Sydney: Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter on Monday announced measures to protect journalists who face charges over revealing sensitive security or defence-related information in their reporting.
Porter, however, said media persons could be prosecuted only in the most extreme cases.
The order comes at a time when Australian authorities are probing two journalists of state broadcaster ABC and another working for the News Corp media group over allegations that they released information that violated secrecy laws.
“Where (…) there is a public interest in a prosecution for one of the relevant offences involving a journalist, the consent of the Attorney General will also be required as a separate and additional safeguard,” Porter said in a statement cited by Efe news.
Although the Attorney General’s statement does not refer to the three journalists and doesn’t rule out a potential prosecution, it highlights Porter’s hesitation in approving prosecutions of journalists “except in the most exceptional circumstances”.
The order would “allow the most detailed and cautious consideration of how an allegation of a serious offence should be balanced with our commitment to freedom of the press”, Porter said.
In early June, the federal police raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst after she reported on the Australian government’s alleged plans to give more powers to intelligence agencies to spy on citizens.
The next day, it raided the ABC offices in Sydney over a leak of documents linked to alleged crimes committed by the elite Australian forces deployed in Afghanistan – which included killing of children – described in the so-called “Afghan Files” that were revealed by ABC in 2017.
The raids came under widespread criticism from various quarters, including ABC Chairperson Ita Buttrose – who said they were “designed to intimidate” – apart from international media houses such as the BBC and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.
Subsequently an Australian parliamentary committee launched an inquiry to analyze the impact of law enforcement intimidation tactics on press freedom in the country.
Since 2014, Australia has enacted a series of laws that criminalize the disclosure of information linked to state interests, establish new espionage crimes and allow access to citizens’ metadata, among other privacy issues.