Statements from JERAA
‘The JERAA distributes information for the benefit of members of the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia, covering all achievements and announcements, program news, international news, research news, new policies and procedures, and any key dates/events. You are invited to send submissions to the media officer email@example.com
Upsurge in journalist killings coincides with World Press Freedom Day
3 May 2018
JERAA statement on perceived government intervention at the ABC (20 February 2018)
The peak body representing Australian journalism educators and researchers is concerned about the removal of an ABC report on corporate taxation policy by chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici, following complaints from the federal government.
The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) fears this could set a precedent that erodes the editorial independence of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and opens the door for further and wider interference in the organisation.
The ABC has also recently come under scrutiny from some quarters for its handling of hundreds of pages of leaked cabinet papers that were returned after an apparent agreement between the national broadcaster and the federal government.
ABC Media Manager Sally Jackson has denied any pressure from the government.
“Any suggestion the ABC is responding to outside pressure over these stories is incorrect.
They have been subject to the normal ABC editorial processes. The internal review of the stories was begun before any complaints were received by ABC News.”
But JERAA president Matthew Ricketson said it was important the ABC continued to be independent, and not subject to accusations of government censorship.
“If there were problems with Emma Alberici’s stories, why could they not be corrected and reposted, or, why couldn’t alternative analyses be posted?
“It is preferable to add to the store of information in the public domain rather than hide material from public view, thereby preventing readers from making up their own minds about the stories. Such actions also plant perceptions that the ABC has buckled under pressure from government over an issue that is not only before parliament but is hotly contested.”
The ABC’s host of Media Watch, Paul Barry, has called the ABC’s editorial guidelines on analysis and opinion too restrictive, which is something for the ABC to address. He also said that, “the system of editorial quality control on a major story has failed yet again.”
JERAA statement about the arrest of Behrouz Boochani on Manus Island 23 November 2017
Congratulations John Henningham
John Henningham of Brisbane’s JSchool has been acknowledged for his 40 years of service by being awarded the Clarion for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism. The Courier Mail reports: The judges commented: “It is difficult to over-emphasise the impact that John Henningham has had on Australian journalism… John broke ground by gaining the first Australian doctorate in journalism and becoming the country’s first journalism professor, then continued his pioneering work with JSchool, which for decades has imparted the professional skills that young journalists need, coupled with rigorous academic teaching.”
JERAA Evidence at the 'Future of Public Interest Journalism' Inquiry
The JERAA Executive has lodged a submission and three executive members have appeared as expert witnesses for the Senate Select Committee that is inquiring into the Future of Public Interest Journalism. JERAA's submission included discussion and recommendations plus an appendix that explored models from other countries. It focused on three terms of reference:
- ensuring a viable, independent and diverse service;
- the future of public and community broadcasters in delivering public interest journalism, particularly in underserviced markets like regional Australia, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities;
- examination of ‘fake news’, propaganda, and public disinformation
The JERAA Executive was represented by Angela Romano, Alex Wake and Colleen Murrell at a public hearing on 11 July 2017. A record of events is available via Hansard. Romano also lodged a summary of research about the impact of public broadcasting in response to a question on notice about the activities of the ABC and SBS, in particular their effect on the financial well-being of private media.
Letter to the Walkley Awards Committee 3 July 2017
Re: decision by the Walkley Awards Committee to scrap the ‘International Journalism’ category from the 2017 Awards.
We are writing on behalf of members of the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) to express our objection to the decision to exclude the category of ‘International Journalism’ from this year’s Walkley Awards. As journalism educators we fully acknowledge the need to embrace the changing nature of journalism in a multiplatform environment, however certain genres of reporting deserve to be recognised for the particular skills, risks and importance of the role performed – reportage by Australian foreign correspondents in the international arena is one of those important genres.
In the announcement made by the Walkey Advisory Board about the changes, it is difficult to discern the rationale for removing international reporting on the one hand, while maintaining a separate category for local and regional reporting on the other. (https://medium.com/the-walkley- magazine/journalism-is-changing-so-the-walkley-awards-are-too-3403590b85dd) Removing this category serves to further undermine this important area of journalism that is increasingly under threat from governments and non-government actors in many parts of the world who seek to reduce the presence of international journalists. The ongoing fighting in countries like Iraq and Syria shows how hard it is to source independent and reliable reporting about conflicts which affect us all in an increasingly globalised world. The reduction of scrutiny in these areas is of serious concern to international NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross which has been trying to draw attention to this issue. The people who are prepared to work in hostile environments, despite the danger, should be honoured by us and their work should be acknowledged.
