Journalists Need Shield Laws, says MP

The South Perth MLA, Mr John McGrath, who knows a thing or two about journalism after 40 years in the  job, has taken up the cause for enacting media shield laws.

Speaking in Parliament on 12 November, Mr McGrath said he supported the introduction of media shield laws to provide better protection to journalists’ sources.

Mr McGrath told Parliament:

“[T]here is real concern about shield laws among journalists…the situation in Western Australia is probably still a long way behind other parts of Australia.”

Mr McGrath acknowledged, however, that there are two-sides to this issue and that with shield laws there comes a certain increase in the responsibility on reporters to exercise informed discretion about potentially unsubstantiated or purely salacious material.

“While shield laws are important to ensure full and frank reporting – the media needs to be responsible with what they choose to report, particularly when they get controversial information or information from a contentious source,” Mr McGrath said,

“Journalists need to always be accountable as to the quality and accuracy of the material they choose to publish.”

Further to this, Mr McGrath also told Parliament that he supported exceptions to the general ‘shielding’ of sources, for instance where the source is involved in criminal activity or can provide information that would assist with investigations into criminal activity.

Mr McGrath has the support of Attorney General, Hon. Christian Porter on the matter.

“The Standing Committee of Attorney General Evidence Committee will be reporting on the matter in December and I look forward to reviewing their advice in light of the Australian Press Council’s recommendations for a workable model,” Mr McGrath said.

The Press Council contacted the former-Premier, Hon Alan Carpenter, earlier this year, following the raid of The Sunday Times offices in search of journalists’ sources. The Council asked for legislative reform that would mean that ‘only extreme circumstances’ could ‘ justify the searching and seizure of material held by journalists’.

“Full and frank reporting is undermined when a journalists’ source feels threatened by possible exposure,” Mr McGrath said, “I look forward to working with the Attorney General further on this matter.”

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