Law Society welcomes introduction of shield laws
10 May 2018
The Law Society welcomes the introduction of the Evidence (Journalists) Amendment Bill 2018 into Parliament today.
The Bill would effectively shield journalists from criminal or civil liability where they do not disclose the identity of their sources, subject to a public interest test.
Law Society President Tim Mellor said the laws were important for the protection of a free press, which is fundamental to a democratic society.
“Sometimes, journalists must rely on anonymous sources to convey information that is in the public interest,” Mr Mellor said. “The proposed law recognises that the protection of the identity of sources in the service of a free and fearless media may outweigh a public interest in the identity of the informant.”
“It is also appropriate that the potential harm to an informant is taken into account by a court determining whether their identity should be revealed.”
“Of course, any decision on whether an informant’s identity must be disclosed should be made on a case by case basis. It is entirely appropriate that a court has the discretion to apply the public interest test in each matter and make a determination based on the particular facts of a case.”
South Australia and Queensland are the only two States that do not already have shield laws. The Law Society supports a nationally consistent approach to journalistic privilege.
“The reality of the modern media is that it is borderless,” Mr Mellor said. “News from around the world is easily accessible and journalists also rely on diverse range of sources from different jurisdictions.”
“The definition of ‘journalist’ under the Bill is necessarily broad. Given the rapidly evolving nature of journalism, a narrow definition of journalist would be unworkable. The Bill recognises that modern journalism comes in different forms. However, it is important that a person has to demonstrate a level of repeated involvement in the publication of news.”
The Society also notes that, while not explicitly stated in the Bill, the Government intends for the protections to apply in ICAC proceedings.
“Like an independent judiciary, the Fourth Estate of a free press is an integral part of an open and transparent society,” Mr Mellor said.
“Ideally, the sources of information should be identified in media reports, but it has to be acknowledged that there are some occasions when important information can only be brought to light through anonymous sources.”