Media union calls for urgent reform after charges against Oakes dropped

Australian special forces soldiers in 2010. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Laws allowing journalism to be criminalised need urgent reform, the union for journalists said after charges against ABC reporter Dan Oakes were dropped on October 15.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal president Marcus Strom said while it was “good news” for Oakes and colleague Sam Clark, fight for genuine reform of laws that restrict the public’s right to know needed to continue.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) had been considering charging Oakes, after he revealed allegations of war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2017.

“It’s disturbing that Australia can operate like a police state by criminalising journalism, raiding journalists in their homes and workplaces, and threatening them with jail for their legitimate journalism that is clearly in the national interest,” Strom said.

Strom said that given the CDPP believed “there were reasonable prospects of conviction” in relation to two of three charges, it was “clear” that the current laws “allow government agencies to operate in secret”.

He said the laws “punish journalists and whistleblowers for upholding the public’s right to know” and that “they are being used in response to news stories that embarrass governments”.

“That undermines our democracy”, Strom said, because laws which threaten jail terms for legitimate scrutiny of government “have a chilling effect on journalism”.

ABC managing director David Anderson said while it was good the charges were dropped, he was disappointed authorities even considered prosecution. “The Afghan Files is factual and important reporting, which exposed allegations about Australian soldiers committing war crimes in Afghanistan.”

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who chaired a Senate committee into press freedom, said the Greens would seek to introduce a media freedom act into federal parliament, a proposal that the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom supports.

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