The leading international newspaper association has called on the Australian government to review recently passed national security legislation that it says may reduce “the media’s ability to report on matters of public interest”.
The board of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which operates in more than 120 countries and represents more than 18,000 publications and 3000 companies, announced its views on the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) after a meeting during the World Publishing Expo 2014 in Amsterdam this week.
The secretary general of WAN-IFRA, Larry Kilman, told The Newspaper Works that the body decided to speak out on the Australian legislation because of the lack of provisions it contained to “protect legitimate journalism”.
“Journalism is not terrorism – and it is particularly a problem when developed democracies adopt such measures – it encourages repressive regimes, which use such laws as justification for their own abuses. It sets a bad example,” he said.
“Unfortunately, given the current state of affairs in the world, such legislation is becoming more common.
“But the Australian law is particular onerous for its complete disregard for journalism.”
The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No 1) was passed in both houses of federal parliament on October 1, and has raised concerns in media organisations around new laws it introduces prohibiting journalists from reporting any information that relates to a secret intelligence operations (SIO).
This provision, outlined in section 35P of the bill (‘Unauthorised disclosure of information’), carries penalties of 5 years for the disclosure of SIO-related information and 10 years if that information can be considered “to prejudice the effective conduct” of a SIO or endanger the health and safety of any person.
A second piece of legislation that is currently under review in the Senate, the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014, contains provisions that would make it an offence, under division 119.7 of the bill, to publish an advertisement or news item that could be considered for the “purpose of recruiting persons to serve in any capacity in or with an armed force in a foreign country”.
A joint submission from The Newspaper Works and a host of Australian media organisations was written to the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security arguing that the bill would “erode freedom of communication and freedom of the media”.
The Press Freedom Resolution, which is the WAN-IFRA board’s response to the laws, says that the new legislation “poses a real threat to the future of journalism”.
It calls on Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to seek further advice and consultation to better protect the work of journalists and to ensure media freedoms are fully guaranteed before the law is enforced.
Mr Kilman said that WAN-IFRA would like to see a revised version of the bill, with exemptions that ensured protection of journalists reporting matters in the public interest.
“Journalism should not and must not be criminalised,” he said.
Chair of the Australian Press Council, Professor Julian Disney, told The Newspaper Works that section 35P of the new national security legislation may result in a broader deterrent effect on journalists and publishers pursuing national security stories.
“If the law found its way to a court or tribunal, recklessness is likely to be interpreted as a level of thoughtless behaviour going far beyond negligence,” Professor Disney said.
“But the law may nevertheless have a broader deterrent effect by generating a degree of uncertainty or fear that it will be applied more strictly.”
For more news from The Newspaper Works, click here.