Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Press freedom in Australia operates by convention rather than by constitutional guarantees, except in the state of Victoria, where it is protected under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities. The right to information is protected, though lengthy delays and high costs impede access. Several documents were denied to journalists in 2007 because disclosure was deemed “contrary to the public interest.” The Australian Press Council and the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance (MEAA) monitor journalistic freedom and access to information. In 2007, several top media companies and press freedom groups allied to form the Australia’s Right to Know coalition. The group published a comprehensive report on the state of free speech in Australia in response to concerns over declining press freedom.
Restrictive legislation has been enacted over the past several years, including the Antiterrorism Act of 2005 and the Telecommunications (Interception) Amendment Act of 2006. In 2007, the government introduced a bill, known as the Communications Legislation Amendment (Crime or Terrorism Related Internet Content), that would give federal police discretionary authority to censor websites considered to contain material that “encourages, incites or induces” offenses against the commonwealth. In May, the Evidence Amendment (Journalists’ Privilege) Bill 2007 was proposed. That measure would allow judges to excuse journalists from revealing confidential sources, but press freedom groups advocated greater legislative protection for journalists and whistleblowers. In June, two journalists from the Herald Sun were convicted of contempt for refusing to reveal a source before a judge in 2005 and were fined US$6,300 each. Separately, according to a May statement by Australia’s Right to Know, a newsroom in Sydney had been raided twice in the past year as federal agents tried to identify the source of an official leak. In June, former customs official Allan Kessing received a suspended sentence of nine months in prison for leaking information to The Australian concerning lax airport security, although the leak ultimately led to major security upgrades. Authorities backed down under public pressure from pursuing The Australian reporters who published the story.
Private media ownership is concentrated, with the print media dominated by the Fairfax Group and Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd. In 2007, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission allowed a merger between Fairfax Group and Rural Press. Australia has a strong tradition of public broadcasting, though the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has faced dramatic funding cuts. In May, international press freedom watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres expressed concern over authorities’ threats to withdraw state funding from the newspaper The West Australian if it did not fire editor Paul Armstrong. The internet is a vibrant medium in Australia, accessed by 75 percent of the population.