Shield laws for bloggers welcomed

New shield laws that will give bloggers and tweeters the same rights as professional journalists to protect their sources have been welcomed by the jounalists’ union, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, as “groundbreaking”.

The House of Represenatives yesterday backed laws that will ensure that anyone involved in the production of news – regardless of where they work – can seek to avoid a source being identified.

Jonathan Este, director of communications at MEAA, commented: “We’re happy that the new laws are as broad as they are, and go further than people working in mainstream media.”

“And we like that the onus has shifted from the journalist to the applicant: whoever is saying ‘show us your sources’, needs to explain why it’s in the public’s interest for sources to be revealed.”

To a question on whether ‘citizen journalists’ are now as equally credible as professional journalists, Este said: “Let’s not get too hung up on who’s a journalist and who isn’t. The question is what is journalism. Which is to keep the public informed.”

Este is now drafting a new version of MEAA’s Press Freedom Report, which will discuss the implications of the new shield laws.

Their introduction follows last week’s news that two Sydney Morning Herald journalists have been served with subpoenas, which mean that they must hand over their mobile phones, any SIM cards they’ve used in the past year, and any documents relating to contact they’ve had with the NSW Police Integrity Commission.

Linton Besser and Dylan Welch, investigative reporters at the Herald, have been reporting on a malfeasance case at the NSW Crime Commission. The stories allege that the Crime Commission has been cutting deals with criminals, allowing them to keep a portion of their earnings from crime.

“We reacted strongly through the Right To Know coalition, saying that these guys have got to be protected,” said Este. The subpoenas go against the reforms to protect journalists’ sources, he added.

Australia ranked 18th in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders index, slipping from 16th in 2009.


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