In a recent joint media release RoLIA and the Australian Centre for Investigative Journalism at UTS called for nationally consistent shield laws to adequately protect journalists’ sources. At present, under the Evidence Act 1995 (Cth) there is a rebuttable presumption in favour of protection, but no clear case law on how that should be interpreted.By contrast, in the UK, rulings by the European Court of Human Rights have strengthened media protections. In Ashworth Security Hospital v MGN limited (2000) the Court of Appeal there stated that “it is always prima facie … contrary to the public interest that press sources should be disclosed”.In addition, UK legislation protects the disclosure of sources at the investigation stage, not just in court proceedings. To obtain “journalistic material” for an investigation, police have to persuade a court to make a production order unlike in Australia where the police can access journalists’ phone records without a warrant under the federal Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979.
The rule of law requires media freedom and freedom of speech to be supported in Australia by proper and uniform protections for journalists’ sources throughout Australia that apply from the investigative stage through to the court proceedings stage.
The Royal Courts of Justice, London, UK