Australia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Australia

Australia

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

18

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

7

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

7

Press freedom operates by convention rather than by constitutional guarantees. Journalists' freedom to report and access information is tightly guarded by the Australian Press Council and the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance, which represents more than 10,000 journalists. Nevertheless, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act, amended in 2003, provides for a five-year prison sentence for journalists who fail to present themselves to the domestic security agency in response to a summons or fail to produce their sources or to pass on information they receive about a potential terrorist act. Defamation laws differ across state boundaries. However, in July the federal government proposed a national defamation law to eliminate problems publications face in complying with different defamation standards. Access to information remains costly, with government departments indirectly imposing procedural difficulties for journalists requesting access to government documents through freedom of information legislation. Journalists are subject to gag orders, leading to conflicts between a journalist's right to report in the public interest and a source's right of confidentiality. In March, a freelance journalist was subjected to an 18-week gag order by the Queensland Supreme Court against publishing details about Elan Vital, a religious group based in Queensland, of which he was a former member. 

 Police raids on newspaper offices, while uncommon, do occur in Australia. In November, Australian federal police raided an indigenous newspaper office in the Northern Territory for leaked cabinet documents that revealed the government's initiatives to scale back Aboriginal welfare. With 75 percent of the news market owned by Murdoch's News Ltd., concentrated media ownership remains a concern. The federal government's relaxation of cross-media ownership rules exacerbated fears that greater media monopolies will hamper the robust investigation of government and corporate activities.