The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has voiced its concern that the conviction of two Australian journalists of contempt of court for not revealing their sources is indicative of a retreat from a free and open society.
According to IFJ Australian affiliate, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (Alliance), Herald-Sun journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus were convicted of contempt of court on June 25, and each fined $7000, for refusing to reveal the key source of a leaked story which had embarrassed the federal government.
“For a country that is placed as an open and free democracy, this conviction raises grave concerns about the future for press freedom in Australia,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
“To convict journalists for upholding their code of ethics, and protecting their sources, is effectively punishing journalists for doing nothing more than their jobs,” Park said.
In February 2004, Harvey and McManus exposed government plans to knock back a $500 million boost to war veterans’ pensions.
Following the story’s publication, public servant Desmond Patrick Kelly was charged under the Commonwealth Crimes Act for leaking a confidential statement from the then Veteran Affairs Minister, Danna Vale.
Harvey and McManus refused to reveal their sources or give evidence in Kelly’s trial in 2005, and were charged with contempt of court.
According to the Alliance, the journalists should never have been charged, as their indictment was part of a concerted campaign by the federal government to clampdown on “whistleblowers”.
“The IFJ has always viewed the protection of sources as one of the cornerstones of press freedom,” Park said.
“In what appears to be a deliberate strategy of intimidation, the Australian government is seriously compromising the ability of Australian journalists to fulfill their role as watchdog,” she said.
“This has serious implications for investigative and quality journalism in Australia.”
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries