Crikey Says

Aug 5, 2009

Worse than bungled media coverage is no coverage

Yesterday's publishing of the anti-terror raids by The Oz were a bungle. However, further restrictions on media coverage of terrorism would be even more damaging.

Today Crikey confirms the claim of Victoria Police that The Australian published the story of yesterday morning’s anti-terror raids hours before they began, potentially endangering the lives of the officers involved and jeopardising the prevention of a major terrorist incident. It was a bungle by The Australian -- but only a bungle. It is clear The Australian cooperated closely with law enforcement and national security agencies to withhold the story until a time deemed suitable by the latter for release. The fact that a stuff-up occurred does not undermine the essential point that The Australian sought to do the right thing by both personnel involved in counter-terrorism activities and the public interest in being informed. Now, perhaps predictably, there are suggestions national security agencies are moving to exploit the incident by demanding the right to muzzle press coverage of counter-terrorism activities where coverage might endanger their personnel. Which, of course, would be all the time. A similar call came from Mick Keelty in 2007 when the bungling by the Australian Federal Police of the Mohammed Haneef prosecution was exposed by the media -- primarily The Australian. Our counter-terrorism laws are already draconian enough without unaccountable security agencies being given the right to prevent the press doing the critical job of scrutinising their activities. It doesn’t mean coverage or the handling of stories will be perfect, as yesterday demonstrated, but the alternative of no coverage is far worse.

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