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Tag Archives: #meaa

MEAA issues wish list over proposed media reforms

The union which oversees its member journalists and others involved with media and creative arts in Australia has issued a list of concerns in conjunction with two major media reform-related actions, less than a fortnight away from the federal Parliament convening for the first time in 2021.

The Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance (MEAA), in a pair of general statements speaking for the position of the entire organisation, has forwarded its submission for the Senate Media Diversity inquiry as well as a separate submission aimed at the News Media Bargaining Code Bill (2020).

The latter submission – put forth just on the Senate’s closing date of January 18 – has the MEAA playing its part to contend with the presence of digital giants such as Facebook and Google, and ensuring that the Silicon Valley giants pay Australian media providers fairly for running their content.

The flow of funds into directly producing domestic content, via bargaining agreements between any of the digital giants and any single domestic-based media provider, and the fear of negotiations breaking down or not possessing its intended results of renumeration exists as one of the MEAA’s collective fears over the bill.

“MEAA objects to the Code’s incorporation of a two-way value exchange principle will diminish the Code’s effective operation. It is an unreasonable concession by the [Morrison] government,” the union said in its submission.

The MEAA would also like some form of explanation, in economic or mathematical formulas or otherwise, as to how individual media outlets will be compensated by Facebook or Google to run their content.

“MEAA is unaware of any reliable means of rationally calculating the ‘benefits’ of Google and Facebook referring traffic to news company websites. It is an overly-elastic concept that is barely articulated or defined in the bill,” the MEAA says.

“In MEAA’s opinion, this measure will frustrate bargaining and resolution of disputes about the value of news content carried by Google and Facebook. MEAA submits that this concession be dispensed with, or at the very least, critically evaluated during the mandatory review scheduled within one year of the Code’s commencement,” the union added.

In the former submission, the Senate media diversity inquiry to be chaired by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, the MEAA provided a list of areas of recommendation that it would like to see covered when the inquiry commences.

  • Amend competition and other laws to prevent mergers that lead to more harmful levels of media concentration
  • The Australian government must urgently progress the Mandatory News Media Bargaining Code and extend the operation of the Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program
  • The Australian government should review and adapt critical measures recommended in the United Kingdom and Canada such as: directly funding local news; offering taxation rebates and incentives; and part-funding editorial positions
  • Government assistance should be reset to ensure funding is available for new media organisations, as well as traditional media companies
  • Public broadcasters must be funded in a way that acknowledges the need to provide comprehensive, high-quality cross-platform media content in all parts of Australia
  • The future of the AAP should be sustained through regular, annual relief grants
  • And the regulation of media content should be strengthened and overseen by a single entity

“2020 [saw] the best and the worst of Australia’s media,” the MEAA has observed.

“Australians have relied on journalists and news outlets [in 2020] in a way that hasn’t been experienced in many years.

“It has shown public interest reporting at its finest,” the MEAA adds.

However, the MEAA, in its dot-points of desires for the Senate inquiry, it observes that a paradox exists where while news organisations are breaking new ground in public interest journalism and reporting, economic declines among news organisations remain a part of a stark reality in the journalism industry, as evidenced in a decade-long trend.

And just like with the News Media Bargaining Code Bill, the presence and impact of digital giants such as Facebook and Google looms large.

Previously, layoffs of editorial positions in the thousands have occurred in the last ten years, and 1000 of those job losses in 2020 alone, which the MEAA has tied into the influence of digital publishing as well as a lack of diversity in the mass media in Australia.

“The loss of these journalists, sub-editors, photographers and other positions – and in many cases the mastheads that once employed them – means fewer outlets are covering matters of public interest and significance. In our view this has led to a dangerous fall in media diversity,” the organisation added.

Moreover, the MEAA is also concerned with the lack of ethical conduct of media organisations, and in the mainstream in particular, and has tied this into the lack of diversity and competition therein.

“The power of the few is not always wielded in a responsible or ethical way. In some instances, it has led to a rise in news coverage where the veracity of content is often untested and where ‘balance’ in news reporting can equate to the publication of meritless or misleading arguments,” the MEAA stated.

The MEAA has also implored that integrity issues – particularly in the reputation around the tabloid culture represented in the mainstream media – need to be discussed in the Senate inquiry, or any debate on media reform.

“In a truly plural media environment, the capacity of one voice to steer public opinion in a particular way is limited. In Australia, getting one powerful voice offside can have damaging consequences,” the MEAA stated.

“Where too few voices dominate the media landscape, journalists have reduced job options and might be forced to stay at an outlet because of a lack of opportunities.

“In order to keep their jobs, some inevitably feel pressured to abide by editorial preferences they might not be comfortable with, or which run contrary to the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics,” the MEAA added.

