Many observers cried hypocrisy when leaders and dignitaries from countries like Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Palestine, Egypt and the Persian Gulf kingdoms — all of which engage, as a matter of policy, in the persecution, jailing and often torture of journalists and activists — attended the Paris rally to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

But the hypocrisy of Western politicians declaring themselves for free speech in the wake of the Paris murders is every bit as great. The US and UK governments are engaged in global-scale mass surveillance programs and have specifically targeted journalists and whistleblowers for harassment and prosecution. And the Australian government is no better. Despite pretending to be a supporter of free speech and a free press, the Abbott government has proven itself a committed enemy of both. Its draconian anti-terror laws introduced last year enable journalists to be jailed for a decade for reporting on intelligence operations.

The data retention regime it has proposed ensures that police and intelligence agencies will have a rich trove of information with which to hunt down whistleblowers and the journalists and even politicians to whom they have provided public interest information. The government has attacked the ABC and slashed its funding, and used every power at its disposal to prevent the media from revealing information about its handling of asylum seekers, and freedom of information laws are now routinely abused by the public service. Attorney-General George Brandis approved an ASIO raid designed to intimidate the whistleblower who revealed our spying on East Timor; the whistleblower’s passport was also seized to prevent him from giving evidence in an international court; the lawyer representing that whistleblower has been threatened by Brandis and his agencies with prosecution.

Like most advocates of free speech, the Abbott government only likes free speech that it agrees with. Its idea of a free press is outlets that support it. Like its US and UK counterparts, it fears and attacks anything that doesn’t suit its political purposes.

Peter Fray

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