Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says journalist protection overhaul long overdue

News agencies and unions have met with the federal attorney-general to discuss press freedom reform.

News agencies and unions have met with the federal attorney-general to discuss press freedom reform. Photo: AAP

Overhauling protections for journalists to improve press freedom is long overdue, according to the attorney-general.

Mark Dreyfus told a roundtable with media executives and union officials in Canberra on Monday the safety of reporters from prosecution needed to be ensured following highly publicised raids by federal police.

“All of us were shocked by the 2019 search warrants against the ABC and (journalist) Annika Smethurst,” he told the roundtable.

“Journalists should never face the prospect of being charged just for doing their job and there’s agreement across parliament and the community that improved protections are overdue.”

The media roundtable addressed whether secrecy offences were gagging public interest journalism.

Mr Dreyfus flagged specific whistleblower and press freedom reforms this year after the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation passed late last year.

“Today’s discussions with people at the frontline of this debate, the journalists and people who represent, defend and publish them, is a crucial first step towards ensuring we get these things right,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to a full and frank discussion about press freedom issues in Australia and further options for reform because a strong and independent media matters.”

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has welcomed the talks, describing them as an important first step towards substantive reforms.

“There is a long shopping list of changes that are needed to protect the critical role of journalism in our democracy,” MEAA federal media president Karen Percy said in a statement.

“The steady creep of national security laws into so many facets of journalists’ work is a dangerous threat to press freedom, as is the lack of transparency around journalist information warrants.”

The MEAA is also calling for increased protections for sources and whistleblowers.

“Whistleblowers who play such an important role in working with journalists to expose abuses of power and corruption should be entitled to protections,” Ms Percy said.

Meanwhile, the government has announced the first initiative from its $4 million News Media Assistance Program (News MAP).

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said the Public Interest Journalism Initiative, an independent non-profit company, would receive $900,000 to collect, analyse and visually map Australian public interest news and journalism data.

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