Martin Turner, president,
WORLD Press Freedom Day was observed on May 3.
In Australia, any attempt to shine a light on the challenges faced by journalists and their sources was overshadowed by the handing down of the Federal Budget on the same day.
Nevertheless, the challenges are ongoing and seemingly ever greater.
Recent comments made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton about his perceptions of the character of many refugees accepted into this country – illiterate, innumerate, adding to the welfare burden and keeping other Australians out of jobs – demonstrate the difficulties experienced in the reporting of those who seek refuge and a fresh start in this country, particularly asylum seekers who arrive by boat.
If the minister is prepared to make such statements about our established humanitarian intake, based on challenges to present levels from other political parties, such as the Greens, the rhetoric and legislative blocks to reporting on boat arrivals is at another level entirely.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance document Criminalising the Truth, Suppressing the Right to Know states: “the militarisation of customs and immigration under Operation Sovereign Borders allowed the government to shroud all activities about the asylum boats problem in secrecy by using defence wartime security methods to shut down any information about what was going on.
“In short, it placed the media and the Australian community beyond its reach and allowed the government to simply refuse to engage on any exchange of information.”
It should be noted that the thrust of this approach had bipartisan support, with the Australian Border Force Bill 2015 passing both houses on May 14 last year.
Any information on boat arrivals has therefore been gleaned through confidential leaks from whistleblowers, with the Government willing to go to great lengths in its attempts to identify them.
As the report states: “MEAA urges the Australian government to lift the veil of secrecy so that the media can freely and legitimately speak to sources without fear of prosecution or harassment and report matters in the public interest so that our communities can make their own minds up about what the government is doing in our name.”
Freedoms are hard-won by all, whether they are journalists, whistleblowers, Australian citizens or desperate people fleeing troubled countries and placing themselves at the mercy of this nation.