A creeping authoritarianism and a pronounced lack of diversity are making their impact felt on Australia’s already fragile media landscape.
Despite Australia’s traditions of freedom and its status as a long-time liberal democracy, its ranking in terms of press freedom has fallen below that of many newer democracies. In an international survey by Freedom House, Australia ranked 39 out of 185 countries surveyed, and in the annual survey by Reporters Without Borders, its 2006 ranking had fallen from 31 to 35. The main reason cited for Australia’s relegation was the introduction of anti-terrorist laws seen as potentially dangerous for journalists. As we shall see, there is no general legal protection of the freedom of the press in Australia and Australia also has an extreme concentration of media ownership for a western democracy. In Australia, investigative journalism is hampered in a number of ways. They include commercial pressures, the nature of Australia’s defamation laws, a lack of legal protection for journalists, and a relatively weak freedom of information (FOI) regime. All of these factors have made it more difficult for journalists to perform their democratic role in providing the information needed for governments to be truly accountable to the people.