If Campbell Newman were the governor of an American state, rather than the premier of an Australian one, he wouldn’t even contemplate suing a broadcaster over a debate about political donations and the government’s approval of a mine.

If Joe Hockey were the US treasury secretary rather than the Australian treasurer, he wouldn’t be in a position to sue a newspaper publisher over stories about his political fundraising activities.

On the other hand, if Tony Abbott and Peter Costello were American politicians and wanted to sue the media over false allegations about their personal lives, it’s arguable whether they would have been able to win damages (as they did in 1998 in Australia).

Under the First Amendment of the US constitution, the media is protected in doing its legitimate job — reporting, analysing and discussing the issues of the day and holding governments and politicians to account.

In suing the media over their political (not personal) behaviour, Newman and Hockey are trashing the role of a free press in a parliamentary democracy.

We’re all Charlie, it seems, until the media upsets political leaders just by fulfilling its place as the fourth estate.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey