“The police raids on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the headquarters of the ABC in Sydney were direct attacks on media freedom in Australia but they are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Three journalists are facing possible criminal charges in the wake of the raids — Smethurst for revealing the government was considering plans to spy on Australians — and two ABC reporters for exposing alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
The media groups are also calling for enhanced protections for public sector whistleblowers — who have also faced charges for leaking to the press — as well as an improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform.
Australia’s defamation laws are notoriously complex and among the strictest in the world.
And unlike most liberal democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or constitutionally enshrined protections for freedom of speech.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would “always believe in the freedom of the press”, but he also insisted that journalists were not above the law.
“The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don’t think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things,” he told reporters during an official visit to Jakarta.
A press freedom inquiry is due to report its findings to parliament next year.