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Media Alliance welcomes attorney-general's announcement on national shield laws

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance welcomes the 19 June 2013 announcement from the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC that the Australian Government will pursue uniform national protection for journalists and calls on the federal opposition to make the same commitment should it take office at the next election.

Christopher Warren, federal secretary of the Media Alliance, said: "Today's announcement is a welcome development as it recognises the important role journalists play in our society. I now call the federal opposition to make the same commitment as it's in the public's interest to protect journalists and their sources from the wealthy and powerful who want to silence them."

"Journalists should not be threatened with fines, jail terms or criminal convictions for adhering to the publically accepted values of journalism ethics, yet this year we have seen numerous journalists fighting subpoenas to release their sources.

"Only yesterday we learned the Rinehart family is planning yet more subpoenas against journalists and that can only been seen as an attempt to silence the press. Under uniform shield laws journalists would be protected from this kind of unwarranted action."

The journalists who have faced subpoenas are: Steve Pennells of the West Australian and Fairfax Media journalists Adele Ferguson, Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie and Philip Dorling. The court actions have been brought against Pennells and Ferguson by Gina Rinehart. Helen Liu has brought actions against Baker, McKenzie and Dorling. Baker and McKenzie also faced separate proceedings brought by defendants in the Securency case that were dismissed in April. Paddy Manning, formally of Fairfax Media, recently faced a subpoena from mining magnate Nathan Tinkler seeking confidential documents.

The majority of the cases are ongoing. In late May, WA colleagues and Media Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren rallied outside the WA Supreme Court in support of Pennells and Ferguson. After lengthy lawyers' submissions, Pennells' case was adjourned pending the judge's decision on whether he should be compelled to hand over his files. As it stands, he still faces the prospect of jail time, fines or both. Ferguson's case was adjourned to later in the year.

The Media Alliance has long called for uniform shield laws and has written to all federal, state and territory attorneys-general urging them to support reform. Currently only the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and the ACT have laws of various strengths and coverage for journalists' privilege. Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory don't currently have specific laws to protect the relationship between journalists and their sources.

"The need for uniform shield laws is irrefutable and the federal opposition should make the same commitment to the freedom of the press as the Attorney-General has done today," said Warren.

"The alternative is we will continue to see wealthy and powerful Australians using the courts to stifle the public's right to know and journalists frequently facing criminal convictions just for doing their job."

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