Opinion

Press freedoms must be protected

By James Bennett

The decision by Attorney-General Christian Porter to introduce new protections for journalists must be treated with caution.

Australian Federal Police cannot conduct raids on journalists without the approval of Mr Porter.

So what happens when the AFP has knowledge a journalist has "sensitive and classified" information on a Liberal government minister?

Will Mr Porter approve the raid? Will he instruct the AFP to do nothing if it is a Labor politician?

There are a lot of hypotheticals regarding this new law, as probably only rarely will it be put into practice.

Hopefully Mr Porter will use common sense on any decision he makes.

In an ideal world, journalists work without government interference.

Freedom of the press is vital to any democracy. It allows the media to hold governments to account for their mistakes and decisions.

A free media also creates a forum for open debate.

According to the international advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, Australia's press freedoms are declining.

On the group's annual World Press Freedom Index, Australia dropped from 19th to 21st this year.

Australia should be rising, not declining, on this index. It will be interesting to see where Australia ranks next year on the back of the recent law introduced by Mr Porter.

Sitting at the top of the index is Norway, followed by Finland and Sweden, while our friends across the Tasman Sea are seventh.

Sitting one spot ahead of us in 20th is Surinam. Of our closest allies, Canada is 18th, the UK 33rd and the country that boasts freedom, freedom, and more freedom, the USA, is 48th.

Scrolling through to the bottom of the list, it comes as no surprise who has the worst press freedoms; except for the fact North Korea is second last (179th) — in front of Turkmenistan.

The communist-controlled China and Vietnam are 177th and 176th respectively.

Eritrea, Sudan, Syria, Laos and Saudi Arabia are all in the bottom 10.

Unless there is a major uprising or revolution in those countries, the citizens will be subjected to state-run media.

Many first world-based newspapers and journalists are accused of not telling the full truth or showing bias.

There is nothing wrong with bias per se; it can be successful, as the Murdoch empire's right-wing alignment has shown.

What does not help reputable mastheads is when they are trashed for their reporting.

US President Donald Trump has put the 'fake news' tag on some of the world's most respected newspapers, including the Washington Post and New York Times.

If not for the Washington Post, Richard Nixon would have served two full terms as president.

Investigative journalism is becoming much harder, considering many newsrooms have cut jobs over recent years.

Gone are the days of a daily newspaper journalist writing two or three stories a day maximum.

They are expected to be writing well over five stories a day in a shorter amount of time.

This is part of the reason it is much harder to conduct investigative journalism.

Many journalists cannot spend all day researching like they used to unless they are in a larger newsroom.

It would be difficult for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to uncover Watergate in this era.

And sadly even if a Watergate-type scandal was reported about Trump he would not resign but instead trash the media, calling it a witch hunt and fake news.

The press does all it can to report the truth but when journalists are investigated for doing their jobs it creates an unwanted fear.

As perfectly stated by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance: "Journalism is NOT a crime.”