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Concern over media restrictions on Australia's asylum seeker policy

A group of around twenty protesters occupy Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's electoral office, demanding the end to the policy of offshore detention of asylum seekers, in the Sydney suburb of Edgecliff, Australia, 14 October 2015
A group of around twenty protesters occupy Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's electoral office, demanding the end to the policy of offshore detention of asylum seekers, in the Sydney suburb of Edgecliff, Australia, 14 October 2015

REUTERS/David Gray

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 23 October 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) in raising strong concerns about the media restrictions that surround Australia's asylum seeker policy and its offshore immigration detention centres. The IFJ and MEAA call on the Australian government to end the restrictions on media access and access to information.

Since the launch of the government's militarised Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013, the media's access to detention centres in Australia has been severely restricted, as well as at the two offshore centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and in the Republic of Nauru.

There have been an increasing number of reports of abuse and negligence at the offshore centres. But a new law, the Australian Border Force Act, makes it a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years in prison, for anyone working at the detention centres to reveal to the media anything that happens in the centres. Because of this, journalists have had to work with their sources in secret.

In the past week, there have been two Nauruan police raids on the offices of contractors and NGOs at the island's detention centre. In the raids computers, laptops, mobiles phones and files have all been seized, allegedly to reveal the identity of the whistleblowers who are the sources for journalists' news reports.

MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: "The role of the media is to scrutinise the powerful and hold them to account. The Australian public has a right to know what the government is doing in our name. It is not justifiable in any circumstances to thwart legitimate public interest reporting on suspected infringement of the human rights of a refugee or asylum seeker. On the contrary, the public has a right to know how Australia's obligations under Australian and international legal instruments are being met."

"The government is using legislation to threaten whistleblowers with jail if they speak out. Any attempt to muzzle whistleblowers is an attempt to muzzle the truth. Going after whistleblowers means going after journalism. Wrapping government policy in red tape at best, or threatening people with jail at worst, is an appalling attack on freedom of expression and, by extension, an outrageous assault on press freedom and the public's right to know," said MEAA.

The IFJ said: "Access to information is a right of all Australian citizens. The restrictions imposed by the Australian government are a violation of press freedom and the rights of people. Journalists are simply doing their jobs, reporting for the public. The Australian government is undertaking an outrageous attack on press freedom by restricting the media amid attempts to find and ultimately punish whistleblowers. We demand an end to this policy."

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What other IFEX members are saying
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