Lachlan Murdoch has spoken out against new national security laws in Australia that could land journalists in jail, questioning whether his grandfather Sir Keith Murdoch would have been prevented from exposing the failings at Gallipoli had similar laws existed.
The News Corp co-chairman lamented Australia’s drop in world press freedom rankings, and said press freedoms in this country remained under threat. Australia currently sits at 33 on the Freedom house index, behind Belize.
However criticisms of the national security legislation and the threat it posed to journalists’ ability to report in the public interest formed the centrepiece of his recent Sir Keith Murdoch Oration at the State Library of Victoria.
“After failing to repeal Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination act, which dramatically reduces free speech by making it unlawful to offend someone, our current government is introducing legislation that includes jailing journalists for up to 10 years if they disclose information that relates to a ‘special intelligence operation’,” he said.
“This proscription lasts in perpetuity. Forever. Long after an operation is complete. And breaching it has no defined defences, despite such defences being well understood under Australian law. “Of course, it is left ambiguous what a ‘special intelligence operation’ is, as it is left up to government agencies at the time to decide.”
Mr Murdoch described Sir Keith’s Gallipoli letter, which he delivered to then prime minister Arthur Fisher, as well as the British prime minister, as “Australia’s boldest declaration that our nation had a right to know the truth”.
Sir Keith’s letter was based on a document written by British correspondent Ellis Ashmead- Bartlett that he could not get past military censors, as well as his own observations from the war zone. Ashmead- Bartlett gave his letter to Sir Keith to take back to Britain, but it was seized by military authorities in France.
“Would the Gallipoli campaign have been a ‘special operation’?” Mr Murdoch asked.
“Would Sir Keith have been arrested with Ashmead-Bartlett’s letter to spend the next 10 years in jail? And remember, the taking of that letter in Marseilles, a private communication to a Prime Minister, was a tremendous overreach by the military at that time.”
Mr Murdoch said the line “Trust us, we’re from the government” seemed to be a common theme when attempting to censor the media.
“But trust is something that should not be a consideration when restricting our fundamental freedoms. Our freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not things we should blindly entrust to anyone.”
View the speech in full here.
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