Media coalition deplores curbs on free speech in Australia

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Sydney, Nov 5 (UNI) Free speech and media freedom are being whittled away in Australia, an audit by a coalition of major media groups claimed.

More than 500 separate legal provisions in 335 different state and federal acts of Parliament are denying Australians access to a vast amount of information they should be able to see, The Right to Know Coalition said today in an audit on the state of free speech released today.

Various laws, including the New South Wales Gaming Machines Act, the Port Statistics Act, the Grain Marketing Act and the Food Act all contained secrecy provisions preventing the release of information that should be in the public domain, the report says.

The coalition, made up of all the major media groups, including Fairfax Media, publisher of The Sydney Morning Herald, produced the report as a first step in lobbying government to change laws that deny the media and the public access to information often available overseas.

Former NSW Ombudsman Irene Moss led the team that wrote the report.

She said the audit found courts had imposed more than 1000 court suppression orders and there were mountains of evidence that Freedom of Information (FoI) laws posed major hurdles for journalists trying to report on government.

Releasing the report, the media executives called for ''clear leadership in government and the courts to bring about a change in culture that will make our public institutions more open transparent and accountable''.

''The report provided tangible evidence media companies could use to go out and get change,'' Chief executive of News Ltd, John Hartigan, was quoted by Sydney Morning Herald as saying.

Chief executive of Fairfax Media, David Kirk, said ''The landmark report showed there was an overwhelming case for reforming FoI laws, suppression laws and shield laws to protect whistleblowers if Australia's democracy were to function properly.'' ''We are not living in a dictatorship, but we are not living in a gold standard democracy. We are paying lip service to the principle of open government,'' he added.

UNI

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