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Report shows free speech under attack

(MEAA/IFEX) - The following is a 5 November 2007 MEAA media release:

Report shows free speech under attack in Australia

The Independent Audit into the State of Free Speech in Australia makes for disturbing reading - charting, as it does, the gradual and widespread erosion of media freedoms in this country, according to the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.

Despite Australia's proud international reputation for the strength of its democratic institutions and civil rights records, our media - a key bastion of democracy in this country - has been increasingly handicapped by a legal and regulatory framework which hinders the free flow of information, including some 500 pieces of legislation which restrict the freedom to publish certain information.

Alliance federal secretary, Chris Warren, said the report was the most thorough and comprehensive record of the difficulties faced by journalists in their everyday efforts to obtain information.

"Through a timely collaboration between this country's biggest media organisations and the Alliance, which represents Australia's journalists, we have been able to chart ways in which obstructions are put in the way of reporters trying to bring important facts to light," Warren said.

"The report highlights the misuse of Freedom of Information laws, the hounding of whistleblowers, the scatter gun application of suppression orders and the increased management of news by the growing cohorts of 'spin doctors' in both public and private sector.

"We congratulate Irene Moss, AO, and her team of dedicated researchers who have worked hard to bring this important research project to fulfilment."

Warren said it was imperative that whoever wins power at the forthcoming Federal Election give this report serious consideration and show strong leadership in addressing the issues it raises, not only through legislation but by a shift away from the culture of secrecy and news management.

He also urged state governments to examine the more than 220 separate pieces of legislation which include secrecy clauses and restrict the free flow of information to the public.

"A free press is the keystone of a healthy democracy," Warren said. "It is the most important guarantor of government and corporate accountability. This report shows the extent to which we have moved away from the ideal democratic model and illustrates the reasons for this country's distressing slide down the international rankings in terms of free speech."

The Report of the Independent Audit into the State of Free Speech in Australia can be found at: http://www.alliance.org.au/documents/071031_right_to_know_report.pdf

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

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