Journalists Can Still Protect Sources McKenzie Says

Walkley Award-winning journalist Nick McKenzie says there are steps journalists can take to protect sources under new metadata retention legislation.

“I go to public phone boxes and call people to arrange meetings,” McKenzie said in a lecture at RMIT today.

“I often message my sources using Viber,” McKenzie said.

Metadata retention laws passed in Parliament last month.

Senator Nick Xenophon said journalists may as well “give the game away” if they are unable to interact with confidential sources without the government knowing.

But McKenzie said Australia was a “great place” to be a journalist.

“We do have great press freedom,” he said.

Government officials will be able to identify journalists’ confidential sources because metadata will be stored by phone and internet providers for two years under new laws.

“In my job, if I reveal a source I am dead,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie has broken stories on dangerous underworld gangland figures and corruption as an investigative reporter at The Age.

“I wanted to expose corruption,” he said. “For me that is what our profession is all about.”

McKenzie said he had almost been put in jail many times.

“I have a lot of enemies in Melbourne prisons,” he said.

But McKenzie said threats had never stopped him from publishing a story.

“I really wanted to break stories,” he said. “That’s what gave me my rush.”

But he said the biggest “threat” to him now was defamation because it was hard for journalists to win cases.

“We get legal threats every second day of the week,” McKenzie said.

McKenzie began his career as a cadet with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and joined The Age investigative unit in 2006.

He won his first Walkley Award in 2004 and a Gold Quill Award in 2008.

ABC’s 7.30 executive producer Sally Neighbour said McKenzie was the “single most influential journalist in Australia”.

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