While today Australian media organisations may have fewer correspondents based in bureaux abroad, there is still a significant amount of journalism that is being generated by reporters travelling to stories that are under-reported or ignored. Having ‘boots on the ground’ remains the gold standard for reporting overseas as it garners eye-witness testimony to events and guarantees independent investigation. While local reporters also play a key part in getting information to global screens, they cannot do as effective a job as Australian reporters at framing it in a context that speaks to our specific understanding.
The international reporting category has brought us powerful reporting over the years, and has also taken out the Gold Walkley. The reporting of wars, conflicts, revolutions, and dramatic events, such as the ‘Boxing Day Tsunami’ (2004) are testimony to the importance of this category. Overseas, other organisations that uphold strong journalism continue to keep a separate prize for this reporting. The Pulitzer Prize in the USA has categories in local reporting, national reporting and International reporting. The UK Press Awards retain the ‘Foreign Reporter of the Year’ award, sponsored by Reuters.
We urge you to reconsider this decision and to re-establish the category of ‘International Journalism’ to ensure peer recognition of this often dangerous and logistically difficult genre of reporting that is under threat from hostile governments, weakening news organisations and now its own media union.Signed by the JERAA Executive on behalf of its members, in particular those (listed below) who have written to us over the past few days to express their disagreement with this decision:
Wendy Bacon/Journalist and Researcher Catriona Bonfiglioli/UTS Kathryn Bowd/University of Adelaide Kayt Davies/Edith Cowan University Lee Duffield/QUT Caroline Fisher/Canberra University Amy Forbes/James Cook University Janet Fulton/Newcastle University Johan Lidberg/Monash University Bonita Mason/Curtin University Colleen Murrell/Monash University Chris Nash/Monash University Roger Patching/Journalism Researcher Prof Mark Pearson/ Gritth University Jenna Price/UTS Ian Richards/UNISA Matthew Ricketson/Deakin University David Robie/AUT Angela Romano/QUT Lynette Sheridan Burns/Western Sydney University Jolyon Sykes/Journalism Researcher Helen Vatsikopoulos/UTS Alex Wake/RMIT Lawrie Zion/La Trobe University
World Press Freedom Day 2 May 2017
There never appears to be a shortage of reasons to call people’s attention to World Press Freedom day.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) issues its annual audit of press freedom in Australia on Wednesday 3 May and last Friday the union’s chief executive officer, Paul Murphy, reminded those attending a fund-raising dinner in Sydney of the urgency of issues facing not only the Australia news media but in many other countries.
I’d urge you to read both the MEAA’s report and Murphy’s speech, especially as the latter was given just hours after the head of the Australian Federal Police, Andrew Colvin, acknowledged that AFP officers had, without a warrant – that is, unlawfully – intercepted a journalist’s phone call records held under the federal government’s controversial metadata retention regime.
The possibility that such a breach might happen was predicted when the metadata legislation was passed under the previous federal coalition government. But there is little sense of vindication that the forecast came true when you consider the chilling effect such legislation – and its abuse – might be having on those inside organisations willing to risk livelihood, or more, by becoming journalists’ confidential sources to disclose corruption or malfeasance.
This threat to press freedom in Australia is far more serious than that posed by whatever shortcomings may exist in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act but rather than engage in further circular debate about that particular factory of confected outrage I prefer to point you to three stories I’ve read or heard in the past week that all underscore the reason we need a free press in the first place.
None of them was what Bob Woodward of The Washington Post famously calls a “Holy shit!” story but all of them told me something I didn’t know, and that, of course, is one of the definitions of news.
On ABC Radio National’s program, “The Money”, last Thursday Richard Aedy interviewed several psychologists and social scientists who have been researching the impact of money on our approach to life and our attitudes, both overt and unconscious, towards others. Among the startling findings were that the wealthier people became the less they are able to emphathise with others, and that wealthy people are more likely to behave unethically. This may sound like class envy but the findings were based on psychological tests with large, randomly chosen sample populations.
