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Panpa Bulletin : February 2007
PANPA Bulletin February 2007 MEDIA MATTERS 17 Exactly how much restriction on media freedom is acceptable in the name of national security? Research we conducted at Bond Uni- versity’s Centre for New Media Research and Education, published in full in the latest edition of Pacifc Journalism Review (www. pjreview.info/), tells of three different ap- proaches in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacifc Islands. Media restrictions in the name of national security were in existence long before September 2001, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, where bombings from the late 1970s through until the mid 1990s put governments on international terrorism alerts. The Australian Parliament has passed 35 counter-terrorism Acts since September 2001. Many of the changes have the po- tential to affect journalists in their reporting of terrorism-related stories in the following ways: • leaving reporters exposed to new deten- tion and questioning regimes •exposing journalists to new surveillance techniques • seizure of journalists’ notes and computer archives • exposing journalists’ confdential sources to identifcation • closing certain court proceedings, thus leaving matters unreportable • suppressing certain details related to terrorism matters and exposing journalists to fnes and jail if they report them • Restricting journalists’ movement in cer- tain areas where news might be happen- ing; • Exposing journalists to new risks by merely associating or communicating with some sources; and • Exposing journalists to criminal charges if they publish some statements deemed to be inciting or encouraging terrorism. The most controversial of the Australian ini- tiatives was the revitalising of sedition laws in the form of the Anti-Terrorism Act (No. 2) 2005. In response to the public objections to the sedition provisions, and a recommen- dation from a Senate committee that they be dropped, the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock took the unusual step of agreeing the sedition laws would be subject to a re- view after the legislation had been passed. The Australian Law Reform Commission reported in May 2006 proposing the Com- monwealth and State governments remove the term “sedition” from their statutes. But all the Attorney-General did was “note” the report, and the sedition laws still stand today and look unlikely to be changed. While New Zealand has also strength- ened its counter-terrorism laws since 2001, its changes have not been as far-reaching as Australia’s, nor have they generated the level of media and public outcry. Unlike Australia’s 30-plus legislative changes, New Zealand only featured two main anti-terrorism Acts: the Terrorism Sup- pression Act and the Counter-Terrorism Act. While each had implications for journalism and civil liberties, each had the New Zea- land Bill of Rights Act 1990 as a backdrop which, at Section 14, states: Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opin- ions of any kind in any form. The Counter Terrorism Act in 2003 included: • New crimes for the harbouring or concealing of terrorists; • Powers for enforcement offcers to use tracking devices with and without warrants; • Computer access powers for law enforcement offcers. The amendment to the Terrorism Sup- pression Act with the greatest potential implications for journalists was section 13A related to the harbouring or concealing of terrorists, which has the potential to expose journalists to conficts over the identifca- tion of their sources, particularly those who might be investigating the activities of potential terrorist groups. The other two major changes with the potential to impact upon journalists were Summary Proceedings Act amendments on tracking devices and computer access. While tiny Pacifc island nations might seem a world away from the activities of terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, there is concern such countries could be used for money laundering or frearms acquisition by such organizations or more directly used as the base for terrorist attacks on other targets if security is not up to international standards. The Pacifc nations’ diffculties in imple- menting anti-terrorism measures can be found in the communiqués from the Pacifc Islands Forum meetings since 2002. Clearly, three distinct models have emerged from our survey of the impact of counter-terrorism initiatives in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacifc Islands. Australia has clearly taken a strong anti- terrorism position, refecting its active role in Iraq and its loss of 92 lives in the terrorist bombings in the tourist hub of Bali, Indone- sia, in 2002 and 2005. Its spate of legislation since 2001 has made it a model jurisdiction for the tightening of the powers of enforce- ment and security agencies but the media have faced real and potential impositions. At the other extreme, several Pacifc Island nations, faced with major domestic social and economic challenges, have failed to implement the bare minimum anti-terrorism initiatives expected by the United Nations conventions to which they are signatories. These places could be easy targets for attacks on tourists, breeding and training grounds for terrorist operatives, and convenient sites for gun running and money laundering by terrorist organizations. Our newspapers have a duty to keep abreast of potential happenings. Sitting between these poles is the New Zealand approach, which seems to have met international obligations in its anti-ter- rorism initiatives without overly compromis- ing civil liberties and media freedoms. Only hindsight will tell us defnitively which governments took the correct line on media crackdowns in the name of anti-ter- rorism, but as journalists most of us know from experience you don’t stop terrorism by shooting the messenger. Professor Mark Pearson is director of the Centre for New Media Research and Education at Bond University, Queensland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Media freedom vs National security Anti-terror legislation is tough in Australia, moderate in New Zealand, and minimal in the Pacifc Island states, writes MARK PEARSON.
November December 2006