Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 17, 2023



World Press Freedom Day

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. F. Pangallo:

That this council—

1. Recognises that 3 May 2023 marks 30 years of World Press Freedom Day, celebrating the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of expression;

2 Notes that UNESCO has designated this year's theme is 'Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a driver for all other human rights.';

3. Acknowledges that an independent press and a media-literate public is vital in tackling corruption, abuse of power, disinformation, hate speech, censorship of opinion, exposing human rights violations and poor transparency and accountability and advancing democracy;

4. Recognises that journalists across the world continue to face threats to their safety and liberty in order to silence their reporting;

5. Pays tribute to journalists killed in the line of their reporting duty;

6. Notes that a record number of journalists, including Australians Julian Assange and Cheng Lei, and Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal, are currently detained while dozens more are being held hostage;

7. Calls on Australians to unite to demand the UK government and the US government cease their persecution of Julian Assange and release him from Belmarsh Prison; and

8. Urges the Australian Prime Minister, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, and Foreign Minister, the Hon. Penny Wong, to work harder and request that Chinese President Xi Jinping intervenes to lift the detention of Cheng Lei.

(Continued from 3 May 2023.)

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (17:49): I rise to support this motion made by my parliamentary colleague the Hon. Frank Pangallo, with amendments, and before I start my speech I will move those amendments standing in my name. I move:

Leave out paragraph 6 and insert new paragraph 6, as follows:

6. Notes that a number of journalists are currently detained whilst others are being held hostage;

Leave out paragraph 7 and insert new paragraph 7, as follows:

7. Supports the efforts of the Albanese federal government in their ongoing work of journalistic and press freedom;

Leave out paragraph 8.

Press freedom plays a vital role in the quest for peace, justice and human rights. We recently celebrated three decades of world press freedom and recognise that journalists across the world continue to face threats to their safety and liberty in order to silence their reporting. This year's theme for the day was 'Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights,' signifying the importance of freedom of expression in all other human rights.

The importance of freedom of expression can be found in the fact that a free press enables and facilitates our knowledge and awareness of major world events, some of them in our own backyard. All in this chamber will know about Watergate and the important role the American journalists played in uncovering corruption at the highest level of the White House following leaks from the FBI to the journalists concerned.

That is not the only example. Journalists were the ones who sparked an investigation that uncovered that Wagner, a secret mercenary group in Libya, was continuing to fight and destabilise peace efforts even after a ceasefire. This report allowed the family of a murdered man to begin a legal case.

A journalist uncovered that global brand Shein used slavery-like practices in order to produce clothes that they could sell for low prices. They found that the seamstresses regularly worked for 75-plus hours per week with one day off a month. This report resulted in greater scrutiny of the company, and campaigns for more humane and sustainable practices.

Attacks and threats against journalists have risen at an alarming rate and this is dangerous both for journalists and for democracy. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-profit organisation that promotes free press, at least 67 media workers were killed in 2022, an unbelievable 50 per cent increase over the previous year. Additionally, a UNESCO discussion paper found that nearly three-quarters of women journalists have experienced violence online, and one in four have been threatened physically.

In the ultimate form of censorship journalists are targeted, killed and silenced. Jamal Khashoggi was killed for criticising Saudi Arabia's government. Avijit Roy was killed for the subject matter in two of his books, religion and homosexuality. Newsagency AFP, headquartered in France, has seen many of their journalists killed in the line of duty, including Arman Soldin in Ukraine, Shah Marai in Afghanistan and Paolo Cocco in Italy. These people were only trying to inform their communities.

On Press Freedom Day the Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union for journalists and media workers, renewed calls for reforms so that journalists can confidently play their role to support democracy. They urged the federal government to undertake reforms which would include changes to national security laws, freedom of information and defamation. Federal president, Karen Percy, said that according to a report by international non-profit and non-governmental organisation, Reporters Without Borders, in recent years Australia had slid down the ranks for press freedom from 19th 15 years ago to just 39th place in 2022. This is something we need to take seriously.

The union has also flagged possible changes to the Privacy Act, journalists experiencing harassment and threats, and a decreasing media workforce in regional and rural Australia as some of the other barriers to the public's right to know. Now more than ever we need to end impunity for attacks on journalists and enact laws that protect journalists from undue pressure. It is our obligation as a democratic country to facilitate the work of a free pluralistic and safe press.

Whatever some of us may think about Julian Assange he remains incarcerated currently in Belmarsh prison. Villain or hero, he has been incarcerated for the last 10 years. To add to this, Cheng Lei, another Australian journalist, has been imprisoned in China for more than 1,000 days. The details of the charges against her are still a secret, and she is yet to be sentenced. She has not been allowed to see her children since she was arrested.

