New York Times bureau chief blasts Australian government transparency

The New York Times’ local bureau chief, Damien Cave, has blasted Australia’s lack of government transparency while on a panel in Sydney this afternoon.

“I find Australia to be one of the least transparent countries I’ve ever worked in. And I’ve worked in at least a dozen countries. I think there’s a tolerance for a lack of transparency among the public, there’s a trust in government,” Cave said.

Cave was speaking with foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi about covering terrorism, journalism in conflict zones and the NYT’s Caliphate podcast which dived into the world of ISIS.

“To some degree this is a credit to what Australia has accomplished in many of the big questions around say, health care and wages, so there’s a faith that sort of there,” Cave continued.

“But getting documents, public officials that won’t give their names for really routine things I find surprising. The number of public record requests that get denied or heavily redacted. When people ask me what’s the biggest thing you’ve been surprised by in Australia, that’s usually what I say.”

Cave was appointed to lead the New York Times’ local bureau at the beginning of last year.

Callimachi suggested the Australian experience is more a Commonwealth cultural phenomenon, having had a similar encounters with the Canadian and British governments.

“I found the same thing in the UK when I’m dealing with terrorism. It’s so frustrating. Just basic access to documents. It seemed that certain reporters, just because they had sources, were able to get them even though technically they were public records.”

Callimachi went on to describe the frustrations of even dealing with the switchboard of the Canadian security agency, an experience that every Australian journalist that’s had to deal with a government department sympathised with.

Cave also suggested there was a deeper problem in the relationship between Australia’s media and government, saying: “There’s no real respect for public information, there’s a respect for access for access and relationships.”

The comments come as Australia’s governments ramp up secrecy and surveillance laws including provisions to monitor users’ internet metadata, prosecute whistleblowers and disable communications encryption, leading to concerns that journalists and the public will find it harder to access official information.


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