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Terror law "chilling for democracy and press freedom," warns IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 3 November 2005 IFJ media release:

Terror Laws in Australia and Britain "Chilling for Democracy and Press Freedom," Warns IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists today warned that anti-terror legislation being prepared independently by Britain and Australia could endanger democracy and press freedom and are "chilling for the exercise of journalism."

In both countries parliaments are discussing new anti-terror laws that will criminalise some forms of free speech. In Britain, the Government of Tony Blair is seeking to outlaw information that could be said to "glorify" terrorism, calling into question media reporting on the activities of political or armed groups. In Australia journalists warn that a too broad definition of sedition in a new anti-terrorism law will erode free speech and artistic expression.

"Both governments are creating laws that will radically alter the nature of public debate in these societies," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "Their plans are dangerous for democracy and for press freedom and if passed into law they will be chilling for the exercise of journalism."

The IFJ says that both governments are exploiting public fears over acts of terrorism to justify new rules that will diminish existing forms of accountability.

"The proposed British law is confused and unworkable and makes a nonsense of the country's great tradition of free speech," said White. "Had such a law been in place in the past 30 years there would have been no free journalism in Northern Ireland and that would have been disastrous for the recent peace process."

In Australia, the IFJ's affiliate the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance, says a new anti terrorism bill means anyone could be charged with sedition without, as existing law requires, being guilty of incitement to violence. "Essentially a journalist who reports a story or publishes comment against the actions of the government, police or judiciary, could be charged under these sedition laws," said Christopher Warren, MEAA Federal Secretary.

Under the Bill, Australian police can request any person to be put on a preventative detention or control order and there are restrictions on reporting details of someone in preventative detention. A journalist who reveals that a person has been detained or any other information relating to the order faces five years imprisonment.

The bill also increases the police's power to obtain documents, which may relate to a serious terrorism offence. Notice to produce provisions will force journalists to hand over information, including the identity of confidential sources. They face fines if they refuse to comply - and if they report that they have received a demand for information.

"In Australia the government is rushing the new laws through with only a two week Senate inquiry," said Aidan White. "This makes a mockery of proper parliamentary scrutiny of grave and serious legislation."

Earlier this year the IFJ issued a detailed report on the threat to Civil Liberties and Journalism posed by anti-terror laws and last month the IFJ signed up to the European Civil Liberties Network, an international coalition of groups fighting to preserve civil rights in the face of new laws.

"There is a rush to legislate that puts democracy in peril and benefits no-one, except perhaps terrorists themselves who see every new limitation on people's rights as a victory in their campaign to destabilise democratic and tolerant societies," said White.

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries.

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