Govt challenged as journalist in court for protecting source
The media union has challenged the State Government to urgently deliver on its election promise to introduce a shield law to protect journalists who refuse to reveal the identity of confidential sources after a related landmark court case was convened in secrecy.
The challenge comes as the case of a Queensland journalist facing prosecution for refusing to reveal a confidential source came before the Court of Appeal in a secret hearing closed to the media and the public on Friday.
In August last year, the Supreme Court found that a Brisbane television journalist who refused to answer questions about his sources during a Crime and Corruption Commission hearing was not entitled to claim privilege.
The CCC hearing was held as part of a corruption investigation into the alleged leaking of information relating to a counter-terrorism raid, surveillance equipment and a murder.
During the star-chamber hearing, the journalist claimed privilege and refused to answer questions on the grounds of public interest immunity.
The journalist appealed the Supreme Court's decision and the case came before the Court of Appeal on Friday for a closed court hearing that was even suppressed from publication on the daily court listing in an unusually secretive step.
Reporters were barred from accessing the case for much of the day but were briefly allowed to enter the courtroom late Friday for approximately 30 minutes of constitutional argument.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union for Australia's journalists, said the public's right to know depended on whistleblowers and other sources having confidence their identity would be kept anonymous when they deal with a journalist on a sensitive story.
"While other states and territories have introduced a shield law, Queensland has been a laggard," MEAA Media director Adam Portelli said.
"The last conviction for refusing to name a source was 14 years ago. But now a case could see a journalist convicted and fined or imprisoned because the Queensland government has yet to deliver on an election promise."
Mr Portelli said it was critical the government act swiftly to change the law.
"Public interest journalism must not be criminalised," he said.
"Queensland's reputation is at stake here."
Mr Portelli said the introduction of shield laws would recognise that journalistic privilege is vital to ensuring the public's right to know.
"It is a cornerstone principle of journalism recognised the world over and is an obligation enshrined in the MEAA Journalist Code of Ethics," he said.
"This issue affects every journalist.
"In the era of borderless digital publishing, journalists across the country are vulnerable to actions that a plaintiff could opt to bring in Queensland using its lack of a shield law."
Originally published as Govt challenged as journalist faces court for protecting source