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The silent summer

  • 21 April 2006

‘A free media is essential to a democratic society. It ensures we know what is happening in our world and enables us to report, review and criticise.’

Christopher Warren, federal secretary of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance (MEAA), was speaking just after a two-day conference in Sydney last month. The conference brought together leading journalists from Asia, Europe and Australia to address critical topics related to diminishing press freedoms and freedom of information legislation. At the time, the Government was edging closer to passing its Anti-Terrorism Bill in parliament, ignoring criticism from many in the media that the sedition section of the Bill was not only unnecessary but could diminish the press freedoms that Australians have long taken for granted.

The conference, Free Media in a Democratic Society, was sponsored jointly by the MEAA and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It highlighted ‘that journalists everywhere are facing common challenges, from commercialisation of the media to ownership issues and draconian laws’, Mr Warren said.

Some 100 journalists from 21 countries discussed journalism in a time of national security, freedom of expression, media regulation, the laws affecting the media’s role including defamation, contempt and its impacts and the media’s role in the administration of justice. High on the agenda were Australian laws, particularly the sedition section of the new anti-terror legislation that will inhibit the public’s right to know and the ability of journalists to report the news as part of its vital role in the functioning of a democracy. ‘Journalists are conscious of the serious deterioration of press freedoms over the last four to five years,’ Mr Warren said. ‘One disturbing trend in non-democratic countries like China and transitionally democratic countries like Russia is the eroding of press freedoms, and when the IFJ complains, they simply point to countries like the United States and say that they are emulating these democracies.’

As well as his role as head of the union and professional organisation that represents more than 75 per cent of working journalists in Australia, Mr Warren is also president of the IFJ. He believes that society is the key beneficiary of the transparency that a free media encourages. Working tirelessly with colleagues, Mr Warren sought to persuade the Government not to enact the sedition section of the anti-terror legislation. He shook his head in disbelief at the Government’s theory that secrecy was essential for the fight against terrorism.