Next, in The Monthly’s April issue, Paddy Manning explored and explained the tortuous – and still tortured – path of the National Broadband Network (NBN), from its inception under the Rudd Labor government to the headaches it faces today under Malcolm Turnbull’s coalition government. In a long piece headlined “Network error: what will be the cost of a patchwork NBN?”, Manning shows how difficult it is for any government to create infrastructure in a country as large and sparsely populated as Australia, especially when technology is advancing so rapidly. More pungently, though, he shows us the toxic effect of political opportunism and short-term thinking. It is entirely possible, he writes, that when the NBN is finally completed it will need to be ripped out and replaced – at a cost of many billions of taxpayers’ dollars.
Finally, in the current Quarterly Essay, “The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race”, David Marr, with customary eloquence, looks at the second coming of Pauline Hanson. What is most interesting, though, is his use of quantitative and qualitative survey data, not for the purpose of fuelling the political news cycle but to understand who votes for One Nation, and why. The results are surprising, and his discussion takes us well beyond labels of redneck racism.
Yes, it is critically important to call out threats to press freedom; it is equally important to avail ourselves of what that freedom provides: incisive, revelatory, nuanced and thought-provoking journalism.
So, please read or listen to these pieces. Discuss them, argue with them by all means, share them, act on them. As the preamble to the MEAA code of ethics states, journalists “inform citizens and animate democracy”. Our job, as educators and researchers, is to help prepare students to create more such journalism, and to ask questions about what it means to animate democracy and what happens when that is threatened.
(JERAA President Matthew Ricketson May 2, 2017)
Student journalists denied access to Budget 2 May 2017
(JERAA President, on behalf of the Executive, May 2, 2017)
Australian Press Council and MEAA statements on World Press Day 2017
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance has issued The Chilling Effect: The Report into the State of Press Freedom in Australia in 2017.
JERAA applauds champions of free speech 2016
On World Press Freedom Day, the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) applauds those who champion freedom of expression and support media around the world.
Journalists and other media workers play a pivotal role in developing and sustaining democratic, prosperous and just societies. Journalism acts as a watchdog over power, supports public processes and public life, mediates public debate, and airs the views and perspectives of different community constituents.
There are many forces that attempt to silence journalists around the world - political factions, business interests, criminal gangs, and terrorists, among others.
JERAA expresses praise and solidarity for those who persist in the struggle to create and circulate accurate and balanced media reports on issues of public importance in the face of obstacles, threats and harassment.
Most of the members of JERAA are university-based lecturers and researchers who, through teaching, research and community service, contribute to processes that support free, independent journalism.
In recognition on World Press Freedom JERAA calls on the Australian media and government to continue to raise awareness and seek solutions to these and other media freedom issues:
· The Indonesian Government continues to ban foreign journalists from entering and reporting on events in its troubled West Papua provinces. Two French journalists were detained and held for 11 weeks by the Indonesian Government in 2014. They were released after being convicted of breaking immigration laws to report on unrest in the area. In a worrying new development the government of neighbouring Papua New Guinea appears to have been pressured to follow suit in restricting reporting about West Papua. In March 2015, PNG officials told journalists covering an official visit by Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi not to ask questions about West Papua.
· Alan Morison is an Australian journalist due to face trial in July in Thailand. He and his Thai colleague Chutima Sidasathien are facing a long jail term in Thailand for reprinting part of a controversial, award-winning article from Reuters about people smuggling.
· While the release of Peter Greste from custody in Egypt was welcome news in February, the future of his colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed is far from secure as they are still facing trial.
JERAA also notes that in 2015 Australia was ranked 25th by the RSF Press Freedom Index, and was not awarded a higher rank because the National Security Legislation Amendment in October 2014 not only rendered the national security service immune from prosecution for a wide range of illegal activities but also imposed a blanket ban on coverage of its “special operations”, with imprisonment as the penalty for violators. (Source: http://index.rsf.org/#!/themes/national-security-spurious-grounds ). In addition the new data retention laws have raised concerns about the viability of shield law protection of journalist’s sources.
Journalism academics and social media 11 June 2016
The issue of journalism academics' use of social media to discuss issues, institutions and individuals has attracted media attention recently.
The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) supports freedom of expression and opinion that complies with limitations concerning defamation, sub judice, discrimination, incitement to violence, and similar matters.
