Obstructions to press freedom, defamation law reform and the effect of technological change on journalism are some of the key themes to be discussed at an international press freedom conference to be held by the Australian Press Council in Sydney next year.
The three-day conference in May will mark the council’s 40th anniversary and is expected to feature speeches from leading media professionals, a panel of international press council officials and a session with senior executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter.
International speakers set to attend the conference include celebrated Russian investigative journalist Anna Nemtsova, founding editor of New Dehli’s NewsLaundry Madhu Trehan and former China editor of the South China Morning Post Willy Lam.
A number of other local and international media figures have been invited to the conference, but are yet to be confirmed.
The conference has been developed by Australian Press Council chairman Professor David Weisbrot who organised a similar event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Australian Law Reform Commission when he was its president in 2005.
Prof Weisbrot hopes next year’s conference will revitalise debate about local press freedom issues, including Australia’s contentious metadata retention laws.
“A high profile conference like this always attracts a lot of media attention. It provides a focus for those kinds of debates and it brings together Australian opinion leaders and those from overseas,” he said.
However the conference is expected to attract international visitors and will also examine global press freedom issues.
“As a journalist in Australia you might have a lot of challenges but you’re probably not afraid of the ‘knock on the door’ in the middle of the night. Many of the journalists who will be at the conference will be talking about their experience of just that, facing violence and intimidation,” Prof Weisbrot said.
The conference’s keynote speaker Anna Nemstova is a courageous and outspoken investigative journalist who was detained by militiamen when reporting on the downing of MH-17 and Russia’s support of rebels fighting in Eastern Ukraine.
“That’s somebody who I think is really a standout in terms of honest and brave reporting,” Prof Weisbrot said.
“Sometimes it’s disconcerting to know that we have it so good in Australia. Sometimes it’s disconcerting to know that the problems that we face here are not Australian alone; they’re international issues and challenges. But in any case they’re all discussions that we really need to have.”
“Sometimes it’s disconcerting to know that we have it so good in Australia. Sometimes it’s disconcerting to know that the problems that we face here are not Australian alone.”
The conference will also examine the future of investigative reporting both from a commercial perspective and from the challenges posed by government over-regulation, and the role of a press council.
Prof Weisbrot recently returned from the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe annual conference where he gave a presentation entitled ‘Beyond complaints handling: other things press councils need to do’.
Next year’s conference will reaffirm Prof Wesibrot’s vision to broaden the scope of the press council beyond complaint handling, which he still stresses is important, to areas like press freedom advocacy, education and training.
The conference will be followed by the Walkley Foundation’s annual Press Freedom Dinner fundraiser, which is run in conjunction with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
The press council is partnering the Walkley Foundation for the dinner and will organise a number of journalism master classes to be conducted by invited speakers and other leading media practitioners.
Master class topics will include digital journalism, Chinese media today and investigative journalism.
The conference will kick off on May 3 to coincide with UNESCO’s World Press Freedom day. It will be held at L’Aqua Conference Centre in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.
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