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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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One thought on “Worse than bungled media coverage is no coverage

  1. Scoogsy

    Media censorship is a big no no – no doubt.

    But, the above article is somewhat one sided. And let’s face it, AG McClelland has, as been reported, stopped short of an injunction to censor the media.

    In this case, as Crikey has already reported, The Australian released additions before the raid took place. Hours before. I applaud The Oz for working with the police, but there is a direct and undeniable correlation between releasing news papers early, in any scenario where loss of civilian and military/police lives is at stake. This was a grave matter of national security and in my opinion if a newspaper looses the scoope, I’m sorry, the security of the nation comes first.

    This was an unfortunate bungle by the sounds of it, but this highlights a hole in the way media releases are handled. We are certainly not looking for censorship, we do not want to unnecessarily comprimise crucially important military and police activities though.