State’s journalists get some protection from being forced to reveal sources

Queensland journalists could refuse to reveal confidential sources to courts under proposed shield laws, but the protection wouldn’t apply in the corruption watchdog’s star chamber.

Nov 16, 2021, updated Nov 16, 2021
Health Minister Shannon Fentiman. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Health Minister Shannon Fentiman. (AAP Image/Dan Peled)

The Evidence and Other Legislation Amendment Bill will make Queensland the last Australian jurisdiction to pass media shield laws.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said the laws would create a legal presumption that journalists can’t be compelled to answer questions, produce documents or things that would disclose an informant’s identity or allow them to be identified.

“We recognise that a free, independent and effective media is crucial for a strong democracy,” she told parliament on Tuesday.

“And this bill provides protections to ensure that journalists can effectively fulfil their role as facilitators of free communication and report on matters of legitimate public concern.”

However, Ms Fentiman said the shield presumption could be overridden if disclosing confidential sources was in the public interest.

She said courts could consider a range of factors if they received applications to override the presumption, including the nature and subject of the matter, and any adverse impacts on an informant.

“This approach allows a balance to be struck between protecting confidential informants, while allowing courts to require disclosure if this is in the interest of justice,” she said.

The attorney-general said a confidential informant was a person who passes information to a journalist in the expectation it may be published, but their identity won’t be disclosed.

Under the bill, a journalist is defined as someone undertaking activities of a “journalistic nature” but they don’t need to be employed by a media organisation.

Fentiman said that would ensure the shield presumption applied to new and innovative journalism models into the future.

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The shield presumption will also apply people who work with journalists such as employers, editors, producers and camera operators.

Journalists will be allowed to withhold confidential sources from all courts in the state, including the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

However, the presumption will not apply to journalists facing a hearing of the Crime and Corruption Commission’s star chamber.

Journalists who refuse to reveal confidential sources to the corruption watchdog could still face prosecution.

Fentiman said there were plans to offer journalists some sort of shield provision from the CCC in 2022.

“I can assure stakeholders that further and consultation will be undertaken in relation to this work, and that we will be in a position to determine the most appropriate course of action in the first half of next year,” she said.

The shield proposal is a turnaround for the Queensland government, which controversially proposed a gag law on journalists in August 2020 before withdrawing it within 24 hours.

Under that proposal, journalists who reported corruption allegations made to the CCC during election periods would have faced up to six months in jail or a fine.

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