Politician seeks tougher media shield laws

NEW action to protect investigative journalists through so-called “media shield laws” is being taken by leading West Australian politician John McGrath.

The former journalist has been sparked into action by a Supreme Court decision to demand a reporter from The West Australian hand over recordings of an interview with a confidential source about a business deal allegedly involving Alan Bond, the once-jailed Australian tycoon.

Mr McGrath was reported in The West Australian as describing the move as a “worrying sign”.

This year, there have been police raids in Australia on journalists of The Sunday Times in Perth and The Canberra Times.  Meanwhile four newspaper executives in Fiji – two publishers and two editors – are currently being threatened with jail terms over publication of a letter critical of their High Court.

The Australian Federal Government has promised to look at laws to protect journalists. At the PANPA08 conference in September, the country’s Prime Minister, Mr. Kevin Rudd, pledged a full review of media shield laws in February. PANPA and other organisations would be invited to review his government’s proposals, he said.

“We’re determined to get the balance right – while recognising that from time to time there will be argy-bargy,” he said at PANPA08.

Mr McGrath told The West Australian yesterday: “Anyone (following) that story would have to wonder whether, given the circumstances of the case, that is fair treatment of the media if we want to have a free press in WA,” he said.

Mr McGrath also cited concern about the raid on the Sunday Times newspaper, in which police looked for evidence linked to a Cabinet leak. “We’re all aware of what happened earlier this year with the police raid of the Sunday Times,” he told The West Australian. “A lot of people were disappointed with that as some sort of intrusion into free speech in WA.”

The West Australian said it was appealing against the Supreme Court ruling. Its editor, Paul Armstrong, said protecting sources was vital for effective quality journalism.

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