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SECRECY AND LEGISLATION HAMPER JOURNALISTS' EFFORTS TO ACCESS INFO IN AUSTRALIA, REPORT FINDS

The "Report of the Independent Audit into the State of Free Speech in Australia" makes for disturbing reading. The hefty report chronicles an increasing culture of secrecy and legislation limiting freedom of expression in the country, according to Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and ARTICLE 19.

The report, an initiative of the Right to Know Coalition, an alliance of journalists and the country's biggest media organisations, including MEAA, finds that Australia's media has been increasingly handicapped by a legal and regulatory framework that hinders the free flow of information. The coalition points to some 500 pieces of legislation which restrict the freedom to publish "secret" information, a poorly functioning access to information system, and tough and wide-reaching anti-terrorism laws.

"Independent Audit" also highlights the proliferation of suppression orders issued by the courts, the inadequate protection of whistleblowers, and a growing army of "spin doctors" in both the public and private sectors who are increasingly managing the news.

As a result, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) ranked Australia 28th out of 169 countries in this year's international press freedom index - a fall from its 12th-place finish five years ago. ARTICLE 19 says its slide is largely attributable to recent anti-terrorism measures, in particular the practice of unlawful phone-tapping and pressure on journalists to surrender their sources.

MEAA says the report is the "most thorough and comprehensive record of the difficulties faced by journalists in their everyday efforts to obtain information." It is demanding that the winner of the 24 November federal election seriously address the issues raised in the report.

Read the "Report of the Independent Audit" here: http://www.alliance.org.au/documents/071031_right_to_know_report.pdf

Also visit these links:
- MEAA: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/87478/
- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/2x5e4x
- RSF, World Press Freedom Index: http://tinyurl.com/2obgp3
(13 November 2007)

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