Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Australian Sedition Law

The new 'recklessness' provision will be the main impact of the recently strengthened sedition laws,according to the Australian Press Council.

Press Council policy officer Inez Ryan said the new provision may clamp down on secondary reporting.

"The recklessness provision, with its onus of proof on defendants, may dissuade journalists from quoting potentially inflammatory comments," she said.

Ms Ryan said among the provisions of the new sedition law was the introduction of recklessness as an intermediate legal concept between negligence and intent.

"If journalists quote someone as advocating violence, then they or their publishers could be convicted of recklessness even if they do not agree with the sentiments quoted," she said.

The maximum penalty for breaking the new laws has been more than doubled from three to seven years.

Ms Ryan said she did not believe the other provisions of the law would be as damaging.

"I don't believe that journalists will be intimidated into silence as a result of these laws and any government that attempts to prosecute a media organisation for sedition will be buying trouble," she said.

Peter Martinelli, a journalist at the Cairns Post, agreed with Ms Ryan and said it was unlikely that newspapers would be prosecuted under the new terms of the law.

"Journalists will continue to test the boundaries of these laws but the real issue will be one of self-imposed censorship where journalists will toe the line of their employers," he said.

Mr Martinelli said editorial policy on metropolitan newspapers already prevented too much

"If there is any impact from the recklessness provision, it may simply be to accelerate an already existing process towards self-censorship in news," he said.

The sedition laws were passed into law on 6 December, 2005 and will be reviewed again in 2006.

The last successful prosecution for sedition in Australia was in 1960 when Department of Native Affairs officer Brian Cooper was charged for urging Papua New Guinea to demand independence from Australia.

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