News Corp: We will fight for your right to keep reporting and to keep you out of jail

Michael Miller, News Corp Australasia executive chairman
By Michael Miller, News Corp Australasia executive chairman | 26 June 2019
News Corp's Australian papers

Full text of an address to the National Press Club by News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller.

Fighting for press freedom and the public’s right to know isn’t a cause News has just discovered.

In 25 years working alongside journalists, I have had to sign off on stories knowing that we would end up in court _ sometimes for years.

I have supported the many fights against suppression orders and intimidation, and I have stood feeling helpless with an editor in Adelaide as police searched his newsroom.

Along with the rest of my News colleagues, I watched in shock a decade ago as 27 officers marched into Sam Weir’s Sunday Times newsroom in Perth looking for evidence of a source in a search which was later found to be unjustified.

And we are joined here today by Michael Harvey a journalist who has to answer “yes” to the question of: “Do you have a criminal record?” just because he refused to give up his sources.

And of course, Annika Smethurst whose home was searched by the AFP for seven hours.

At News we are all invested in journalism.

We all respect the journalistic pursuit of justice, the telling of uncomfortable truths, the courage to put your name to controversy and to keep the public informed.

We will fight for your right to keep reporting and to keep you out of jail.

We also support laws that keep us safe; we believe in being tough on terrorism and strong on border security, however that does not mean we have to accept laws that makes journalism an offence.

We do not accept that safety has to equal secrecy.

At number 21, Australia continues to slide down the world rankings of countries with a free press and a commitment to open government, 14 positions behind New Zealand.

This simply is not good enough. Democracies like ours should be leading by example, not falling behind.

People may say that the laws which are now being used against journalists have existed for decades and that journalism is not above the law.

That’s true, but two AFP raids in two days, and strong information that other raids were planned means something has shifted.

I think the raids on Annika and the ABC were intimidation, not investigation.And not just intimidation of reporters; intimidation of people with the courage to talk to them.

These raids put our democracy in danger, they put our right to be informed in danger and they put people who talk to journalists in danger.

We call on the Attorney General Christian Porter to categorically state that neither Annika or any ABC journalists will face criminal prosecution as a result of these recent raids.

Over the last decade Australia has passed laws to combat threats to our society, and no one is downplaying how real those threats are.

But almost every time, these laws have been rushed through.

Parliament has not been interested in our concerns about protection or exemptions for journalists or for whistle-blowers.

The reality is the concessions we have achieved have been inadequate compromises.

The result is that journalists, and even support staff, face jail for handling information which they may not even know is secret or sensitive.

We break the law if we tell how people are recruiting for terrorism.

News Corp has been censored for revealing how ISIS planned to lure people into danger.

Most of the flaws in these laws can be easily corrected to reset the balance between security and the right to know.

But there is a deeper problem.

The culture of secrecy.

Too many people who frame policy, write laws, control information and conduct court hearings have stopped believing that the public's right to know comes first.

We can't be a free society if we stop caring about freedom.

News Corp will challenge the warrant that was used to search Annika’s home.

But going to court to fight after the raid has been carried out does not address the fundamental problem. There is something wrong in the way warrants are issued in the first place.

There are three news organisations here today but all of Australia’s media companies, the journalists’ union and industry associations are united in our demand for changes.

We call on the government to amend a number of existing laws to protect the public’s right to know.

First, We demand the right to contest any kind of search warrant on journalists or news organisations before the warrant is issued.

Second, Public sector whistle blowers must be adequately protected and the current laws need to change.

Third, We need a new regime that limits which documents can be stamped Secret.

Fourth, We need a proper review of Freedom of Information laws.

And finally, journalists must be exempted from the national security laws enacted over the last seven years that put can put them in jail for just doing their jobs.

All this can happen quickly without the need for a parliamentary inquiry.

Prime Minister Morrison has said that if there is evidence that there is a need for improvement to press freedom laws then he is “open to it.”

Prime Minister, the evidence is in.

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