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Issue #1612      September 25, 2013

“Public Right to Know” defining issue over boat arrivals

Statement, human rights group Project SafeCom

Newly sworn-in PM Tony Abbott’s insistence that former PM John Howard “stopped the boats” has pre-defined his policy in government and forced the shape of his strategic positioning vis-a-vis boat arrivals. Interdictions in international waters will now become highly secretive operations under his newly appointed three-star military commander, but all media organisations should claim full access to all events as an issue of public interest.

Former News Ltd’s CEO John Hartigan and other senior journalists have in recent years been instrumental in the formation of the Public Right to Know Coalition, and it’s now time for them to put their money where their mouth is, as soon as the first boat arrives in our northern oceans.

All journalists and media organisations are now faced with a choice: they can either continue their election campaign love fest of Tony Abbott as was directed by News Ltd’s American Darth Vader Rupert Murdoch, or they can demand full openness and accountability and side with the public’s right to know and subject the Abbott government to serious scrutiny.

For too many years almost all media outlets, including the ABC, Fairfax and the various News Ltd have let the public down by failing to confront successive governments with the ever-increasing and brazen breaches of the UN Refugee Convention and related human rights statutes, preferring to instead cover sensational stories of asylum seekers in distress, rather than to confront politicians who have been central players in the systemic undermining of the universal and international rights of asylum seekers as defined by national and international law.

In relation to Australia’s handling of asylum seekers, Australia’s lawmakers have become ever more brazen lawbreakers, yet the fourth Estate has on the whole been missing in action – because almost all journalists, editors and media outlets remain ignorant of where and when Australian political leaders become human rights breachers or when and where human rights crimes are committed in our name.

Now that the Abbott government’s re-framing of boat interceptions as a military operation starts to take effect – where Scott Morrison has already indicated that these operations may remain a military secret – it starkly puts the focus on the public’s right to know what is being done in our name.

Perhaps it’s time that media outlets invest in long-range drones that can hover over boat interceptions in international waters, and perhaps it’s time reporters are dispatched to Indonesia, like the two reporters working for the New York Times earlier this month, and buy themselves passage, cameras rolling, on boats with asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia.

Perhaps media outlets need to move to the edges of civil disobedience in order to fulfil their public mandate, captured so well in the phrase “The Public’s Right To Know”.

Next article – Obama’s grotesque hypocrisy over cluster munitions

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