Subject: Australian Press Council concerned about licensing journalists
Australian Press Council
April 8, 2009 (For immediate release)
The Australian Press Council has expressed concerns about proposals to license journalists in East Timor.
The Council Chairman Professor Ken McKinnon said the proposed scheme could greatly affect the operation of a free press in the world's newest democracy.
The proposal is to establish a media council as part of a parcel of laws regulating the media in East Timor. Journalists who wished to work in the media industry, including foreign correspondents, would have to be licensed by the media council.
The council would have members appointed by the East Timor parliament and a further member selected by the parliamentary appointees.
Such a body could clearly been seen to politically aligned. It would also oversee complaints and have powers to revoke journalists' licenses or impose fines on journalists for professional transgressions.
"These aspects were clearly outside internationally recognised standards for the media in a democracy and represented restrictions on free speech", Prof McKinnon said.
Professor McKinnon said that the Australian Press Council had been represented at a workshop in Dili in July last year. The workshop was told how the Australian Press Council operated as a non-legal body for dispute resolution and a watchdog on threats to freedom of speech, and of the press.
"Journalists attending the workshop welcomed the suggestion that the country adopt the Australian Press Council structure as a model," Prof. McKinnon said.
The licensing issue raised by the UN-appointed Portuguese lawyer tasked with suggesting media laws was widely criticised at the workshop. Despite this criticism, journalist licensing remained a part of the draft laws.
Prof McKinnon said other proposed new laws, which allowed for widespread freedom of information disclosure, were welcome as was the decision not to include defamation in the country's penal code.
The laws will be further reviewed by Fernanda Borges, a member of parliament who chairs the committee that will make final recommendation to parliament.
Ms Borges has said that the registration of journalists remained problematic.
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Further information: Professor Ken McKinnon - 0412 062 327
The Australian Press Council comprises representatives of the public and of the industry and acts to preserve the freedom, and the responsibility, of the Australian press. It was founded in July 1976 and has been in continuous operation for over 30 years.
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