Sydney-based journalist and documentary maker, Anne Delaney has lodged an appeal in the Queensland District court over her conviction last December for illegally interviewing a female prisoner.

The appeal is being managed by Elizabeth Beal, director of the Communications Law Centre at Victoria University in Melbourne. Ms Beal told Crikey that the CLC is interested in the case because of its impact on the unprotected right of free speech in Australia.

“Free speech arguments always involve a balancing exercise with other interests. The CLC has taken on this case because one of our aims is to ensure that the broader interest in accessing and sharing information between citizens via the media is protected.”

Delaney has lodged 25 grounds for the appeal including that the Richlands Magistrate, Eroll Wessling, misinterpreted the word “interview” in s.100 of the Queensland Corrective Services Act (2000). Delaney’s defence was that her visit was personal in nature and not an interview for the purposes of preparing a media story. The appeal document argues that there was no intention to publish any material gained during the alleged interview.

The appeal also raises again the constitutional issues that Delaney’s legal team sought to introduce in the original hearings of the case. At the core of this claim is the argument that the media should be free to investigate matters – such as alleged miscarriage of justice – regardless of any embarrassment this might cause to the authorities.

Delaney’s appeal is seeking to have the charges dismissed and the conviction quashed. Meanwhile, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has called on the Queensland Corrective Services’ Minister Judy Spence to repeal the archaic section 100 of the state’s Corrective Service Act, which prohibits anyone from interviewing or photographing prisoners without the express permission of the jail superintendent or other senior officer.

The MEAA has requested a meeting with Minister Spence following last year’s conviction of Delaney for illegally interviewing a prisoner that earned her a 12-month $750 good behaviour bond for “interviewing” the prisoner. The Alliance also wants to meet Western Australia’s Attorney General Jim McGinty and Justice Minister John D’Orazio about section 52 of WA’s Prisons Act 1981, which contains penalties of $1500 fines or 18 months jail (or both) if journalists have unauthorised contact with a prisoner.

The Queensland Corrective Services legislation had been reviewed in early 2005, a month before Delaney was apprehended, but there were no recommendations for reform. The report handed down by the review makes no mention of Section 100. The MEAA believes at least two other Queensland journalists have been convicted under this section of the act.

“Legislation that stops journalists or members of the public from seeking transparency within the penal system is dangerously undemocratic and has a sinister potential for human rights violations. Journalists shrouded under the constant threat of repressive laws such as this cannot do their jobs effectively. They cannot question, investigate or reveal information in the public interest,” says Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren.

The journalists’ union says the Queensland Government needs to move urgently to repeal what Warren describes as the “ludicrous provision” of the Corrective Services Act that covers up potential corruption, miscarriages of justice and maladministration by barring journalists from interviewing prisoners.

Warren says Anne Delaney should never have had to endure the process simply for doing her job. “She deserves the thanks of all of us in the media for the stand she’s taken,” Warren says. Throughout her legal case, the Alliance worked with Anne to challenge the constitutionality of the provision.

According to Chris Warren, not only is the law wrong, internal Corrective Services documents make it clear that it is department policy to apply the law so as to prevent the Queensland public from knowing if someone has been wrongly convicted or from learning about corruption inside jails.

“After the debacle in the Queensland health bureaucracy you would have thought the government had learnt that the price you pay for secrecy is always higher in the long run,” Warren says.

Peter Fray

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