As the professional association for journalism academics, JERAA also supports adherence to the principles espoused in the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Journalists' Code of Ethics.
In cases where universities and other academic institutions need to investigate complaints about comments made by academics, we urge management to follow proper processes and complete investigations in an impartial, transparent and timely manner.
The JERAA Executive (June 11, 2016)
Anne Dunn Scholar Award - Congratulations to Emma A. Jane
Emma A. Jane, from the University of New South Wales, has won the 2016 Anne Dunn Scholar Award.
The award, presented by the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia and the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association, was established in 2014 to commemorate the life and work of Professor Anne Dunn. More details on the Grants & Awards page.
JERAA research grant 2016
Congratulations also to Stephanie Brookes, from Monash University, who has been awarded the JERAA research grant for 2016. Her project is 'Checking the facts: The impact of new sources of political information on "legacy" election coverage in Australia and the United States'.
Following a presentation and discussions at the 2015 JERAA Conference, the JERAA Executive has unanimously agreed that the association should act as publisher of the UniPollWatch website for the 2016 federal election. JERAA President Matthew Ricketson has issued a statement explaining the association's involvement in and commitment to the project.
Process for issuing JERAA Statements 25 May 2015
There has been discussion recently on the JERAA-list about statements made by the JERAA executive which is welcome as it shows the level of commitment members have to issues that concern journalism educators and researchers.
At its regular six-weekly teleconference, the executive discussed both the principles and the process by which it makes statements on behalf of the JERAA membership on issues of relevance to JERAA’s goals. It is worth restating these goals, as they guide the executive in deciding which issues might prompt a statement or other action, such as a submission to a government inquiry. The goals are:
- Raise the standard of teaching in journalism.
- Collect and disseminate information about journalism education.
- Develop closer relations with the mass media and professional associations.
- Promote the views of the association.
- Foster research.
- Promote freedom of expression and communication.
Any statements made are written collectively by the JERAA executive after consultation by phone, email or other technologies between members of the executive and, where relevant, efforts have been made to obtain contributions from JERAA members or other stakeholders. Before a statement is released the majority of executive members must approve it; there is no requirement that the president’s approval is necessary before a statement is released though of course the president’s view is sought along with that of all other executive members.
When writing statements for publication the executive aims to embody JERAA’s core goals; it must also weigh other considerations such as members’ perspectives and available facts about the issue. It must weigh the desirability of making timely statements with the need, as a representative national peak body, to make accurate and considered statements. Some issues, such as World Press Freedom day, are straightforward and a statement can be drafted with relative ease. Other issues are contested; how does the executive deal with those?
Every JERAA member is of course welcome to contribute to public debates about issues concerning journalism, whether on the JERAA discussion-list or elsewhere – that is, after all, what many of us have been doing for many years in our professional practice – but the JERAA executive’s remit is slightly different. It also, unlike the MEAA, does not have any staff available to fact check statements or to engage in research.
No one on the executive pretends we get this mix right all the time. Sometimes we may not be quick enough in our response to an issue, other times we may respond swiftly but in the quest to reach quick consensus we may put out a watered-down statement. Of course, if you think we consistently strike this balance in ways that are at odds with the majority of members, you are welcome to nominate for election to the executive at the annual general meeting. Rather than feel like the pushmi-pullyu in Dr Dolittle, the executive believes it is important to keep in mind these questions: what is the purpose of us making a public statement, what value can we add to the public debate, what do we hope to achieve?
The executive welcomes any suggestions from members to improve its principles for deciding when to make a public statement and its processes for balancing timeliness with accuracy.
JERAA applauds champions of free speech 3 May 2015
JERAA also notes that in 2015 Australia was ranked 25 by the RSF Press Freedom Index, and was not awarded a higher rank because the National Security Legislation Amendment in October 2014 not only rendered the national security service immune from prosecution for a wide range of illegal activities but also imposed a blanket ban on coverage of its “special operations”, with imprisonment as the penalty for violators. (Source:http://index.rsf.org/#!/themes/national-security-spurious-grounds ). In addition the new data retention laws have raised concerns about the viability of shield law protection of journalist’s sources.
Educators call for clear social media guidelines 28 April 2015
JERAA, as a body representing academics teaching the next generation of journalists in Australia, believes the sacking of SBS sports journalist Scott McIntyre over a series of tweets regarding the ANZAC commemoration again highlights the need for greater guidance for journalists over social media.
