London: Australia risks setting a bad example for oppressive regimes and could put journalists all over the world in more danger unless our government pays more than "lip service" to press freedom, a global conference attended by Foreign Minister Marise Payne has been warned.
Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, recently appointed the UK’s first Special Envoy on Media Freedom, told the inaugural Defend Media Freedom conference in east London that the recent ABC newsroom raid was an example of global challenges to freedom of speech.
British human rights lawyer Amal Clooney speaks at the Media Freedom conference.Credit:AP
"All governments say they believe in a free press – the right is even enshrined in North Korea’s constitution… what matters is enforcement of this right," Clooney said.
Clooney told the government ministers present – including Payne, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland – they must "make sure that their laws respect media freedom and that their police, prosecutors, judges and citizens do the same".
Asked by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to comment further about the situation in Australia – where police have raided journalists’ offices and homes, trawled phone network metadata, tried to access travel records and kept open the threat of prosecution for publishing leaked official documents – Clooney said the decline in press freedom around the world "is not limited to non-democracies".
"What happens in a country like Australia, or the UK or the US will be looked at by every other leader in the world and potentially used as an excuse to clamp down even further on journalists," Clooney said.
"I think journalists all over the world are less safe if the rhetoric or even policies or laws in states that are supposed to be free are actually a threat to journalism in that country."
Her comments were supported by Mr Hunt.
"The big battle in the 21st century is going to be between open and closed societies," he said. "Those of us who believe in open societies have to be prepared to submit ourselves to scrutiny.
"It’s very important that we are open about what we can improve and also get that balance between security and basic freedoms right. Because we know that the security card is going to be used by repressive regimes all over the world so it’s absolutely essentially that we draw that line in the right place."
And Ms Freeland said press freedom was "100 per cent" under threat in the West as well as elsewhere.
"We are living in a really worrying time," she said. "Authoritarianism is on the rise and liberal democracy is under threat – more so I think than at any time since the second world war.
"Part of it is this challenge of balancing security and freedom but also it is the terrible temptations of power."
When governments get a hard time from journalists they are tempted to wonder "if we really need someone holding our feet to the fire", Freeland said.
Clooney said threats to free press were not just a problem for "far-off lands" but "exist even in democracies that otherwise have a strong tradition of free speech".
She cited the example of the recent police raid of the ABC over allegations that classified material was used in a news report.
"We have reached the point where there are few places in the world where journalists are not surveilled, harassed, disenfranchised or subjected to self-censorship," she said.
"The challenges to media freedom are urgent and they are global."
Clooney also criticised US president Donald Trump as "a leader who vilifies the media, making honest journalists all over the world more vulnerable to abuse".
In a brief statement to the conference, Payne said journalists played an essential role in underpinning good governance.
Marise Payne, Australia’s Foreign Minister, asks a question at the Media Freedom conference.Credit:Bloomberg
She said Australia "has been strong and clear in our support for the protection of journalists and the rights to freedom of expression" in international forums such as the United Nations and in bilateral meetings such as pushing for the release of Reuters journalists in Myanmar.
But she added "we recognise a sensible balance needs to be reached between protecting our national interest in the face of ever evolving security challenges and upholding the public’s right to know".
Before the conference Payne rejected the accusation that attending the conference was hypocritical considering recent threats to press freedom in Australia.
"I would imagine if Australia was not represented at a conference like this today then you would say the government wasn’t doing their job," she told journalists.
Source: Read Full Article