Let's not forget another fellow Australian journalist, Yang Hengjun, who has been imprisoned following state secrets charges and also had his sentencing repeatedly postponed. Assange, Lei and Yang were doing their jobs as they saw fit. The Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, and the foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, are continuing to raise the issues of incarceration of various political prisoners.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a question from Assange himself, who said, 'Which country is suffering from too much freedom of speech? Name it, is there one?' As a last note, I would like to thank those journalists and media workers in Australia and around the world who stand up for the truth in order to secure human rights and tell their stories.

The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (17:55): I rise to speak to the motion by the Hon. Mr Pangallo on celebrating World Press Freedom Day. I would like to thank the Hon. Mr Pangallo for bringing this issue to this chamber. As we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, we need to consider how important it is to retain a free and uncompromised press and what our world might look like without it. A free media is responsible for bringing important, often critical matters to the public consciousness. These could be political, criminal and social issues that often people in powerful positions do not want to expose.

Often the publishing of these stories can lead to significant changes in our society. Arguably, the most famous example of success of a free press, Watergate, led to the removal of a United States president. The Washington Post investigation, which would not have been possible in certain countries, exposed a political crime and scandal at great personal risk to journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Without their work and the newspaper's ability to make these crimes public, we would probably never know about the conspiracy by people within the Nixon administration to steal documents from that building.

Such advancements in press freedom have often come at a serious cost to the journalists involved. Some have been killed, others imprisoned. Australian publisher and editor Julian Assange has effectively been imprisoned for more than a decade after publishing leaked US Army intelligence documents in 2010. He spent seven years holed up inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London and has spent the past four years in a British prison. Today, Assange lives in fear that he will be extradited to the United States and spend the rest of his life in prison there. Assange was essentially doing his job as an editor and a publisher.

Community views regarding Julian Assange are divided. It is far too easy and convenient to be able to put Assange in a category of being a traitor because he leaked information regarding threatening national security. It is a tried and tested means of censoring free speech: if someone reports something that certain sectors do not want published, call them a traitor. To instil fear in the general population, go further and call them dangerous.

Yet, Australian journalists have risked their lives pursuing stories, and some have paid the ultimate price. Two Australians were among the media group now known as the Balibo Five, who were murdered by Indonesian Special Forces while investigating the 1975 invasion of East Timor. After the murders of Australian journalist Greg Shackleton and his sound recordist, Tony Stewart, along with New Zealander Gary Cunningham and Brits Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie, AAP-Reuters dispatched a journalist to investigate. That man, Roger East, was also executed. The same year, Sydney publisher and journalist Juanita Nielsen was killed for standing up to organised crime and police corruption while trying to bring it to the attention of the wider community.

Since then, Australia has lost two more media professionals just doing their work. ABC foreign correspondent Tony Joyce was shot dead covering the Zambia-Rhodesia conflict in 1979, and freelance cameraman Paul Moran was killed during the Iraq War in 2003. These people need to be always remembered, as does the importance of their work.

In Australia, the free press has brought to light many serious matters that would almost certainly not have come to the public's attention without investigative reporting and a media outlet with the legal right to publish. We would not have heard about the corruption involving Chinese high rollers in Australian casinos. Stories of the sex trafficking of our young girls would never have seen the light of day. Police corruption may never have been uncovered, and the royal commission into New South Wales police corruption and Queensland's Fitzgerald inquiry may never have happened. Aboriginal deaths in custody might have been swept under the carpet.

While Australia generally recognises the need for a free press, it has no constitutional protection to guarantee freedom of speech. Journalists like Kate McClymont, Chris Masters and Nick McKenzie have put themselves at personal risk and risk of imprisonment when investigating their stories. Despite being the subject of major litigation over the years, along with many other colleagues, they have continued to investigate stories that many powerful people and companies want kept quiet.

Australia's defamation laws make it harder, sometimes for very good reason, to bring information to the public arena. The best investigative journalists know that the story not only has to be true but also has to be in the public interest. So journalists and the media should not only have the right to investigate and reveal important stories but also have a responsibility to balance confidentiality with that interest. As McKenzie, a multiple Walkley Award-winning investigative journalist, said recently, he has a duty to balance public safety and the greater good with the need to protect confidentiality. If he were told by a terrorist that an act of terrorism was going to be committed, he said he would reveal the situation because it was for the greater good.

While we have these outstanding investigative journalists and media outlets prepared to back them, there are also media outlets and newspapers not prepared to take a stand, either for political reasons or through fear of reprisal. This was highlighted recently when Australia, a country widely regarded as one of the fairest and most transparent in the world, ranked only 25th on the press freedom list. We have slipped six places since 2018, and that is something that we seriously need to address.

Press freedom can be compromised in many ways. Journalists being ordered to reveal their sources, which of course means that people are less likely to come forward with information, is just one way. Newspapers and media outlets that do not want to investigate and that effectively censure their journalists because the story may not fit with their financial or political narrative are another. Media monopolies with self-interest can be another way of silencing a free press. That self-interest actually does great harm to a free media.

