Attorney General having discretion over prosecutions will do virtually nothing for press freedom

Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

Digital Rights Watch has criticised a recent move by the Australian Government to allow Ministerial decisions over the prosecution of journalists.

“Australia already lags behind when it comes to press freedom. We are the only democracy on the planet that has not enshrined the right to a free press in our constitution or a charter of rights,” said Digital Rights Watch board member David Paris.

The Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter has made it a requirement of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to obtain the agreement of his office before proceeding with prosecution of journalists.

“There are laws that effectively criminalise journalism in Australia and this new ministerial power does nothing to change that. There’s nothing stopping the shocking raids of the sort we saw earlier this year on the homes and offices of journalists from happening again.”

“Discretion over a prosecution is too little protection too late in the process. By that stage a journalist will have already been spied on, a whistleblower acting in the public interest already compromised, and important information the public deserves to know will remain inaccessible.”

“Law enforcement agencies can already access extraordinary amounts of data with scant judicial oversight, and existing safeguards for journalists within these regimes are narrowly framed and routinely bypassed.”

“Press freedom is under attack in Australia, and there are critical issues we should address immediately. Handing out power to Ministers to decide whether to proceed with a prosecution accomplishes nothing in this regard” said Mr Paris.

In September 2019, David Paris and Scott Ludlam co-authored the ‘Breaking: Press freedoms in Australia’ report for GetUp! and Digital Rights Watch.