Shielding the public interest

The Marshall Liberal Government is introducing legislation to enable journalists to protect the identity of confidential sources when the information they are disclosing is in the public interest.

The Evidence (Journalists) Amendment Bill 2018 fulfils another Liberal election promise and will leave Queensland as the only State in Australia without shield laws protecting journalists.

The shield laws introduce a default rule that journalists cannot be compelled to answer a question or produce a document that may disclose the identity of a confidential informant.

“The free flow of information is critical for democratic systems of government and on occasions that will require the disclosure of sensitive information by anonymous sources to the media,” said Attorney General Vickie Chapman.

“The Marshall Government is committed to running an open and transparent administration where the public interest is placed ahead of vested interests.

“The Bill determines that where the information provided is in the public interest and where the informant sought or reasonably expected to maintain anonymity a journalist will be protected from legal sanction for refusing to disclose the identity of the informant.

“This legislation enhances the publics’ right to know by encouraging whislteblowers to come forward on the understanding that journalists will not be forced to disclose their identity in a court of law.

“The right of the informant to confidentially is not absolute but balanced by an over-riding public interest test that includes the court considering the potential harm disclosure would cause the informant.

“I anticipate it will be a very rare day that a court will deem revealing the identity of the informant is necessary to protect the public interest.

“The Bill defines a journalist as a person engaged in the profession or occupation of journalism in connection with the publication of information in a news medium.

“This reasonably broad definition of a journalist is necessarily to accommodate the changing nature of media to ensure the protections are as effective as possible.”