The Senate inquiry, as well as debates on the News Media Bargaining Code Bill, could occur at any time after the federal Parliament reconvenes from its summer break as early as February 2, subject to a drafting of an agenda of items.

Nonetheless, these two legislative matters – and the MEAA’s potential to use its influence upon shaping them – illustrate that media reform areas will emerge as a hot-button topic throughout 2021.

 

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ASIO bill reforms aren’t enough, say MEAA and Greens

Wedged between the recent passage of legislation expanding Australia’s spy agency’s powers and a date for a Senate inquiry into press freedom after the New Year, Attorney-General Christian Porter and the Morrison government announced on Wednesday a range of measures aimed at enhancing public interest journalism and the protection of whistle-blowers.

However, both the Greens and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) have criticised the government’s announcement, claiming it doesn’t go far enough to prevent the persecution of journalists and others acting in the public interest.

And those bodies collectively warn that such persecution can ultimately lead to prosecutions unless further revisions are taken.

“Under the reforms proposed by the Attorney-General today, journalists can still have their homes or workplaces raided without prior knowledge,” said Sarah Hanson-Young, holder of the communications portfolio for the Greens, in a reaction to Porter’s announcement.

“Journalists and their employers will still not have the right to appear before a judge and contest a search warrant before it is executed.

“Journalism remains a crime and journalists can still be jailed under these reforms,” added Hanson-Young.

Marcus Strom, the MEAA’s media federal president, called for greater action to counter any shortcomings that a Peter Dutton-sponsored piece of legislation passed in Parliament’s final sitting fortnight contained in the way of oversights and transparencies.

“The impetus for this review was the raids on consecutive days in 2019 of the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC offices in Sydney,” Strom said.

“Government agencies can still obtain warrants to investigate journalists in secret, and journalists and their sources can still be jailed for truth-telling.

“There is an urgent need for much broader reform to remove laws that criminalise journalism,” Strom added.

Dutton’s piece of legislation was aimed at increasing the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to include investigations aimed at anyone from private citizens and residents, even as young as 14 years of age, to anyone acting in a public-interest capacity, such as journalists and whistle-blowers.

And while Hanson-Young and the Greens had already arranged and announced a Senate inquiry into media freedom in Australia to take place in February after Parliament reconvenes after its summer break, Porter defends his department’s announcements as being a step in the right direction.

 

 

“Transparency is a key foundation of a healthy democracy and these reforms support the right of journalists and whistle-blowers to hold governments at all levels to account by shining a light on issues that are genuinely in the public interest,” said Porter.

Specific to journalists and public-interest journalism, amendments to Dutton’s recently-passed legislation would include:

  • only Supreme or Federal Court judges would have the ability to issue search warrants against journalists for disclosure offences
  • warrants would only be issued against journalists for disclosure offences after consideration by a Public Interest Advocate
  • greater justifications would have to be given in relation to warrants exercised against journalists, and
  • the government would be required to consider additional defences for public interest journalism for secrecy offences

“Our reforms will ensure the [ASIO Amendment Bill] is clear and understandable and provides an effective legal framework that supports and protects public sector whistle-blowers, while balancing important national security considerations with regard to the unauthorised release of sensitive information,” said Porter.

However, bodies such as the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) have said that the inquiry to be chaired by Hanson-Young must include press freedom areas among:

  • enshrining a positive protection for freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Australian law
  • with regard to broadening shield laws, Protection would have to be extended to all those involved in the newsgathering and publication process whose material or evidence may tend to reveal the identity of a source
  • journalists and their employers should be informed when enforcement agencies seek access to their metadata and journalist information warrants should be contestable by the subject of the warrant and their employer
  • and the public interest consideration required before issuing a journalist’s information warrant should be expanded to consider the potential harm that could be done by the issuance of the warrant and the public interest in a free press

“Journalists should not be charged for doing their jobs full stop. They should not have their homes raided. They should not be intimidated or threatened. They should not be attacked by the government for reporting what is in the public interest,” said Hanson-Young.

Hanson-Young also envisions areas of reporting that can be opened up without the government scrutiny which may theoretically be applied under the current legislation, should new press freedom laws become enacted.

“We have seen in recent months, vindication for those journalists whose homes and workplaces were raided over their reports on alleged war crimes and the government’s plans to spy on Australians. Public interest journalism is vital to our democracy,” she said.

“We need proper protections for journalists including a contested warrants process to be enshrined in a Media Freedom Act,” she added.

Meanwhile, Mike Burgess, ASIO’s director-general of security, feels that any reforms to the ASIO Amendment Bill – even at the reward of protecting public interest journalism, journalists, and whistle-blowers – need to be taken within the agenda of the nation’s greater interests.

