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- Improved heath and education services.



Monday, 31 October 2011

Shield Laws in NSW protecting journalists but not bloggers

Comments in yesterday’s estimates hearing for Attorney General and Justice shows how antagonistic and deeply suspicious of new media the Attorney General is. See also this AAP report on the issue.

Mr GREG SMITH: I have done my utmost to encourage freedom of speech, in a sense, and freedom of publication. I brought in the first shield laws in this State, or in any State, to give journalists protection.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Not as good as the bill that was first moved, obviously, for journalists.
Mr GREG SMITH: It was as good as the bill that was first moved by George Brandis. I am not going to cover bloggers who may represent terrorist organisations or criminal organisations or who may just be ratbags. I am protecting bona fide journalist who actually receive money from a publication that is respected in the community and available to the public generally. That is what my shield laws cover. I know they might be a bit different from yours, or from the ones moved by The Greens in Canberra before you moved yours.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Do you accept that bloggers—those commenting and those who are quite active commentators, including on the actions of your Government—are not covered by the shield laws that you moved in the first session of Parliament this year?
Mr GREG SMITH: I accept that they are not covered by them, and I do not know that there is a public interest in covering them. That is why I kept them out.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Is it the position of the Government that that new media, that expanding area of new media, is not worthy of the same level of protection that the so-called traditional print and electronic media are worthy of?
Mr GREG SMITH: I think the problem is that there is very little sanction against those people and very little discipline, whereas a journalist can be sacked if he has a job with the Sun-Herald or the Daily Telegraph or something like that and he or she publishes something that is inappropriate or that has to do with the work of criminals. I have seen examples in the past in my experience as a criminal lawyer where journalists have been used by corrupt people to name an informer so as to destroy a prosecution. There is the matter of Cornwall v the Independent Commission Against Corruption in which I had some involvement because I worked there at the time.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Would you accept that there is a discretion in even your shield laws?
Mr GREG SMITH: Yes.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: And that discretion would be available to cover those instances in which you say it would be inappropriate to give that kind of protection to bloggers and commentators on social media.
Mr GREG SMITH: Yes, there is a discretion.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Why is that not satisfactory?
Mr GREG SMITH: Can I answer the question, please?
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Yes.
Mr GREG SMITH: There is a discretion. I think it is an important discretion because I think this shield law is exceptional. For centuries, or perhaps a century, journalists have not enjoyed the privilege and some have been carted off to prison, others have been fined heavily for contempt and matters of that sort, and some of them ultimately have had their careers damaged because of their publications and refusal to name. It is not right that their publication of the news should be inhibited by fears of being sent to jail—things of that sort. But in relation to people who do not have that responsibility, who just want to have an opinion out there to attract 200 or 300 or even two or three others who would like to read their blogs, I do not see why they are entitled to that sort of protection.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: But why do you not see that contributors to a website like Crikey would be entitled to that protection? Why did you not extend the shield laws to include protections to those kinds of contributors who play a large part in engendering public discourse here in Australia?
Mr GREG SMITH: I did not think it was the right thing to do.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: So on your analysis, Mr Attorney, it would be okay for contributors to Crikey to be carried off to jail to have their sources disclosed. That is an expendable social practice in your mind.
Mr GREG SMITH: I am not aware of Crikey publications being of the nature that anybody would bother asking who was the source of that information.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: And it is with that kind of contemptuous response that you choose not to protect those kinds of new media sources?
Mr GREG SMITH: No, it is just that I had a subscription to Crikey for a while and I did not continue it because I did not think it was worth continuing. I am sorry, there is some useful stuff in it, but it is largely gossip.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: But it is not on that kind of personal view that you are determining whether, as a matter of public interest, contributors to new media should or should not be covered by shield laws.
Mr GREG SMITH: It is not just my view. I do not bring in any legislation unless Cabinet agrees with it, and Cabinet is a robust group. Unless I could put up compelling arguments to cover Crikey and other bloggers, I would not get it through.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Did you try?
Mr GREG SMITH: I would not try at the moment. You have not convinced me.

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