You know a piece of Coalition policy is unpopular when even Tony Abbott cheerleader Greg Sheridan is giving it a kick. Sheridan writes today:

“Section 35P of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill is a terrible piece of legislation that fundamentally alters the balance of power between the media and the government.”

The Oz’s foreign editor laments that under the new provisions — under which journalists could face up to 10 years’ jail for disclosing information about “special intelligence operations” — the reporting of serious national security issues will be left to “gonzo journalists” who are prepared to risk jail. He writes:

“One likely consequence is for gonzo journalists to publish without consultation and dare the government to jail them. This horrible polarisation will give governments less ability to influence serious journalism and drive security stories into the hands of extremists, nutters, conspiracy theorists and overseas websites.”

In fact, so-called gonzo journalists who “publish without consultation” are the only ones who have ever provided serious scrutiny of national security issues. As our own Bernard Keane writes today, much of what Sheridan calls “normal, responsible national security journalism” is simply stenography for governments and security agencies, written by journalists who are unwilling to challenge the institutions and sources that feed them material for fear of losing their privileged access.

But the access goes both ways — especially at News Corp. When even those journalists who are inside the tent are complaining about restrictions on press freedom, a security state has plainly pushed too far. If the Abbott government continues to withdraw power from its powerful talking heads in the conservative media, it may just find come election time that its own access to these powerful organs dries ups.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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