Journalists Condemn Australian "Intimidation and Threats" To Media Covering Asylum Drama

The International Federation of Journalists today accused the Australian authorities of putting press freedom at risk over their policy of "intimidation and threats" to reporters covering a controversial detention centre where asylum seekers have been on hunger strike.

The IFJ has also called for charges to be dropped against Nathalie Larkins, a reporter for Australia's ABC television, who was arrested and briefly detained after an order was imposed moving media away from the Woomera detention centre where protesting asylum seekers have been vigorously protesting over their treatment.

"This arrest and the arbitrary decision to keep media away from the Woomera centre amounts to a serious infringement of journalists' rights and compromises the media's capacity to report on a story of vital national interest," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, the world's largest journalists' group.

"The outside world will be shocked at the implications for press freedom. It is impossible not to conclude that the authorities have something to hide."

The IFJ is supporting the protests by its member organisation in Australian the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and by leading media organisations. The IFJ is writing to Australia's Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock protesting over the restrictions on media and threats to arrest more journalists if they don't comply. The Australian government's approach to asylum questions has raised a powerful debate on national and international level says the IFJ and explains why events at Woomera are of such interest to media.

"If journalists are to do their job, they need to be allowed access to the site where events are taking place," said Aidan White, "denying journalists access to the centre means that debate over this controversial public policy issue is being stifled."