News Corp co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch has invoked his grandfather’s reporting of Gallipoli to lash the Abbott government’s new national security laws that could jail journalists for up to 10 years.
Mr Murdoch said Australia’s press freedom was under threat and had already fallen dramatically by world standards.
“It might surprise you that today Australia ranks 33rd, just behind Belize, on the Freedom house index. 20 years ago we ranked 9th,” Mr Murdoch said during the Keith Murdoch Oration at the State Library in Melbourne on Thursday night.
Mr Murdoch said the government was frequently asking Australians to trust them ‘we’re from the government’, when attempting to censor the media.
“But trust is something that should not be a consideration when restricting our fundamental freedoms. Our freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not things we should blindly entrust anyone.”
Mr Murdoch singled out the government’s national security laws that could jail journalists for up to 10 years for revealing “special intelligence operations”.
Many, including human rights commissioner Tim Wilson, have condemned these laws, saying they would restrict legitimate scrutiny of Australia’s secret agencies.
Mr Murdoch said the government’s terminology, particularly “secret intelligence operation”, was ambiguous.
“It’s left up to government agencies at the time to decide. Would the Gallipoli campaign have been a special operation?”
Mr Murdoch’s grandfather Sir Keith Murdoch revealed the devastation of Gallipoli, which killed more than 8000 soldiers, in a letter to then Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, despite reports from the battle field being censored by the military.
“Incredible as it seems today, Fisher … had received little notice of the Gallipoli invasion.
“Would Sir Keith have been arrested … to spend the next 10 years in jail? And remember, the taking of that letter … a private communication to the prime minister, was tremendous overreach by the military at that time.
“A century ago, Keith Murdoch’s Gallipoli letter was Australia’s boldest declaration that our nation had the right to know the truth.”
Mr Murdoch also took aim at the previous Labor government’s attempts to introduce a public interest media advocate to oversee all media as the “most draconian attack on the press this country has ever seen in peacetime”.
Failure to comply with advocate could have seen the removal of the Privacy Act exemptions, which “are essential for journalists to do their work”, Mr Murdoch said.
“And, if all else failed, a single unnamed ‘super expert’ could apply his or her own undefined ‘public interest test’ and punish an organisation commercially,” he said.
“Censorship should be resisted in all its insidious forms. We should be vigilant of the gradual erosion of our freedom to know, to be informed, and make reasoned decisions in our society and in our democracy.
“We must all take notice and, like Sir Keith, have the courage to act when those freedoms are threatened.”
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