Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - OPINION -

WORLD Press Free­dom Day was ob­served on May 3.

How­ever, 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.

MARTIN TURNER, pres­i­dent, MEAA WA Me­dia Sec­tion.

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