Many have noted MacIntyre made his comments on an account that promoted his work for SBS, a public broadcaster.
However JERAA supports an educational approach to journalists embroiled in such public speech controversies.
JERAA notes that social media platforms are new communicative spaces that provide for rapid, reactive individual publishing with little or no editorial oversight.
In these rapidly evolving environments the personal interests and professional roles of journalists are merging - requiring all reporters, regardless of their specialization, to undergo advanced workplace training in online communications law and social speech expectations.
Publishing organisations must also recognise that social media protocols alone do not serve to clearly regulate this self-publishing, and indeed are as Human Rights commissioner, Tim Wilson, has recently argued “a grey area” of employment contract.
Thus for the regulatory enforcement of social media policies to have best effect, they must be accompanied by training, mediation and counselling.
In the interests of protecting free speech principles, and journalists’ interests in social media innovation, JERAA calls for improved workplace training in social media speech, together with considered handling of public speech controversies and breaches of social media guidelines.
Welcome home Peter Greste 2 February 2015
The JERAA welcomes
Statement on Charlie Hedbo Masscare 8 January 2014
The JERAA expresses deep concern at the murder of 12 people and injury of 11 others in a massacre at the Charlie Hedbo satirical newspaper in Paris.
We extend condolences and solidarity to the friends, family and colleagues of those affected.
We continue to support freedom of expression and the right to express dissenting views about religious leaders and social matters.
Opinion article: Journalism schools: swaddled in theory, industry providers or loyal critics?* 25 October 2014
What is the best preparation for journalistic work? It is a question thousands of school leavers and their parents ask.
If you read any of the articles published recently in The Australian your answer might be: anywhere but a journalism school.
“Uni degrees in indoctrination” ran the headline and the precede read “Uni media students are getting an anti-Murdoch message” (13 October). You didn’t need a degree of any kind to work out that the media editor, News Corporation Australia’s group editorial director, Campbell Reid, and an unnamed student thought that what was being taught at Sydney University and the University of Technology, Sydney, was not enough practical skills, too much theory and way too much emphasis on the failings of News Corporation, owner of this newspaper, especially when News is one of the biggest employers of journalists in the country.
Taking these issues one by one, first, there remains a misunderstanding abroad about the respective strengths and weaknesses of universities and newsrooms.
Editors may lament journalism schools as impractical, saying core skills can only be learnt on the job, but isn’t that self-evident? No university course can prepare students for every eventuality or require them to be mature beyond their tender years.
Doctors learn bedside manner with patients and lawyers learn the nuances of jury selection in courtrooms. Universities can only partially replicate skills learnt over time in situ.
Journalism courses can – and should – provide a grounding in core professional skills and methods. They do. Most Australian journalism degrees contain as many practice-based subjects as theoretical ones. And most offer industry internships.
It is smarter, though, for universities and newsrooms to play to their strengths. Universities are great places to study and debate the history, literature, politics, sociology and culture of journalism; to think about the news media’s role now and into the future as new communication technologies continue to disrupt the media’s longstanding business models.
The unceasing crush of deadlines, which now happen by the minute rather than daily, make newsrooms a poor environment for this kind of reflective, contextualising work, as even the The Australian’s editorial acknowledged on 14 October: “We expect that journalism academics will….identify issues that those of us in the trenches every day cannot see”.
Second, many misunderstand the difference between journalism degrees and communication degrees. Overwhelmingly, the former aim to prepare students to work in the news media industry, whether in big companies or in start-ups.
Some communications degrees include journalism subjects but some do not; some include public relations or advertising or media production but many are mainly and openly teaching students to critique the media.
Communications graduates may want to work in the news media and may come to it with a well-developed view of its flaws but little idea how to actually do journalism but really so what? If they are actually offered a cadetship, these graduates will either learn quickly on the job or they won’t.
Third, implicit in The Australian lamenting a perceived anti-Murdoch message while reminding everyone that News Corporation is a major employer of journalists is the suggestion that either the company only wants to hire people who believe in it unreservedly or that those teaching journalism should think twice before criticising News.
This is a weird and disturbing idea. Imagine what would happen if a government told a news organisation that because it spent thousands of dollars advertising in its pages the newspaper should report its policies favourably.