We recently saw Fox News forced to pay out almost $1 billion for knowingly broadcasting false and frankly absurd accusations that voting-equipment company Dominion had conspired to steal the 2020 US federal election. Election technology company Smartmatic may cost Fox even more, with a $2.7 billion lawsuit pending. What this does, of course, is undermine the good work done by investigative journalists, with the general population doubting the honesty and veracity of sometimes shocking and extraordinary findings.

In Australia, journalists have to deal with many obstructions when they do investigative reporting. They have to convince their employer that the story is worth pursuing and needs to be published. They need to deal with threats made by sometimes very dangerous people and organisations. They even have to deal with a legal system that can threaten to put them behind bars for doing their work.

Law enforcement agencies in Australia have the legal right to investigate the identity of journalists' confidential sources by accessing their phone and computer records. This of course means that sources are less likely to come forward and stories that need to be told become less likely to be published. If someone who is going out on a limb to provide information to a journalist cannot expect to have their identity kept secret, it could also mean the risk of harm or even death to the source.

We should never forget the great work done by our best investigative journalists and the importance of a free press. They are essential to a strong democracy.

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO (18:04): I rise to speak on the motion of World Press Freedom Day. I want to acknowledge the incredible privilege Australia acknowledge enjoys of a free press. I also indicate I will be the lead speaker on this motion for the opposition. I also want to acknowledge the work of the Hon. Frank Pangallo in his former life as a journalist in South Australia and the work he continues to do in this place.

The fact that Australia enjoys such a benefit from a free press is not lost on me. You only need to look at the crackdowns and anti-press actions of foreign governments to know that what we enjoy and sometimes take for granted in Australia is a beautiful thing, and we are richer for it.

The World Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters Without Borders. Whilst Australia does not enjoy the top billing in the index—that goes to Norway—it is No. 27, with pariah state North Korea at 180th, no surprises there.

Since 1991 World Press Freedom Day has been celebrated on 3 May in response to what was at the time increasing attacks against journalists and media outlets around the world. Today, it serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to freedom of the press. This year it celebrates the 30th anniversary since it was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly following a recommendation of the general conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, in 1991.

This year's theme is 'Shaping a future of rights: freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights'. Freedom of expression is one of the essential elements of a modern democratic society. There are four fundamental freedoms laid out in the preamble of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights: freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom from fear and freedom from want. As UNESCO notes:

It is not incidental that the freedom of speech came first: this fundamental freedom is one that enables all others.

Article 19 in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Freedom of expression is sacred and should be defended. Journalists often find themselves with a ringside seat to history, and that is not always the safest place. Indeed, Australian journalists, with their keen sense of adventure, often feature in tales of far-flung lands and are often quite adept at historical recording. As the motion states, there are a number of journalists currently detained or being held hostage. According to Reporters Without Borders, there are 547 journalists and 22 media workers detained as of today, and since 1 January 2023 nine journalists and media workers have been killed.

Right now there is history in the making in Europe, with the first war on European soil since World War II. This year so far three journalists have been killed or gone missing via forced disappearance or kidnapping in Ukraine. Right now there are journalists on the frontline, on the ground in the Ukraine-Russian war.

One of them is from Adelaide, an Australian Army veteran Matt Williams OAM, also known as Willy. He reports with frequent interviews from the frontline of the Ukraine war through his YouTube channel. Another Australian is Bryce Wilson, who has been reporting from Ukraine since 2015 following the Russian forces entering.

Away from those sombre numbers, back home in Australia, we have other issues. With the freedom of the press comes great responsibility. In Australia we have public broadcasters, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, or ABC, which is funded by the federal government. In the three years from 2022-23 to 2024-25, the ABC and SBS will receive $4.2 billion.

The public media channel has an important remit of commissioning and broadcasting Australian content—Australian voices for Australian consumption. But all too often the public broadcaster finds itself in trouble for breach of its charter, and this was the case most recently during the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, where the ABC has received more than 1,000 complaints and allegations that it breached editorial standards. The more than 1,000 complaints triggered an investigation by the ABC Ombudsman into editorial failings.

In closing, I reiterate the absolute privilege we have of living in Australia, a land of freedom, including free press, and strong work in what we do. I thank the member for bringing this motion to the chamber and, with the proposed government amendments, we support the motion.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (18:09): I, too, rise in favour of the motion proposed by the Hon. Frank Pangallo; however, I take this opportunity to indicate that the Greens are not supportive of the government's amendments. We are concerned that they water down the motion of the Hon. Frank Pangallo and therefore we are not supportive of them; however, the Greens are supportive of the original motion that has been proposed by the honourable member.

