High profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has warned that leaders of oppressive countries were looking at Australia’s actions against journalists, suggesting that the recent police raids on the media could be used by less open countries as an excuse to clamp down even further on press freedoms.
Foreign minister Marise Payne was put in an uncomfortable position overnight attending the opening session of a two day Global Conference for Media Freedom in London. She gave a speech saying Australia supported press freedoms, but her remarks only received polite applause.
Senator Payne said while ”journalists and the media play a central role in generating the accountability that underpins good governance and strong institutions,’’ there needs to be a sensible balance to protect the national interest.
Ms Clooney responded with a barely concealed rebuke. “What happens in a country like Australia or the UK or the US will be looked at by every other leader in the world and potentially be used as an excuse to clamp down even further on journalists,’’ she said.
“Journalists all around the world are less safe if the rhetoric, or even policies or laws, of states that are supposed to be free are actually a threat to journalists in those countries.”
The recent raids on ABC and a News Corp journalist have highlighted Australia’s clamp down on media freedoms.
The eight hour raid by Australian Federal Police at the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst — including rifling through her underwear drawer — seeking information about a source, made global headlines. That raid, coupled with the raids on the national broadcaster ABC has rocked Australia’s international reputation for having a free press. Most recently the AFP was revealed to have demanded travel records of a journalist from Qantas.
The British foreign secretary and Tory leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt said that any country using a security excuse for media clampdowns could be used by repressive regimes all over the world.
‘’So it’s absolutely essential: draw that line in the right place and do so in a way that we can defend (it),” Mr Hunt said.
He said countries that believe in open societies ‘’have to practise what we preach’’ but he congratulated Senator Payne for turning up.
”We have to be prepared to subject ourselves to scrutiny, as Marise is by being here,” he said.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Western governments should not be complacent believing they had the perfect system.
“We are far from believing ourselves to be perfect. We think we have a lot of work to do at home,” she said.