Actually, you don’t need to imagine it; the prospect of government intervention in the freedom of the press was what this newspaper and others vigorously campaigned against when the Labor government introduced its media reform bills in 2013.
It is true any journalism school should maintain a good working relationship with industry; it is equally true they will sometimes challenge the industry they serve. This is especially important in a field as central to democracy as journalism.
Employers are understandably irritated when graduates are either ill-prepared or unwilling to adapt to the workforce. If all universities did, however, was provide workforce fodder they call into question their own existence.
What about educating reflective practitioners who are not only ready to work but geared to becoming innovators? That has never been more necessary than now.
What about universities doing research that questions received wisdom and challenges industry to improve? Largely unknown in newsrooms and infrequently reported in their outlets is the amount of good research done by journalism and communications scholars.
Without this growing body of research, the coming Companion to the Australian Media – a 415,000 word work with nearly 500 entries – would not have been possible.
Journalism schools can and should be what Columbia University president Lee Bollinger has called “loyal critics” of their industry.
It is difficult for news organisation to report its critics fairly. I am not the first to say this newspaper tends to either attack its critics, often at great length and in personal terms, or ignore them.
One ignored critic is Rodney Tiffen, whose Rupert Murdoch: a reassessment has not been mentioned in this newspaper to the best of my knowledge until the 13 October article.
An eminent political scientist, Tiffen concludes his lengthy study by saying the phone hacking and bribery scandal that engulfed News in 2011 has been “the biggest media-related scandal in the history of English-speaking democracies”.
The scandal shows us, he writes, “that media power corrupts as much as any other power. It is an ingrained habit of mind for us to think of the press as a protector of democracy rather than a threat to it. It is just as much a part of making democracy work better to make media power accountable as it is to make government power accountable”.
Students should be exposed to many perspectives on journalism. They should read The Australian, they should read Tiffen and they should make up their own minds.
Statement in Support of Journalism Educators 13 October 2014
JERAA strongly supports the rights of journalism educators to academic independence when they engage in teaching, research and community service. JERAA trusts in the professionalism of journalism academics in educating students and society about journalism.
Journalism education prepares people to work in the news media and related industries, including mainstream, alternative and emerging media. Another core role is to prepare people to think critically about society in general, which includes media industries.
The principles of both higher education and journalism involve questioning, scrutinising and criticising the activities of major social institutions, which again include media industries.
Statement regarding Deakin University 29 July 2014
Martin Hirst will continue his role as Associate Professor at Deakin University after discussions with university management about contentious comments that he made via his personal twitter account, Ethical Martini.
The JERAA Executive has not commented on this issue in recent days, at Martin's request, while he undertook negotiations with Deakin University's management.
We are pleased that Martin rapidly apologised for the tone and content of his tweeted remarks, and he will note Deakin University's admonishment of his conduct on his blog page.
A core goal of the JERAA is to promote freedom of expression and communication. We also recognise that the nature and tone of public comments can affect audiences and wider communities. We are pleased that Deakin University's management has taken an appropriate response with an admonishment that is proportionate to the nature of the initial behaviour.
Free Peter Greste and AJ Staff 24 June 2014
The JERAA condemns in the strongest possible terms the sentences handed down to Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.
The Egyptian government should immediately intervene, and demonstrate that journalism should not be considered a crime in its country.
The three journalists have been condemned to lengthy terms in jail, just for doing the job of reporting on events in Cairo.
During a chaotic and farcical trial no evidence has been presented to back up the claims of the prosecution that the journalists either defamed Egypt or backed the Muslim Brotherhood.
The JERAA is made up of members who are educating the future generation of journalists in this country. These young journalists are being taught to report fearlessly, ethically and without favour.
Egypt should set an example and immediately release the Al-Jazeera reporters from jail.
Statement in Support of Greste and Morison 16 February 2014
Two Australian journalists working overseas are being held in detention or face imprisonment simply for doing their job of reporting on the activities of those in positions of power and authority. They are Peter Greste of al Jazeera English and Alan Morison, editor of a small website in Thailand, phuketwan.com.
Freedom of the news media is almost universally understood to be a core value in democratic societies or in those that aspire to be democratic. In some countries, such as Egypt and Thailand, we are seeing threats to media freedom that are urgent and visceral. In other countries such as Australia we all too often take for granted the ability of journalists to report critically on those in positions of power and authority; threats to media freedom here rarely involve arbitrary detention.
