The respected and high profile human rights lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson gave a speech in Sydney on Tuesday 28 August in which he criticised Australia’s record on protecting the freedom of speech principles that underpin a free media. He ended by calling for a bill of rights in Australia to enshrine freedom of expression much as the American Constitution does.
There were no surprises in Robertson’s speech. He made the usual historical homage to 18th and 19th century bourgeois liberals, including those who were gaoled at various times for sedition and for exercising the right to free speech.
What was surprising was that the whole thing was broadcast live on Sky TV. I was watching a Sky news bulletin in a Wellington hotel room about 10pm when the speech came on. They ran the whole lot. At the end of it, back to the newsroom for the disclosure that Sky TV was a backer of the ‘free media’ campaign group (a loose alliance of jouralists and media owners, and therefore in my view flawed) that is campaigning against some aspects of the Howard governments attacks on the free press in recent years – such as the conviction of two Herald-Sun journalists for contempt of court. Source protection, defamation law and shield laws were on Robertson’s agenda. I will find a transcript of the speech for another post, examining it in some detail.
Of interest was Robertson’s note that Australia is dropping on the global index of press freedom at the same time as the international reputation of its judiciary is dropping.
Meanwhile, you can read a report at the Sydney Morning Herald.