I acknowledge the leadership of the Hon. Mr Frank Pangallo in this place on issues to do with press freedom. As has been observed by other members, he has been a journalist. He is a member in this place who has a keen interest in these issues and I certainly welcome his leadership in this regard.

May 3was the 30th anniversary of the United Nations UN General Assembly World Press Freedom Day. The theme for this year's day was 'Shaping a future of rights: freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights', signifying the enabling element of freedom of expression to enjoy and protect all other human rights. World Press Freedom Day reminds us that freedom to seek, disseminate and receive information on issues of public interest is a public good and vital to building a healthy and pluralistic civic space in which democratic institutions can flourish. Without a free and fair media acting as public watchdogs, citizens cannot access the information we need to make sound political choices, and accountability is severely impaired.

The media also offers citizens analysis of ongoing events, serves as a public forum in which different voices can be heard and interacts with and helps citizens understand what is becoming an increasingly complex world. The meaningful role played by the media in healthy democratic societies is recognised by the main universal and regional treaties on human rights, which entrench media freedom and pluralism in their provisions on freedom of expression and information.

World Press Freedom Day is also a day to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in pursuit of a story, to defend media from attacks on their independence and to assess the state of play of media freedoms worldwide, and to reflect about issues relating to press freedom and professional ethics.

Sadly, according to UNESCO World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development: Global Report 2021-22, 85 per cent of the world's population experienced a decline in press freedom in their country over the past five years. The report also found that between 2016 and 2021, 455 journalists were killed, either for their work or while they were on the job. Nine times out of 10 the murder of a journalist is unresolved. At the same time, imprisonment of journalists has reached record highs. Since 2016, dozens of countries have adopted or amended laws and regulations that threaten freedom of expression and press freedom online.

Growing numbers of media outlets have been forced to cut down on staff or close their doors permanently, and just two companies—Google and Meta—now receive approximately half of all global digital advertising spends. Here in Australia, I fear that press freedom is going backwards. According to the Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, Australia has dropped 14 places between 2021 and 2022, down from 25 to 35, and its score dropped from 80 to 73.77 over the last 12 months. Just two firms—News Corp and the Nine Entertainment Group—dominate Australia's media landscape, making Australia one of the most hyperconcentrated media systems in the world.

This oligarchic model prioritises business interests to the detriment of public interest journalism. The executives of big media companies maintain close ties to political leaders, which fuels doubts about the editorial independence of the outlets they own. In 2021, a Senate committee confirmed the existence of a growing culture of secrecy by the administration through the press, and this manifested itself through informal pressure not to reveal certain matters and of intimidation of whistleblowers under the pretext of protecting national security.

I should observe that it is not just state and federal governments that have a track record when it comes to intimidating the press. I remember my days in Town Hall, when the Team Adelaide faction, under the leadership of Lord Mayor Verschoor, initiated a gag order, which prevented members of council from being able to talk to the press about motions they were intending to move. I found that to be an outrageous affront to democracy at a local level, and myself and councillors Anne Moran and Phillip Martin were very much against that change. It took a very strong campaign from the media and the community to force the Team Adelaide faction, under the leadership of Alex Hyde, to reverse their position. It is a reminder that no level of government is immune from intimidating the press.

It is really important that we see strong, protected, independent public broadcasters like the ABC. These play a very important role in providing high-quality investigative journalism yet, sadly, they have had their budgets cut by more than half a billion dollars since 2014 and that has led to hundreds of lay-offs. The Liberal Party in Canberra have an appalling track record in that regard of trying to undermine the independence of the ABC. They have really gutted it over many years, and I hope that we see the Albanese government in Canberra putting more money into the ABC in the years ahead.

One of the challenges we face in our country is that Australia's constitution does not contain an explicit clause dealing with freedom of the press. This causes growing problems in our country, especially because some states are showing draconian tendencies concerning the free practice of journalism. At the federal level parliament has adopted, since the end of the 2000s, several problematic laws on national security, espionage and data encryption, which contain provisions authorising officials to violate the principle of journalists' confidential source protection. It is a really important principle for freedom of the press and it is one that is being eroded.

In a 2021 study, nearly 90 per cent of journalists in Australia said they feared, and I quote from that document, 'an increase in threats, harassment or intimidation', starting with threats from government. In 2019, the federal police searched the home of political News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst, in Canberra, as well as the headquarters of the ABC, creating an alarming legal precedent that threatens the survival of public interest journalism in our country.

We are seeing all around the world an erosion of press freedoms. We are seeing, as social media takes more of a centre stage, the proliferation of misinformation and the terrible impact that can have on our democracy. It is so vital that we see the freedom of the press being respected and preserved going forward. In that spirit, the Greens support the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. L.A. Henderson.

At 18:19 the council adjourned until Thursday 18 May 2023 at 14:15.