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Political Report: Why media freedom matters

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| Monday, August 05, 2013 6:00 AM

Political Report: Why media freedom matters
The Press Gallery’s been the news rather than reporting the news over the last week or so and it seems that’s ruffled some peoples’ sensibilities. We’ve raised a hue and a cry over the treatment of our colleague, Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance, by Parliamentary services and the Henry Inquiry, and it seems there are those who feel we’ve become a little self absorbed.

In fact there are some who’ve labelled us whiny, self-obsessed, and out of touch with the public.

Granted, I accept there will be many who have little time for my profession. Annual trust and respect surveys make it clear that for many of you your esteem for us is somewhere at the level whale poo ends up. We’re not popular. I’m fine with that. That’s not what we’re here for.

What we’re here for is to be your eyes and ears. To look into things you can’t, to hear the things you don’t have time to hear, and to find out the things that would be otherwise hidden from your attention. Some of this stuff (particularly politics) isn’t always pleasant and it’s not always what all of you want to know.

But some of you do.

And this is why the recent incidents at Parliament are so important. The stories we write and broadcast are generated from our sources. But the sources that start the story aren’t always the ones that end up in the copy. A source can set me on the right track to winkle out information from those in authority and need not necessarily end up in the story itself.

What do you think the chances are of this continuing once they realise it’s possible for those in Government to access our phone records, and monitor our movements around the parliamentary precinct?

The answer’s obvious; they’ll run a bloody mile.

We’re not being precious over being subjected to the same scrutiny that we apply to others. I know some think there’s a double standard at play, but there isn’t. People have to be free to speak to journalists in confidence and without the fear of negative consequences. And we have to be free to speak to them without their interests being compromised.

I think we in the Gallery have possibly been too trusting in using Parliament’s internal phone system and perhaps we are now reaping the consequences of that. But was it wrong of us to trust the long held traditions around the media’s role in Parliament as the public’s eyes and ears?

By passing on movement records and phone logs, be it accidental or deliberate, Parliamentary Services undermined a tenet that almost every politician in the country has said they support: a free media.

Media cannot be free if it’s monitored by the state.

Photo: Getty Images

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