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McClymont takes aim at lack of public interest test in government’s new anti-terror laws

Kate-McClymont-dinkus1-234x350Leading investigative journalist Kate McClymont has criticised the federal government’s new anti-terror laws describing elements of the recently passed legislation as “repugnant” and arguing it is a “great concern” that there is no “public interest” exception.

The former Gold Walkley winner made the remarks during her keynote speech at the Andrew Olle Lecture in Sydney last night telling the audience that society should protect the public right to know and that it was “vital” that a public interest exemption be added to the new laws.

Citing the 1983 ASIS raid on Melbourne’s Sheraton Hotel, McClymont said: “It is totally repugnant that incidents such as these would not be able to be reported because of the Government’s new anti-terror laws. It is of great concern that there is no “public interest” exception to these laws.

“We must protect the public’s right to know and it is vital that a ‘public interest’ exemption is added to these new laws.”

McClymont also quoted a recent speech by News Corp Australia co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch telling the room that: “Lachlan Murdoch was spot on when recently he said of the new anti-terror laws: ‘We should be vigilant of the gradual erosion of our freedom to know, to be informed, and to make reasoned decisions in our society and our democracy and…to have the courage to act when our freedoms are threatened’.”

The comments by the senior Sydney Morning Herald investigative journalist come days after Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten wrote to the prime minister Tony Abbott raising concerns about the recently passed laws, and in particular provisions which could see journalists jailed if they report on so-called “special intelligence operations”.

The journalist’s union the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) and many of Australia’s biggest media companies have also come out against the laws.

In a wide ranging speech McClymont also highlighted the global cause of press freedom and acknowledge Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste and his colleagues who are currently in jail in Egypt.

“Those who end up paying far too great a price for their craft are our war correspondents. It would be remiss of me tonight not to mention the plight of Australian journalist Peter Greste, who along with two Al Jazeera colleagues, is currently languishing in an Egyptian jail after receiving a 7-year sentence in June,” said McClymont.

“But now Greste is paying the price for upholding the basic tenets of our profession: ‘balance, fairness and accuracy’.  How do you accurately and fairly report on Egypt’s ongoing political struggle without talking to all sides involved?

“Journalists should never be a propaganda arm of any government – not in peace and never in war.”

McClymont’s speech focused on the personal price that many journalists pay for reporting the news but she concluded by reminding the audience of the privilege that comes with reporting.

“As journalists we should have the courage to act for more than the lofty notion of freedom of speech. We have a duty to be the voice of the powerless in our society, to stand up for them. This should be why we do our job. The money is crap (mostly), the hours are long and the stress can be excruciating,” she said.

“But as journalists we have the privilege of an insider’s view of what really happens in our society and we have the ability to change it.

“Whether you are a war correspondent, a reporter on the local paper or an investigative journalist, you have the ability to make a difference, to hold people to account, to right wrongs. And if that comes with a price I, for one, am happy to pay.”

Nic Christensen 

Read Kate McClymont’s full speech here. 

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