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Non-publication order muzzles Australian media

Police stand outside a house that was involved in pre-dawn raids in the western Sydney suburb of Guilford 18 September 2014. More than 800 police were involved in the pre-dawn raids, described as the largest in Australian history, with at least 15 people detained.
Police stand outside a house that was involved in pre-dawn raids in the western Sydney suburb of Guilford 18 September 2014. More than 800 police were involved in the pre-dawn raids, described as the largest in Australian history, with at least 15 people detained.

REUTERS/David Gray

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union and industry advocate for Australia's journalists, is deeply concerned that a sweeping non-publication order is being used to muzzle the media from reporting the application of wide-ranging preventative detention orders that have been applied to persons detained by Australian Federal Police in last week's [18 September 2014] anti-terror operations.

Reports published on the morning of 23 September say the non-publication order issued by a New South Wales supreme court judge last week prevents disclosure of any information relating to the preventative detention. It prevents the identity of the persons detained being reported and also why they are being detained. The non-publication order even prevents the identity of the issuing judge from being revealed. The non-publication decision will continue to suppress all media reporting of the preventative detention order until it is lifted by a judge.

MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren said: "It is troubling that the courts are being used to stop legitimate reporting of these events. The public has a right to know what the government and its agencies do in our name.

"The police are using their powers to lock-up individuals at a time when the community is in a heightened state of alert. The details of these preventative detention orders should be allowed to be reported. The community should not be kept in the dark. We all have the right to information. Past errors by government agencies when it comes to wielding their power should mean that current actions must not go unreported or unchecked," Warren said.

"The government is now seeking even greater powers to intrude on our lives coupled with assaults on press freedom. It is seeking to impose harsh jail terms on the media for reporting matters in the public interest. This suppression order is an example of exactly why the media should be allowed to carry out its duties in conducting legitimate scrutiny of those powers at work. The media has a crucial watchdog role ensuring the public's right to know. The media must be allowed to report without harassment, intimidation or the imposition of a muzzle by a judge," Warren said.

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