Australia’s major media organisations are engaged in an unusual show of unity, filing a joint submission to the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission defending their right to report on allegations of corruption. The body questioned whether it was in the public interest to have public sector corruption investigated through the media in a June discussion paper.
Publicly airing its investigations could undermine the CCC’s ability to investigate corrupt conduct, the body suggested, by giving guilty parties a chance to destroy evidence and intimidate witnesses. Media reports on investigations also harm the reputations of those being investigated. As a result, the body says it’s examining whether “it is in the public interest to publicise allegations of corrupt conduct and, if it is not, what legislative or other options are available to prevent this”. In 2013, an advisory panel to the Queensland government recommended that it be an offence to disclose those subject to CCC complaints.
News Corp, Fairfax, the ABC, The West Australia, AAP, Bauer and SBS, along with a range of media industry bodies, have in response issued a stinging public submission defending the status quo.
“The protection of political or public sector interests in Queensland must not be allowed to trump the Queensland public’s right to know of allegations in their own backyard.
“The unhindered ability for public scrutiny of allegations of corruption is a vital aspect of open, transparent and accountable government in Queensland. It is critical for all Queenslanders that reporting of allegations of corruption not be constrained.”
The submission, which Crikey understands was largely written within News Corp, gives the example of a February story in which the ABC revealed that the Brisbane City Council had sold parkland to a significant LNP donor without disclosing this to ratepayers. “This issue only came to light because of a whistle-blower, who the ABC did not identify,” the submission states. The case was later referred to the CCC, which took no action. “The reporting of this matter did not impact on the CCC’s effectiveness in assessing the complaint, nor denied any person natural justice.”
It’s only the latest dispute between media organisations and anti-corruption bodies. In today’s Australian, frequent News Corp lawyer Justin Quill says shield laws protecting journalists from revealing their sources do not apply to questioning of journalists by such anti-corruption bodies.