alarm bells for free expression and a free media.

The first – from the secretary for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection Martin Bowles – was directed to freelance journalist Asher Wolf following her co-written article for the Guardian Australia on February  19, 2014 titled ‘Immigration Department data lapse reveals asylum seekers’ personal details‘.

The database Wolf had sourced via the Department’s own public website contained personal details of one third of all asylum seekers held in Australia – almost 10,000 adults and children.

The department secretary’s letter implied Wolf had obtained the material on which the article was based by ‘dishonest or unfair means’. She says the data was simply sitting on the department’s website. Bowles demanded Wolf agree not to publish the contents and ‘return all hard and soft copies of the information’ including any her storage devices.

You can view the letter here: WolfDIBP to The Guardian – A Wolf.

And in this 11 minute interview Wolf explains the episode in her own words:

On advice from her lawyers she wrote back, refusing to provide the department with anything and cited her ethical obligation as a journalist to protect her sources. To date there has been no further word from the department since that February 26 reply.

Wolf explained to @journlaw: “The response from the Government was to reframe the issue rather than sort of saying ‘whoops we made a mistake, sorry, let’s fix it up’. It was to frame it as though it had been illicitly accessed, that the confidential information had to be given back, that the files had to be given back.”

The second intimidating letter was to a politician rather than a journalist, but is no less alarming for its potential chilling effect on free expression – and all the more alarming because it involved a military chief writing direct to a senator-elect.

Chief of the Australian Defence Force General David Hurley wrote to Palmer United Party senator-elect Jacqui Lambie on March 7, following the Tasmanian politician’s claims in a media release that sexual abuse in the military was ‘an intractable problem’.

His letter stated he was disappointed she issued a media release before raising her concerns with him and encouraged her to first provide him an opportunity to reply to any such claims in the future. See the letter here: HurleyToLambieLetter

In her response (LambieReply to Australia’s Chief of Defence’s letter of complaint), Lambie – a former soldier – described General Hurley’s letter as disrespectful, condescending and improper.

“For you as the head of our defence force to take the unprecedented and extraordinary step of trying to influence an elected member of parliament by sending a letter with such a patronizing and condescending tone is a disgrace,” she wrote.

She raised the possibility of the letter constituting a contempt of parliament as an improper interference “with the free performance by a senator of the senator’s duties as a senator”.

Of course, that might be too long a stretch, but it is certainly of concern when top military and immigration officials start writing direct to journalists and politicians chiding them for their public statements and implying some wrongdoing on their part.

It is spin and ‘media management’ gone way too far – and is symptomatic of nations far lower down Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index than Australia’s.

Both Immigration Secretary Bowles and General Hurley undoubtedly have a host of excuses for penning those letters. Bowles was clearly trying to limit the damage from the privacy leak, and indeed has obligations under the Privacy Act to demonstrate his department has done what it can to retrieve leaked information and minimise any damage caused. Hurley was clearly frustrated by a politician’s insistence on making unspecified claims of abuse when there were inquiries and other avenues for complaints to be made.

But many other strategies were available to them to deal with these issues short of writing stern reprimands from their own desks, directly to a journalist and a politician. The democratic doctrine of ‘separation of powers’ is somewhat blurry in Australia, and it is made all the more so when senior members of the executive engage in public spats with the media and politicians.

I cannot imagine that such high level officials would not realise, or be advised, that their intimidating letters would not reach the public domain. If they thought they would remain secret, then we must ask important questions about how frequently this technique is being used. If they understood their letters would likely go public, then the threat to free expression is all the more chilling.

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014

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10 mins with Journlaw: RSF correspondent Bob Howarth discusses media freedom and Timor Leste

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

IN the latest episode of 10 Minutes With Journlaw, I interview Reporters Without Borders correspondent for Timor Leste about media freedom issues there and elsewhere in the region.

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 3.09.20 PM

10 Minutes With Journlaw: Mark Pearson interviews RSF correspondent Bob Howarth

Howarth is a veteran newspaper reporter, editor and manager who has worked throughout the Australia-Asia-Pacific region for more than four decades.

He is Reporters Without Borders (RSF) correspondent for Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste and the Solomon Islands.

In this interview we talk about media freedom issues in the region.

(10 mins, recorded 6 March 2014).

[See a summary of my speech to last October’s journalism congress in Timor Leste in my earlier post].

Read Lindsay Murdoch’s March 5 story in The Age about the state of media freedom in East Timor here.

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2014

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Timor-Leste journalists decide on ethics code and press council as tougher laws loom

By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw

AN historic congress of Timor-Leste journalists held in Dili over the weekend (October 25-27) voted for their first code of ethics and a seven-member press council.

But the next hurdle for media freedom in the small Asia-Pacific nation will be a press law currently before the national parliament which it is feared will feature a journalist licensing system and criminal penalties.


Timor-Leste PM Xanana Gusmao greets officials at the national journalists’ congress on Friday. Photo © Mark Pearson 2013

The media law proposed by a committee of journalists advising the government featured self-regulatory controls. However, the final version includes amendments proposed by the Secretary of State for Social Communication, Mr Nélio Isaac Sarmento, rumoured to include the licensing and criminal sanctions.

Opening the congress on Friday, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao scolded journalists for not having developed adequate self-regulation when he had warned them to do so in 2009.

But he congratulated the media associations on their latest efforts to unify for a code of ethics and press council; stating that press freedom was important to democracy, but that freedom should be exercised responsibly.

More than 150 journalists in attendance on Sunday – representing several journalism associations – voted for the 10 point code of ethics, featuring a preamble affirming the importance of free expression and media self-regulation and clauses on: accuracy and impartiality, opposition to censorship, defence of the public interest, anti-discrimination, separation of fact from opinion, confidentiality of sources, quick correction of inaccuracies, rejection of plagiarism, protection of identity of victims, and rejection of financial inducements.

That final clause will present major challenges for Timor-Leste journalists, many of who freely admit to accepting payments from politicians for positive coverage.

Media sources say reporters are often paid US$5-20 at press conferences and up to US$40 by officials when accompanying ministers on tours to the provinces.

Such payments represent a substantial influence, given media outlets only pay their reporters about US$140 per month plus lunch and travel expenses.

Other problems facing the industry are a lack of training, a dependence on government advertising and the endemic drift of journalists to public service positions when they become available. This leaves editors and news directors with newsrooms staffed by inexperienced personnel.

The congress was funded by the European Union’s 1 million euro Media Support Program, co-ordinated by Portugal.

Foreign experts sharing their own countries’ experiences with self-regulation included the chairman of the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Eko Maryadi, Christiana Chelsia Chan from the Press Council of Indonesia, Portuguese journalism academics Joaquim Fidalgo and Carlos Camponez, and @journlaw (Mark Pearson, Professor of Journalism and Social Media, Griffith University, Australia). [See a summary of my speech in my earlier post].

© Mark Pearson 2013

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.


Under-resourced … the director of the Jornal Independente, Mouzinho Lopes de Araujo, in his Dili office. Photo © Mark Pearson 2013


A port-side banner in Dili advertising the congress. Photo © Mark Pearson 2013


Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao addresses the journalism congress. Photo © Mark Pearson 2013


Timor-Leste journalists vote on their ethical code. Photo © Mark Pearson 2013


Media freedom – blooming amidst the razor wire. Photo © Mark Pearson 2013


Leaders of some of Timor-Leste’s many journalism associations preside over the congress. Photo © Mark Pearson 2013


Education and training … crucial to the strength of the media in Timor-Leste. Photo © Mark Pearson 2013

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