Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney warns Australia on press freedom

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney warns Australia on press freedom

Amal Clooney has cautioned Australia on press freedom at the inaugural Defend Media Freedom conference in the United Kingdom, which was attended by Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“What happens in a country like Australia, or the UK or the US will be looked at by every other leader in the world and potentially used as an excuse to clamp down even further on journalists,” Mrs Clooney said.

“I think journalists all over the world are less safe if the rhetoric or even policies or laws in states that are supposed to be free are actually a threat to journalism in that country.”

Mrs Clooney cited the example of the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP’s) raids on the ABC’s headquarters over a 2017 series which looked at crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

“We have reached the point where there are few places in the world where journalists are not surveilled, harassed, disenfranchised or subject to self-censorship,” she said.

Mrs Clooney cited Freedom House, saying 2019 is the “thirteenth consecutive year of decline [of press freedom] across the globe.”

“This decline in media freedom doesn’t only mean that journalists have fewer rights. It means we all have.”

Mrs Clooney condemned world leaders for the decline of press freedom, saying: “Recent reports suggest that today only one in 10 people in the world lives in a country with a free press.”

She also criticised world leaders for the “collective shrug” over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The human rights lawyer took aim at United States President Donald Trump, accusing him of being “a leader who vilifies the media, making honest journalists all over the world more vulnerable to abuse.”

She added: “That is why I am supporting this campaign.”

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne was criticised for attending the conference, given the raids by the AFP last month on the ABC and the Canberra home of a News Corp journalist.

Ms Payne said at the conference that Australia “has been strong and clear in our support for the protection of journalists and the rights to freedom of expression.”

However, she added “we recognise a sensible balance needs to be reached between protecting our national interest in the face of the ever evolving security challenges and upholding the public’s right to know.”

Before the conference, Ms Payne rejected accusations that attending the conference was hypocritical considering the recent threats to press freedom in Australia.

“I would imagine if Australia was not represented at a conference like this today then you would say the Government wasn’t doing their job,” she told journalists.

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