For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Australia’s most senior media professionals – including editors of major newspapers
and news websites, the news directors of the country’s three commercial TV
networks and two public broadcasters – have written to Prime Minister Julia Gillard
to express their support for WikiLeaks.
The letter was initiated by Australia’s professional journalism organisation, the
Walkley Foundation, whose board consists of 10 of Australia’s top journalists.
“In essence, WikiLeaks, an organisation that aims to expose official secrets, is doing
what the media have always done: bringing to light material that governments
would prefer to keep secret.
It is the media’s duty to responsibly report such material if it comes into their
possession. To aggressively attempt to shut WikiLeaks down, to threaten to
prosecute those who publish official leaks, and to pressure companies to cease doing
commercial business with WikiLeaks, is a serious threat to democracy, which relies
on a free and fearless press.”
Read the letter in full here:
Dear Prime Minister,
STATEMENT FROM AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER EDITORS, TELEVISION AND RADIO DIRECTORS AND
ONLINE MEDIA EDITORS
The leaking of 250,000 confidential American diplomatic cables is the most astonishing leak of official
information in recent history, and its full implications are yet to emerge. But some things are clear. In
essence, WikiLeaks, an organisation that aims to expose official secrets, is doing what the media have
always done: bringing to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret.
In this case, WikiLeaks, founded by Australian Julian Assange, worked with five major newspapers
around the world, which published and analysed the embassy cables. Diplomatic correspondence
relating to Australia has begun to be published here.
The volume of the leaks is unprecedented, yet the leaking and publication of diplomatic correspondence
is not new. We, as editors and news directors of major media organisations, believe the reaction of the
US and Australian governments to date has been deeply troubling. We will strongly resist any attempts
to make the publication of these or similar documents illegal. Any such action would impact not only on
WikiLeaks, but every media organisation in the world that aims to inform the public about decisions
made on their behalf. WikiLeaks, just four years old, is part of the media and deserves our support.
Already, the chairman of the US Senate homeland security committee, Joe Lieberman, is suggesting
The New York Times should face investigation for publishing some of the documents. The newspaper
told its readers that it had ‘‘taken care to exclude, in its articles and in supplementary material, in print
and online, information that would endanger confidential informants or compromise national security.’’
Such an approach is responsible — we do not support the publication of material that threatens national
security or anything which would put individual lives in danger. Those judgements are never easy, but
there has been no evidence to date that the WikiLeaks material has done either.
There is no evidence, either, that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have broken any Australian law. The
Australian government is investigating whether Mr Assange has committed an offence, and the Prime
Minister has condemned WikiLeaks’ actions as ‘‘illegal’’. So far, it has been able to point to no
Australian law that has been breached.
To prosecute a media organisation for publishing a leak would be unprecedented in the US, breaching
the First Amendment protecting a free press. In Australia, it would seriously curtail Australian media
organisations reporting on subjects the government decides are against its interests.
WikiLeaks has no doubt made errors. But many of its revelations have been significant. It has given
citizens an insight into US thinking about some of the most complex foreign policy issues of our age,
including North Korea, Iran and China.
It is the media’s duty to responsibly report such material if it comes into their possession. To
aggressively attempt to shut WikiLeaks down, to threaten to prosecute those who publish official leaks,
and to pressure companies to cease doing commercial business with WikiLeaks, is a serious threat to
democracy, which relies on a free and fearless press.
Clinton Maynard, news director, 2UE
David Penberthy, editor-in-chief, news.com.au
Eric Beecher, chairman, Crikey, Smart Company, Business Spectator, The Eureka Report
Gay Alcorn, editor, The Sunday Age
Garry Bailey, editor, The Mercury (Hobart)
Garry Linnell, editor, The Daily Telegraph
Ian Ferguson, director of news and programs, Sky News Australia/New Zealand
Jim Carroll, network director of news and public affairs, Ten Network
Julian Ricci, editor, Northern Territory News
Kate Torney, director of news, ABC
Mark Calvert, director of news and current affairs, Nine Network
Melvin Mansell, editor, The Advertiser (Adelaide)
Megan Lloyd, editor, Sunday Mail (Adelaide)
Michael Crutcher, editor, The Courier Mail,
Mike van Niekerk, editor in chief, Fairfax online
Paul Cutler, news director, SBS
Paul Ramadge, editor-in-chief, The Age
Peter Fray, editor-in-chief, The Sydney Morning Herald
Peter Meakin, director of news and public affairs, Seven Network
Rick Feneley, editor, The Sun-Herald
Rob Curtain, news director, 3AW
Rod Quinn, editor, The Canberra Times
Sam Weir, editor, The Sunday Times
Scott Thompson, The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
Simon Pristel, editor, Herald Sun
Tory Maguire, editor, The Punch
Walkley Advisory Board