Journalists Face Jail Time If In Breach Of Metadata Laws
Following an agreement to measures to prevent the exposure of whistleblowers in the Government’s proposed metadata collection regime, the bill was passed in the lower house amid warnings from media companies that the regime would hobble press freedom.
While the Government agreed to establish a “public interest advocate” and a “journalist information warrant” to prevent the identity of confidential sources being exposed, it now seems reporters would be forbidden from disclosing any information about the journalist information warrant, including the “existence or non-existence” of such a warrant, and any failed attempt by government to pursue a journalist’s communication records.
Doing so would be punishable by two years’ imprisonment.
The public interest advocate – appointed by the Prime Minister – would make a submission outlining the public interest argument for refusing or obtaining a warrant, but would not be able to consult with affected journalists or media organisations.
The ASIO Director-General will also be able to issue a journalist warrant in an “emergency” situation, where security “will be, or is likely to be, seriously prejudiced” without it.
Campbell Reid, group editorial director at News Corp Australia, said he was concerned that the threat of jail time was the “sting in the tail” contained in the legislation.
“As an overriding principle, we prefer sunlight to darkness, and the fact that these warrants can’t be conducted in an open way … is still a concern, and we don’t frankly buy the argument that warrants of this nature … need to be so secretive,” Reid told Sky News.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon will seek to change the legislation in the upper house, in a bid to lessen its impact on free speech