Media coalition fights gag on corruption coverage

Media coalition fights gag on corruption coverage

A coalition of media organisations is fighting to protect the open reporting of allegations of corrupt conduct within Queensland’s public sector.

In June, Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission released a discussion paper that questioned whether publicising allegations of corruption was in the public interest and if not, what legislative or other measures were available to prevent it.

Joint Media Organisations, which includes NewsMediaWorks and its founding members APN, Fairfax Media, News Corp Australia and The West Australian, made a submission to the commission strongly arguing against moves to “gag” the press.

The submission said the proposal to introduce measures to prevent publicising allegations “unjustifiably undermines the Queensland and Australian public’s right to know about how the state of Queensland is being governed and administered”.

“The public interest is served through the ability to make public the allegations of corrupt conduct by Queensland public officials. To gag corruption allegations regarding public officials only serves to do Queensland and the Queensland public a disservice,” the coalition’s submission read.

“The protection of political or public sector interests in Queensland must not be allowed to trump the Queensland public’s right to know of allegations in their own backyard.”

The submission also has been co-signed by Australian Associated Press; magazine publisher Bauer Media Group; public broadcasters ABC and SBS; industry bodies Free TV Australia, Commercial Radio Australia, ASTRA Subscription Media Australia and Commercial Radio Australia; and union body the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.

The discussion paper notes that publicising allegations of corrupt conduct may jeopardise the CCC’s ability to do its job.

“Making the allegation public gives individuals involved in the matter the opportunity to destroy information that might support the allegation, fabricate a false explanation or justification, or interfere with witnesses,” the discussion paper reads.

The discussion paper also notes that publication can damage the alleged reputation and compromise their ability to have a fair trial.

The paper cites a number of instances over the past two decades where the Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee has raised concerns about the issue, although it has tended not to support legislative amendments.

However a 2013 inquiry into the CCC – then known as the Crime Misconduct Commission –by former High Court Justice Ian Callinan recommended that it be made an offence to disclose the existence of a complaint or the identity of its subject.

Joint Media Organisations says its fundamental issue with the discussion paper is that it does not provide evidence of the “problem” the discussion paper’s proposal is trying to “fix”.

News Corp Australia’s Queensland paper Courier-Mail published an editorial about the issue yesterday

“Should a person named in an allegation be granted anonymity to protect their reputation? Should the public be kept blind to claims? No,” the editorial read.

“The CCC and its interstate counterparts were all born from outrageous acts of criminal corruption. They seek to remove political manipulation from our most important institutions.”

“A quick-tick list would remind Queenslanders of jobs for mates, cover-ups of mismanagement, dubious admissions, personal spats which affected matters of justice, donations linked to favourable business outcomes and even the physical degradation of some of our most vulnerable people.

“We know about these things because of a continual and ongoing fight to maintain transparency. One allegation, made public, can lead to another claim which can spotlight an injustice.”

The CCC received 49 submission in relation to the discussion paper.

The CCC is currently reviewing the submissions and will convene a public forum to canvas the arguments raised later this year.

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