In early June 2019 the Australian Federal Police (AFP) armed with warrants, conducted searches on a journalists’ private residence and a media outlet, namely the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The so called ‘raids’ (or appointment, as was the case with the ABC), were in response to articles published, apparently containing ‘highly classified’ information that was illegally obtained, leaked or provided by whistleblowers.
The wider media’s reaction to the execution of these warrants was outrage and shock, with broad condemnation and claims that this was a direct threat to ‘Freedom of the Press’. In fact, some sections of the media have been quite agitated with claims of intrusive ‘police state’ powers, yet no one disputes that the police acted lawfully.
The media is claiming that they have been victimised by the Australian Federal Police and the Federal Government, adopting Amnesty International’s slogan for persecuted press – ‘Journalism is Not a Crime’. Nonetheless unauthorised publishing of leaked ‘highly classified information’ remains a crime irrespective of your occupation!
The press clearly believes that the laws preventing the media from publishing certain leaked classified information are unjust and therefore a threat to ‘Freedom of the Press’. Should the media’s rights or the unrestricted freedom to publish be above the ‘law of the land’?
The media argues that breaking the law is in the public’s interest i.e. that the unfettered ‘right to know’ is more important than potentially breaching national security safeguards.
The considered opinion appears to be that while Freedom of the Press is not ‘absolute’ it is a most basic tenet of our democracy. This viewpoint adds to the ambiguity but doesn’t change the fact that the legislation makes no provision for the press to be excluded from observing the law, no matter how righteous journalists may be.
It is clear that a nation’s security depends on its ability to keeps secrets. That is why it’s an imperative that bureaucrats and employees of various government funded agencies honour their employment contracts and uphold their oaths to keep highly sensitive and confidential material secure.
In addition, our allies must be confident that they can trust our alliances when sharing confidential top secret information, without the risk of exposing their assets. Australia’s success in protecting its citizens is dependent upon maintaining the confidence of these various international agencies, with whom we collaborate and exchange highly classified intelligence.
It is therefore understandable that any breaches of employee contracts, where it relates to leaking top secret material, should have harsh repercussions, with similar consequences for those who publish it.
It seems the media can be somewhat hypocritical with regard to contract breaches, particularly when they stand to benefit financially. Why is the press okay with bureaucrats breaching their employment contracts, but not okay when it comes to Israel Folau breaching his?
The media makes commercial decisions to publish leaked ‘highly classified’ material and justify their profitable actions based on the apparent ‘public’s interest’. This is deceptive behaviour because frequently it appears that journalists’ only expose the evidence of anonymous witnesses, to cause maximal embarrassment to the Government, without broader consideration to the potential highly damaging consequences of breaches to our national security?
There is a clear difference between the press seeking to embarrass the government and a whistleblower exposing the government’s illegal activity. The first may be a disconcerting ‘public interest’ story, however the latter is a clearer case of the ‘public’s right to know’; after all, the greatest hypocrisy and threat to our democracy is when the lawmakers seek to surreptitiously break their own laws.
Reporting illegal behaviour is an obligation for all citizens and is generally encouraged and rewarded in our society, except for some reason when it relates to reporting the illegal behaviour by our government and its agencies.
Why the distinction? What level of clandestine illegality and atrocities does our government commit, that are so repugnant and unjust that ‘national security laws’ are used to conceal the nation’s most obscene crimes?
Keep in mind: the national security laws were intended to protect our citizens, not hide dirty secrets, state criminality and the unlawful actions of the sovereign state.
Meanwhile if you expose state illegality the government will come after you with the zeal of the Chinese communist party and the vigour of Tiananmen Square’s state police, without transparency, judiciary protection, legal ‘due process’ and void of basic human rights. They will destroy you. Why?
Did we have a right to know about My Lai? Did we have a right to know about Abu Ghraib or that the Director of the NSA lied to Congress about the US spying on its own citizens? Did we have a right to know about the shameful illegal conduct of the Australian government, who’s atrocious covert fraudulent behaviour was exposed i.e. when they were caught spying on our closest neighbours and one of the world’s poorest countries, East Timor?
The purpose of Australia’s espionage against East Timor, was to acquire privileged and confidential information to unlawfully gain the upper hand in ‘treaty negotiations’ for the rich oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap. Australia’s objective was to have an unfair commercial advantage in the talks to exploit and deprive this small, poor country out of millions of dollars, by robbing them of their natural resources in the disputed area.
The whistleblowers exposing the above illegality face imprisonment. Why? They should be honoured for upholding the moral and ethical standards expected from our elected officials, who covertly cover up the crimes of their own governments.
If laws are not introduced to protect whistleblowers, then governments will continue to behave unlawfully, in fact, it will escalate if they know they can get away with it. Transparency is essential in any democracy and we shouldn’t have to demand it.
Perhaps the media should be slightly more ‘vocally outraged’ and reappraise or step-up their reporting on the immoral and cruel treatment of whistleblowers, such as Edward Snowden, Julian Assange or Witness K?
Certainly the Australian Government’s attitude towards Assange is akin to paralysis, compared to the resources being thrown at the imprisoned citizen Yang Hengjun, yet their circumstances are not that dissimilar.
Journalists need to give their ‘victimisation’ line a rest, as it is actually the whistleblowers in the firing line, as they stand alone without support and at risk of losing everything, including their freedom. (Unlike journalists who have the backing of powerful multi-media companies standing behind them).
Perhaps the press should take a rest from the continuous self-indulgent persecution complex, the excessive languishing and oppressive wallowing and start putting a little energy into lobbying for real change, legislation to protect whistleblowers, those who report and disclose the illegal behaviour of our politicians and the agencies they control.
4th September 2019
He who controls the media controls the minds of the public. Noam Chomsky