“I acknowledge ASIO is granted extraordinary powers – but they are rightly subject to strict safeguards and oversight. Australians should be confident that ASIO acts in a targeted, proportionate, ethical way, and wherever possible, uses the least intrusive method available to collect security intelligence,” Burgess said in reaction to the bill’s passage last week.

“We do not just do what is legal, we do what is right,” Burgess added.

 

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A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange

Australian politicians, and the consular staff of the country, are rarely that engaged on the subject of protecting their citizens. In a couple of notorious cases, Australian authorities demonstrated, not only an indifference, but a consciously venal approach to its citizens in overseas theatres.

Mamdouh Ahmed Habib, a dual Australian-Egyptian national, was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 and subsequently sent to Guantánamo Bay via Bagram in Afghanistan and Egypt. His subsequent detention till 2005 in a chapter of that sinisterly framed Global War on Terror was without charge and heavy with speculation. In April 2002, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation formed the view that Habib had not been involved in the planning of future terrorist attacks, a point deemed insufficient in securing his early release. On his release, he initiated federal court proceedings against the Australian government over their complicity in the matter. The case was settled in 2010.

The squalid affair is worth nothing for the essential connivance of Australian officials in the ongoing detention of Habib. Even intelligence assessments within the intelligence fraternity pointing to his innocence were dismissed. In a joint media statement from the Attorney-General and the Minister for Foreign Affairs on January 11, 2005, the standard line was reiterated: “it remained the strong view of the United States that, based on information available to it, Mr Habib had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks on or before 11 September 2001.” What the US suspected, went.

In a wordy and not particularly illuminating report on the case by the Australian Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, it was “found that communication to the Habib family in respect of Mr Habib’s welfare was not adequate and recommends that an apology be made.” Stress was made that Australian intelligence officials were not directly involved in his rendering to Guantánamo Bay, though it was noted that “ASIO should have made active enquiries about how Mr Habib would be treated in Egypt before providing information which may have been used in his questioning in Egypt.”

An even more notable case of crude, dismissive abandonment can be found in the plight of David Hicks, another Australian who found himself facing an array of charges brought forth by the “war” on terror. His role in US legal history in fighting that dubious category of “unlawful combatant” and military commissions is assured, but what stood out in the case was an abject refusal on the part of Prime Minister John Howard and his foreign minister Alexander Downer to engage in anything resembling assistance.

In May 2003, with rumours thick that some detainees from Guantánamo Bay were being released, Downer was quick to scratch Hicks from the list. “After all, remember David Hicks was somebody who was allegedly involved with both al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Taliban being the political articulation of the view of al-Qaeda.”

When pressed by ABC Radio on Australian contributory negligence, Downer merely swatted the allegation, insisting on cryptic and inchoate legal categories. “He’s being held though, let me just make this clear, he’s being held as an unlawful combatant, as somebody who was detained initially by the Northern Alliance and subsequently by the United States”.

Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan, in an open letter to Australian prime minister John Howard, made the case that Hicks had been abandoned. Even after the finding by the US Supreme Court that specifically established military commissions were unconstitutional, the Australian government remained approving of that most curious of aberrations. “They have not taken any effort to ensure that he gets a fair trial.”

In every sense, the Australian response to Julian Assange’s detention, both during his time in the Ecuadorean embassy and in Belmarsh, betrays an unhealthy tendency to regard the controversial citizen as a menace best distanced. Let another country deal with him, and if that country be the United States, all the better.

In recent days, a sense of momentum is gathering suggesting that Australia’s political classes might be tiring of this view. Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has been shooting off his mouth for reasons more constructive than usual. “Whether you like a person or not, they should be afforded the proper rights and protections and the process of justice, as determined by an Australian parliament, not another nation’s parliament.”

Grounds for extradition to the United States from the UK, argued Joyce, had not been made out. “If a person is residing in Australia and commits a crime in another country, I don’t believe that is a position for extradition.”

Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie is also mucking in, hoping to cobble together a coalition of supporters in the Australian parliament to support Assange’s return to Australia. “The only party I’m having to work extra hard on getting members of the group is Labor.”

The more traditional front, however, is being maintained by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg. “He [Assange] ultimately will face the justice for what he’s been alleged to have done, but that is a legal process that will run its course.” Rather weakly, Frydenberg made a lukewarm concession: that “we will continue, as a government, to provide him with the appropriate consular services.”

If there was a time to fight legal eccentricity and viciousness, it is now. Just as Hicks and Habib faced complicity and a range of stretched and flexible legal categories, Assange faces that most elastic of instruments designed to stifle publishing and whistleblowing: the US Espionage Act of 1917. Should he be extradited from the United Kingdom and face the imperial goon squad in Washington, we will be spectators to that most depraved of state acts: the criminalisation of publishing. Australia’s parliamentarians, never the sharpest tools in the political box, are starting to stir with that realisation.

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