16 August 2019

ASIO has justified criminal penalties for journalists reporting on government leaks, by pushing a Reds-under-the-beds claim that foreign spies might be posing as journalists. This seems to be based on a hamfisted (and unsuccessful) approach [$] made by to Angus Grigg in 2013. Grigg observes [$] that “if the agency was really concerned about journalists being co-opted by ‘foreign operatives’ you’d think they would have contacted me. But in the 18 months since the story was published, I’ve heard nothing from 70 Constitutional Avenue, ASIO’s shiny new headquarters”. He also notes that ASIO initially kept its submission to a parliamentary inquiry secret, but “eventually declassified the document under pressure and it was revealed to be little more than a rehash of what [ASIO head Duncan] Lewis said last year.” This is a major threat to press freedom — the over-classification of documents. By illegitimately stamping information with a secret classification, agencies can make reporting mundane matters crime. Reviewing the classification system (and its cousin, Freedom of Information) should be an urgent priority.