Press council supports report on protecting freedoms

The Australian Press Council has supported a report by the Human Rights Law Centre that makes a number of recommendations to strengthen democracy and freedom of speech.

Chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor David Weisbrot.

Chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor David Weisbrot.

The report, Safeguarding Democracy, documents how federal and state governments are adopting laws and practices that have the effect of undermining critical democratic freedoms.

Australian Press Council chairman Professor David Weisbrot said centre’s report shone a bright light on the worrying trend by governments to chip away at press freedom, freedom of information and the rule of law.

“The section of the report that examines press freedom and related issues is accurate and therefore very worrying,” Prof Weisbrot said. “The findings in this area reinforce the press council’s stated concerns that Australia is going backwards on press freedom at a time when we need it more than ever.

“Governments are restricting access to information, fortifying secrecy laws, stifling whistle-blowers and undermining the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. We must reverse this trend as a matter of urgency.”

The report makes 38 recommendations aimed at halting this slide.

It makes a number of recommendations to the Australian government over its whistleblower and national security legislation.

These include a strengthening of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 to protect whistleblowers and to ensure counter-terror laws do not unreason­ably restrict free speech and hinder transparent govern­ment.

It says the risk of reprisals for whistleblowers increased when the Australian Parliament passed new metadata retention laws in March 2015. “The retention of metadata enables governments to trace a whistleblower who has spoken to journalists and prosecute them for breaching secrecy laws,” the report says.

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