‘Too late, too polite’: Oakes says press complacency erodes freedom


This thought provoking piece written by Myriam Robin for Crikey outlines veteran journalist Laurie Oaks’ view on freedom of the press.

Oaks says the government will always try to limit freedom of the press, but it is up to journalists to fight for it.

New national security legislation in Australia has threatened quality investigative journalism and freedom on the public sphere. Under this new legislation, journalists may face jail sentences for reports on “special intelligence operations”. Oaks recognises this puts journalists reporting on national security in a difficult and risky situation; special operations are covert, so how is one to know they are reporting on one?

What makes Oaks’s argument so intriguing is the onus he places on professional journalists to fight for media freedom. He says it is the journalist’s fault media freedom is being limited by governments today.  “If we’d gone into battle earlier, serious and united, we might have gotten somewhere. We were too slow to recognise the threat — too late and too polite in pushing back.”

Oaks’s speech at the Melbourne Press Club is a call to action, and a call for leading journalists and publications such as The Australian to rise from a state of complacency.

Just as journalists face the difficulty of balancing the underlying philosophies of full disclosure and ‘do no harm’ in their reportage, the government faces the challenge of balancing national security with freedom of information in legislation. And according to Oaks, it is journalists themselves who must fight for the latter.


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