Letter: Freedom of the press in an open society

Meredith Doig / 08 June 2019

Hon. Scott Morrison

Prime Minister

Parliament House

Canberra ACT.

7 June 2019

Dear Prime Minister

Re: Freedom of the press in an open society

Australian Rationalists share the outrage felt by many, in Australia and abroad, at the recent unprecedented raids by the Australian Federal Police on journalists and our national broadcaster.

The RSA’s Patron and former board member of the ABC, Professor Fiona Stanley, has said -- and the RSA agrees -- that as citizens, we must stand for an “open society”. The great philosopher of science, Karl Popper, defined an open society as one “in which individuals are confronted with personal decisions” as opposed to a “magical or collectivist society”.

Surely this is something Sir Robert Menzies would have supported. A society in which individuals make decisions rather than having those decisions made on their behalf by some ideological collective.

But to make decisions, individuals need to be informed, not with ‘fake news’ but with facts and evidence. To be informed, citizens need a vigorous press, expected to hold those in power to account. As Stanley says, “The ABC is the vehicle in Australia for democracy and an open society, whereby people get proper information, the best information, and evidence.”

Australian Rationalists also agree with ABC Chair Ita Buttrose when she says, “legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security .. the onus must always be on the public’s right to know.”

We understand that, since 2001, there have been around 50 pieces of legislation aimed at strengthening “national security” in Australia. Those pieces of legislation are inconsistent, overlapping and confusing. They are therefore also open to misuse, if not abuse.

We ask that, as a matter of urgency and in the national interest, you commission an investigation into all ‘national security’ laws to ensure Australia improves its status as a genuinely open society, one in which individuals are properly informed by our national institutions and also in which journalists are free of actual or implied intimidation by the operation of those laws. In particular, we call upon the government to introduce law that properly protects journalists who do their job on behalf of citizens by exposing fraud, corruption or other actions that are not in the national interest.

Sincerely

Dr Meredith Doig OAM FAICD

President

All the more reason.

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