The slide in Australia’s position on the World Press Freedom Index shows the government must reverse its assaults on press freedom. The journalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), says the Reporters Without Borders’ annual index has identified key areas of concern and underlines the need for a suite of reforms.
The 2020 index knocked Australia down five places to 26 from where it was in 2019; and two years ago, Australia was ranked 19.
MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom said: “Overseas observers are recognising what Australians already know: that press freedom in our country is under sustained assault.
“A combination of the June 2019 Australian Federal Police raids on journalists, plus a raft of ‘national security’ laws that can be used to criminalise journalism and punish whistleblowers for telling the truth, have sent Australia backwards on press freedom.
“That’s why MEAA, together with other media organisations joined in the Your Right To Know campaign to seek urgent reforms to protect and promote press freedom,” Strom said.
The campaign, launched in the wake of the police raids, called for:
- The right to contest the application for warrants for journalists and media organisations;
- Exemptions for journalists from laws that would put them in jail for doing their jobs;
- Protection for public sector whistleblowers;
- A new regime that limits which documents can be classified as ‘secret’;
- A properly functioning freedom of information (FOI) regime; and
- Defamation law reform.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled deliberations in the Parliament on these issues. Two parliamentary inquiries were set to give their recommendations based on submissions from MEAA, other media organisations and members of the public. Given the Reporters Without Borders index shows the world is watching, Australia must ensure these reforms are carried out as soon as possible,” Strom said.
“To raise its game the Australian government must also do more to secure the release of MEAA members Julian Assange and Yang Hengjun, who are both in prison for shining the light on public-interest information that governments would rather keep secret,” Strom said.