Daily Mercury journalists L to R (back) Melanie Whiting, Kirili Lamb, Rainee Shepperson, Ashley Pillhofer, Callum Dick, Loris Wall, Nick Wright, Aidan Cureton, (front) Melanie Plane, Janessa Ekert, Angela Seng.
Daily Mercury journalists L to R (back) Melanie Whiting, Kirili Lamb, Rainee Shepperson, Ashley Pillhofer, Callum Dick, Loris Wall, Nick Wright, Aidan Cureton, (front) Melanie Plane, Janessa Ekert, Angela Seng.

Why is the government driven to silence media?

OPINION: IN an era where journalists' stories are being flippantly labelled 'fake news' and many politicians now flat-out refuse to answer questions they don't like by sticking to pre-prepared talking points, our role in a democratic society is more important than ever.

Since 2002, there have been 75 pieces of federal legislation intended to protect the public from national security threats but that have found new ways from stopping the public's right to know what the Federal Government is doing.

With more laws before parliament restricting what journalists can report, Aussies should be asking why the government has made rules to keep myself and other Australians in the dark?

Why is it so driven to silence the media and whistleblowers?

Because, if our highest level of government is prepared to ignore the public interest test and whistleblower protections, then what hope do we have for the rest of our bureaucracy?

If it thinks it's okay to hide things from the public, then what is stopping every level of bureaucracy down to councils and shires from following suit?

It will be 20 years in February since I began working in this industry and the change in access to information has been profound at every level already.

In my first job, I used to wave to the police officer at reception at the local police station and he'd buzz me in so I could walk around the office and talk to the various departments about what had been happening around town.

You could ring police officers directly, you could call councillors and MPs directly and they would answer your questions.

When I began covering courts in 2003, they were considered public institutions and I had no problem gaining access to documents tendered from the registry or even the prosecutor.

Now, we have to pay almost $2000 and reconvene a court to get access to documents tendered in a sentence or a trial - even the statement of facts if they are not read out in the court.

Once upon a time all this information would be read into the public record but often this is shortcut to hasten the court process, restricting journalists' access to what was once deemed public information to keep our courts accountable and deter others from committing crimes.

We find ourselves regularly hitting brick walls when we put forward questions to the government. Last month it cost us $50 just to put in a request for information about watch-house complaints and we still haven't heard back about how much more they will charge us to actually hand over any information which we suspect will be denied due to "privacy".

These days, unless you've developed strong contacts in your rounds, you have to cut your way through multiple levels of bureaucracy to get even a few sentences in reply to questions.

I'd estimate, these days, at least half the time you don't get direct answers to your questions, they refuse to answer many questions and it takes all day to get a response when we are working to a 24-hour news cycle on our websites and ever reducing print deadlines.

We have advanced so much digitally in those 20 years and yet our governments, in many ways, are harder to get access to than ever before.


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