MEAA replies to Green Left on media accreditation at protests

The 2019 blockade of a mining conference in Melbourne being attacked by police. Photo: Blockade IMARC / Facebook

Your June 16 article “Union support for media accreditation at protests is wrong” by Jacob Andrewartha is misleading and calls for a clarification of the facts.

The situation is that earlier this year Victoria Police unilaterally introduced a new form of accreditation for media covering rallies and protests, with virtually no consultation apart from a few editors and news directors from major mainstream Melbourne outlets.

This occurred after police were embarrassed by the arrest and temporary detention of two Herald Sun staff who were wearing clear identification to show they were journalists. There has also been at least one well-known case of a hard-right provocateur masquerading as a journalist at anti-vaxxer and anti-lockdown protests.

This police decision left freelancers and journalists at small publications, including your own, without any recognisable identification to show that they were attending an event in their capacity as working media, exposing them to potential arrest or detention.

On behalf of our 1500 media members in Victoria, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) actively engaged with the police to explain why this was completely unacceptable and to ensure that our members would not be harassed while covering public events.

As a result, we have gained the agreement of Victoria Police that a MEAA Media Membership card will be accepted as identification for working journalists at rallies and protests and our members.

This is a major step forward and will provide greater surety for journalists and photographers, regardless of who they work for.

Contrary to the impression given by your article, this was not an “about-face”, but an acknowledgement of the position MEAA took at the beginning of discussions with police.

There is nothing in this approach that prevents citizen journalists or others from attending and covering protests, but the agreement with Victoria Police is an additional safeguard to ensure journalists are able to go about their work without delay or interference from police.

It is unclear how the previous situation of police deciding who can and cannot cover a protest could possibly be preferable to the outcome negotiated by MEAA that reinforces the independence of journalists, the important role they play informing the public, and the status of the union.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

[Adam Portelli is the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Regional Director, Victoria & Tasmania.]