Americans ‘shocked’ by Aussie press freedom limits

Bruce Brown, executive director of the Washington-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, today launched a similar campaign with many of the main media outlets in the US, which he said had been informed by the Australian initiative.

“I cannot overemphasise how much we were shocked by what the state of the law was there,” Mr Brown said of Australian press freedom.

“We were shocked to see in Australia the conditions on the ground for reporters, particularly, you know, reporters whose work was touching on sensitive issues from the government.

“The Australian campaign is very timely and completely in step with what we’re trying to do here.”

Bruce Brown says he was “shocked” by the conditions Australian journalists operate under.Source:Supplied

The US campaign, spearheaded by RCFC and partnering with 30 media and tech organisations including The New York Times, Wall St Journal, The Washington Post and television networks CNN, NBC and ABC, opened Thursday local time with ads designed to show Americans the potential of taking for granted their free press.

“Today, there are real threats to press freedom, and your right to know the world around us,” the ad says.

“Some threats are obvious, some are easy to miss, but they all put our way of life at risk.”

Mr Brown, a leading media lawyer, said his group had found the Australian campaign “educative” and their “Protect Press Freedom” initiative stood solidly behind it.

“These are not what you would call co-ordinated campaigns, but they are campaigns that are very much of the same theme,” he said.

“I think that tells you something that is disconcerting about what news organisations are facing all around the world today, particularly in nations that we had always thought of as ones in which these kinds of rights were protected.

“I hope that both of our campaigns will play a role in waking up the public in our respective countries that they need to support press freedom and they need to rally behind news organisations and they should see these organisations as part of what helps keep us informed, and not something that should divide us.”

Mr Brown said his members had been shocked and dismayed earlier this year when Australian Federal Police officers raided the home of News Corp Australia reporter Annika Smethurst and reporters from the ABC.

He said the Protect Press Freedom initiative shared with the Your Right To Know campaign a desire to expose the “tension between national security and press freedom”.

“Because that is such a core part of our work here (at RCFP), the episodes in Australia earlier this year, with the search and seizure operations were alarming,” he said.

“It was daunting for us to think about the challenges that Australian news organisations face to conduct basic news gathering and that kind of environment.”


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Federal police officers raiding the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst over a story about a secret government plan to spy on Australians. Picture: News Corp Australia

Federal police officers raiding the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst over a story about a secret government plan to spy on Australians. Picture: News Corp AustraliaSource:News Corp Australia

The US campaign is focused on access to information, much like the Australian endeavour.

“We are trying to bring home to people the various ways in which having a wide variety of news outlets and free flow of information to the public impacts them in their daily lives,” Mr Brown said.

“The video campaign in particular illustrates all the ways during the course of your day, when you go about your business or going to school, or being with your family, or friends or entertaining, that you rely on a system that permits information to flow freely to you.”

He said the campaign was nonpartisan.

“The campaign is not asking anyone to choose between news outlets or choose between political candidates,” he said.

“It’s trying to get people in the US to recommit themselves to seeing that the press is a part of our national consensus. The press as an institution is under stress now, and we thought it was an important time to come to support it.”


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