An Australian journalist who spent 400 days in an Egyptian jail on terrorism charges is calling for media freedom to be enshrined in Australia’s constitution, but admits it is unlikely it will ever happen.
- Peter Greste admits Australians are unlikely to vote to enshrine media freedom in the Constitution
- He wants a media freedom law to offer journalists and whistleblowers greater protection.
- Activist wants federal government to drop charges against two prominent whistleblowers.
Peter Greste said that despite the merits of his proposal, the result of the weekend’s referendum and the way people perceive journalists, “it would be easier to get them to vote for the cane toads”.
Mr. Greste, a foreign correspondent turned press freedom champion, used a speech to the National Press Club to call for a media freedom law and stronger protection for whistleblowers, while two important cases are about to go to trial.
He said Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus should drop charges against Richard Boyle – who spoke to Four Corners about a worrying culture within the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) – and David McBride – who is accused of leaking information about alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan to journalists as part of the Afghan Files.
Mr. Greste, who is now executive director of the Alliance for Freedom of Journalists, highlighted the emotional impact, loss of career, financial damage and upcoming legal proceedings as well as the impacts these articles have had on both men, and expressed concerns about the effects of this decision. could have on potential whistleblowers.
“If you’re a public servant and you’re sitting on something that you know is false, (and) you’re considering talking to the media about it… what are you going to do?” » asked Mr. Greste.
“I think it will have a terrible deterrent effect on whistleblowers.”
Mr Greste said the Media Freedom Act would force the federal parliament to take media freedom into account when passing new legislation.
“I’m not saying it should always trump everything, but because it’s a key part of any democracy, we need to have a mechanism that takes into account the role of journalists and whistleblowers,” he said. he declared.
He reflected on the ATO and Afghan Files articles and said that in neither case had journalists published anything that undermined national security.
“There is no doubt that the stories they revealed were genuinely in the public interest,” Mr Greste said.
“Whistleblowers and journalists have aided, not hindered, Australia’s national security.”
He said a media freedom law would require police and the judge issuing the warrant to balance protecting the public interest in press freedom with the public interest in pursuing prosecutions.
Attorney General Mark Dreyfus passed changes to the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation, which protects whistleblowers and journalists, and dropped charges against lawyer Bernard Collaery, but Greste said that further changes were still necessary.
He admitted reform would take some time and said other changes could come sooner, including the creation of an independent whistleblower protection authority.
The ABC has contacted Mr Dreyfus’ office for comment.