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Motion: World Press Freedom Day

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. F. Pangallo:

That this council—

1. Recognises that 3 May 2023 marks 30 years of World Press Freedom Day, celebrating the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of expression;

2. Notes that UNESCO has designated this year's theme is 'Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a driver for all other human rights.';

3. Acknowledges that an independent press and a media-literate public is vital in tackling corruption, abuse of power, disinformation, hate speech, censorship of opinion, exposing human rights violations and poor transparency and accountability and advancing democracy;

4. Recognises that journalists across the world continue to face threats to their safety and liberty in order to silence their reporting;

5. Pays tribute to journalists killed in the line of their reporting duty;

6. Notes that a record number of journalists, including Australians Julian Assange and Cheng Lei, and Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal, are currently detained while dozens more are being held hostage;

7. Calls on Australians to unite to demand the UK government and the US government cease their persecution of Julian Assange and release him from Belmarsh Prison; and

8. Urges the Australian Prime Minister, the Hon. Anthony Albanese, and Foreign Minister, the Hon. Penny Wong, to work harder and request that Chinese President Xi Jinping intervenes to lift the detention of Cheng Lei.

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I am pleased today to rise on this motion observing World Press Freedom Day. I rise to speak in support of this motion. In 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 3 May as World Press Freedom Day. Throughout the past three decades, the celebrations of World Press Freedom Day have brought more attention to the importance of free expression and highlighted various aspects of press freedom. However, it is unfortunate that we are now witnessing a growing threat to media freedom, to journalists' safety and to the right to express oneself freely.

On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia's government, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. A prominent Saudi journalist, he covered major stories, including the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of the late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for various Saudi news organisations.

For decades the 59 year old was close to the Saudi royal family and also served as an adviser to the government, but he fell out of favour and went into self-imposed exile in the US in 2017. From there he wrote a monthly column in The Washington Post in which he criticised the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the son of King Salman and Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler. His last column, received the day after he went missing, was about the need for free expression, not just in Saudi Arabia but everywhere that authorities try to suppress and intimidate journalists. He called for, and I quote him:

…a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be appropriately informed about global events.

The threat to press freedom is a global problem and it is getting worse. According to data compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,455 journalists have been killed around the world since 1992, 1,979 have been imprisoned and 69 have gone missing. Even as they attack reporters, many of these countries profess support for United Nations norms and offer pledges of human rights.

Australian commentators can be quick to point to China or Turkiye or anywhere else in the Middle East as regions that do not enjoy press freedom, but the sad reality is that right here at home we have our own significant attacks on press freedom to contend with. The Australian Federal Police admitted to illegally accessing journalist metadata.

A 2022 study by Deakin University found that recent legislative reforms of the data retention act 2015, the assistance and access act 2018, the international production orders act 2020 and the identify and disrupt act 2021 have cowed whistleblowers into silence. Journalists in this study were critical of the current journalist information warrant authorities must get before accessing their data. Many said they had no trust in the procedures used to attain the warrant or the protections it affords journalists.

Under the mask of criminal cybervilification, anti-terrorism, cybersecurity and so-called fake news laws, more than ever governments are stifling journalists and concealing inconvenient truths. Even more recently, in fact just in this last week, a UK journalist, Richard Felgate, has told how a police officer ripped off his press credentials and arrested him for covering climate activists who were protesting during the King's coronation.

In fact, I do not know that they were climate activists, although it says it here on my speech notes. I watched the video. I am pretty sure they were just protesting the coronation, but perhaps they had a climate message as well—it seems to be the flavour of the month right now or the flavour of today.

Felgate said he was detained at a police station for 18 hours—18 hours—after he was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance, a new offence brought in especially under that government's new draconian protest ban laws. With the new anti-protest laws that have been brought in, we are told that they are to stop disruption, but really on the ground they are used to stop people's freedom of speech and to infringe on freedom of the press. 'This is the third time I've been arrested for filming', said Felgate.

As a democratic society we have a responsibility to guard against the misuse of power through fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. Julian Assange's case is also an example of the importance of protecting those kinds of freedoms. As the director of WikiLeaks, Assange exposed the war crimes of the United States to the world and he was charged with violating the Espionage Act. Julian has spent over three years now in maximum security in Belmarsh Prison in the UK and, if he is convicted, he could potentially spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

All the evidence indicates that his health has deteriorated from these years of arbitrary detention, and he has been forced to endure what many could not. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment found:

In addition to physical ailments, Mr Assange showed all symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma.

As WikiLeaks wrote in their statement responding to the extradition news, Julian Assange's freedom is coupled to all our freedoms. The Greens will always support a journalist's right to speak truth to power. Every threat to a journalist is a direct attack on freedom of information, opinion and expression—fundamental rights that belong to all. I would like to quote the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

The safety of journalists is not just a question of personal security, it is a question of the safety and health of entire societies. It is a moral imperative—for the future of all of us—that we do everything possible to protect it.

Fine words. I note that one of the other contributors, the Hon. Russell Wortley, noted a particular journalist of relevance to my life, Juanita Nielsen, who of course we know was murdered, whose body has never been found, who ran a little local paper in the area I grew up in. We all knew, we were all chilled by the fact that, if you spoke up and spoke out, be it against developers or organised crime in the city of Sydney, you may find yourself just like Juanita Nielsen.

It is for people like Juanita Nielsen that we should use our positions to stand against injustice where it occurs. Unfortunately, on this day, I do not believe this parliament has done that and, while I look forward to an imminent debate on the right to protest, I note that human rights are universal and indivisible, and to lose one right means we lose all rights. With that, I commend the motion.

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