Raids by the Australian Federal Police on media companies and reporters will discourage whistleblowers and prevent the truth getting out, top journalists have told a Walkleys Talk.
“We can’t do our jobs if whistleblowers don’t trust that they can’t come to us,” said the ABC’s John Lyons.
“If what you’re trying to expose is corrupt behaviour, you should be protected from prosecution, I think that is the bottom line of the law reform that we need.”
As part of their What Price Would You Pay? campaign the Walkley Foundation hosted a panel of award-winning journalists at the State Library in Sydney on Thursday night to discuss the cost of delivering truthful and quality news.
The media panel, which featured Walkley Award-winning journalists Lyons and Sarah Dingle, as well as award-winning investigative reporter Nina Funnell, came just over two weeks after AFP raids on the ABC and a News Corp political correspondent.
From court subpoenas and death threats to vicarious trauma, one by one the panel recounted how they had put themselves on the line in order to unveil concealed truths or protect the identity of sources who have shared with them confidential content.
The panelists spoke upon several pressing issues within journalism, but most notably the protection of whistleblowers.
How do whistleblowers work safely with journalists in today’s climate? “Snail mail … if someone sends us a document in an envelope there’s no digital trail,” says @TheLyonsDen #walkleys pic.twitter.com/Vdt2ENvsra
— fiona west (@fiona_west) June 20, 2019
All agreed it is the right of citizens to be made aware of issues that pose a threat to the general public such as illegal wrongdoing and corruption. And that without whistleblowers, a light would not be shed upon matters which concern the broader community.
Lyons said the AFP media raids, which saw police descend on a News Corp journalist’s house and the ABC Sydney offices, had shown the public’s ‘right to know’ was under threat and the act of truth-telling was being discouraged by authorities.
Lyons added: “In retrospect, I think the AFP raids on the ABC and on Annika Smethurst’s house will be seen as perhaps a turning point.
“If this is not enough to make us wake up, the public and the media to change and to get protections for democracies and for media, nothing will.”
Dingle and Funnell also spoke about their experiences with whistleblowers and the repercussions they faced for speaking the truth.
Dingle said: “Whistleblowers are an intrinsic part of journalism and I agree with John, the intended effect of the raids is to stop those people from coming forward.
“It has a chilling effect and that’s a great shame.”
Lyons added: “The confidentiality that a lawyer has with a client or a doctor has with a patient should be just as inviolate for a journalist and a source.
“I think that we need a law in Australia where if you genuinely are exposing some wrongdoing in a hospital, a local council, a school, a parent-teacher association, whatever it is, you should have protection.”
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