Reforms to evidence law will protect confidential communications between journalists and their sources, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said in a media release on 24th May.
However, Amy Coopes, from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, believes the laws, in their current form, do little in a practical sense.
The Evidence Amendment (Journalists’ Privilege) Bill was announced by Mr Ruddock on 24th May, which allows for judicial discretion when considering whether a journalist should be forced to reveal sources.
Daniel Gleeson, Media Advisor to Mr Ruddock, said that section 126B of the Bill allows that the court must direct that evidence not be revealed if the court is satisfied that the harm to the source would outweigh the desirability of hearing the evidence.
Mr Gleeson did not expound on the guidelines that magistrates and judges would use in making this determination.
Mr Gleeson said that the proposals before the Federal Parliament are in line with measures already in place in NSW, and implements the recommendation of the Uniform Evidence Law Report, prepared by three law reform bodies.
Mr Gleeson said that while the government strongly supports a free press and freedom of speech, those rights do not come without responsibility.
Christopher Warren of the MEAA, in a media release on 24th May, said the laws will amount to nothing more than rhetoric without accompanying protected disclosure laws to prevent whistleblowers (journalists’ sources) from being hunted down and prosecuted.
Mr Warren referred to Allan Keasing, a former Customs official, who is awaiting sentencing for leaking a report regarding airport security, which led to the biggest ever security shakeup of Australia’s air terminals.
In that case, Mr Keasing was prosecuted, but the journalists who reported the story were not charged for refusing to reveal him as a source.
Mr Gleeson said that protection for whistleblowers already exists in the Public Service Act, the Workplace Relations Act, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Mr Gleeson said “the Attorney-General has asked his Department to keep these matters (whistleblower protection) under review, and to provide him with options with respect to further reform, in the event that it is considered necessary.”
6th June 2007