Peter Greste is a graduate of the Queensland University of Technology’s journalism program, in 1986, and has enjoyed a lengthy career as a journalist working for reputable news organisations such as the BBC and CNN. Alan Morison began in journalism two decades earlier, in 1966, when most did a cadetship after school (as he did, at the Herald and Weekly Times Ltd). He went on to hold senior editorial positions at The Age and in recent years at phuketwan.com, which provides news, views and reviews about life and tourism on the island of Phuket.
Greste, along with an Egyptian and a Canadian-Egyptian colleague, was arrested on 29 December and is being held in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison in Cairo. He has been charged with spreading false news to aid the Muslim Brotherhood which has been recently outlawed in Egypt by the military-backed government.
In a letter sent from his prison cell, and broadcast on ABC television’s Media Watch on 3 February, Greste steadfastly maintains his innocence: “We had been doing as any responsible, professional journalist would – recording and trying to make sense of the unfolding events with all the accuracy, fairness and balance that our imperfect trade demands”.
The political situation in Egypt is complicated and highly contested, as is the current government’s relationship with the al Jazeera network, as Fairfax Media’s Middle East correspondent, Ruth Pollard, outlined in two pieces published on 1 February in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age: “The media have always had a difficult relationship with the powerful in Egypt. Repression was rife during [former] president Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government of [President] Mohamed Mursi sought to quash criticism of his short-lived, dysfunctional administration. But the targeting of journalists from al-Jazeera English over the network’s alleged pro-Brotherhood stance – a charge denied by al-Jazeera executives – has spilt over to encompass all foreign media”.
The constantly threatening environment in Egypt makes even straightforward reporting tasks so dangerous, according to Pollard, that she and other colleagues are reluctant to go out into the streets at all. Already, many have been beaten or detained. Risk-taking is in the DNA of most foreign correspondents; when they decide they cannot do their work, how will citizens around the world, let alone in Egypt, learn what is happening? The undeniable benefits to the free flow of information afforded by digital technologies and social media still need what Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel term the discipline of verification in their book The Elements of Journalism; that is, there remains a need to strip away misinformation from information which is all the more important – and more difficult – when the stakes are at their highest, as they are in Egypt.
Where the threat to Greste and his colleagues is immediate, with no sign of bail being granted pending trial, Alan Morison and his main associate, Thai journalist, Chutima Sidasathian, have been issued with lawsuits that allege criminal defamation, and, strangely, breach of Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, that if successful could see them jailed for up to seven years.
For several years, Morison and his colleague have been reporting about a largely unknown scandal concerning the Rohingya Muslim people who have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar. As boat people they have been abused while trying to escape to Malaysia. Often they have become prey to traffickers and slave-dealers according to Kevin Childs, a former Age colleague of Morison, who has begun a petition via Change.org protesting against the lawsuit. Where the Royal Thai Navy comes in to the picture is that it has sometimes helped the boat people with food, water and fuel - as long as they don’t come to Thailand.
Childs writes that Morison and Sidasathian were the first to call global public attention to the Rohingya boat people’s problems. On 16 December a Royal Thai Navy officer, acting on behalf of the Navy, issued the lawsuits against them. The ostensible reason is that one article published on their website quoted a paragraph from a Reuters report about the Navy’s role in the Rohingya boat people issue. Reuters stands by its report, but it has not been sued even while Morison and Sidasathian have. Morison told me by email that all they have done is: “Merely republished word for word a contentious paragraph among excerpts from the Reuters news agency. That deed has left us facing charges under criminal defamation and the Computer Crimes Act amounting to a maximum penalty of seven years in jail, which seems extreme and unreasonable”.
Nevertheless, the two journalists are prepared to go to jail rather than surrender the principle of freedom of the media.
Many individual citizens as well as several organisations committed to freedom of speech or representing journalists have already expressed their concern and outrage about the treatment of these two Australian journalists. The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia, which represents those preparing the next generation of young people entering the news media and related fields, has as one of its core beliefs promoting “freedom of expression and communication”, and adds its voice to this issue. The association’s executive is alarmed by these recent, serious threats to freedom of expression, and is committed to speaking out in support of journalists whose sole crime appears to be doing the job of journalism
This is the semi-regular news update from the JERAA executive. Submissions should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org