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Government withdraws proposal for police screening of press gallery journalists

(MEAA/IFEX) - The following is a 1 June 2007 MEAA media release:

Journos Win Police Checks Victory

The Media Alliance welcomes the Prime Minister's intervention to prevent journalists being subjected to police checks as a victory for common sense.

The Alliance and Press Gallery Committee strongly objected to the proposal, which vested the discretionary power to knock back gallery licence applications with the Department of Parliamentary Services.

Such a precedent would have represented a grave erosion of press freedom, said Alliance federal secretary Chris Warren.

However, following the direct lobbying - particularly by the Committee - of the Prime Minister John Howard, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, party leaders and presiding officers, the plan was scuttled.

Mr. Howard last week wrote to Senate President Paul Calvert urging him to drop the idea:

"Whilst I appreciate that this proposal is not solely directed at members of the press gallery, it raises an important issue," Mr Howard wrote.

"In the absence of information suggesting there have been genuine problems with members of the gallery, or more broadly for other staff, I do not believe that it is necessary to introduce police checks of the kind that I understand are under consideration. I would hope that the proposal could be put aside. I would ask that you take my strong view into close consideration in your deliberations on this matter."

Mr. Calvert then issued a joint statement with Speaker of the House, David Hawker, announcing their intention to abandon the proposal.

"We congratulate the Committee for their tireless efforts in raising Mr. Howard's awareness of the folly of this outrageous plan," Warren said.

"A free press and access to the legislature is one of the cornerstones of democracy. To have placed any impediment on this process would have sounded a dire warning for free speech in Australia."

The Media Alliance represents more than 10,000 journalists across Australia.

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