Journalists should be exempt from revealing their sources in court cases, according to Victorian deputy premier and attorney-general Rob Hulls.
Hulls made the call today (13 September) after meeting with New Zealand media representatives on a visit there last week, saying he believes Australia should adopt the same model as New Zealand in relation to journalists' privilege.
In New Zealand, the default position before the courts is that a journalist should be allowed to protect their sources. However, the court must still be satisfied that it is in the public interest for the source be protected.
Hulls said he plans to urge the Commonwealth and other states to adopt a national approach.
"Given the spread of electronic media and websites, the best approach to this issue would be for national consistency," he said.
"Our Government is committed to openness and accountability and understands the important role the media fulfils as the fourth estate in informing the public and scrutinising power."
Hulls acknowledged that in order to gather some information, journalists are required to guarantee the confidentiality of sources and therefore it should be protected.
"Under the New Zealand model, journalists are given a presumption that they cannot be compelled to reveal confidential sources. However, a court may override this presumption if it considers the public interest outweighs any likely adverse effect of the disclosure on the source," he said.
"This is a difficult issue but, having discussed this with New Zealand media representatives and seen its operation over there, I believe the best position is to start with a presumption against compelling the disclosure of sources."
According to Hulls, federal attorney-general Robert McClelland has already given a public commitment to revisit the issue.
"A strong democracy is an essential component of a free society and I believe a national approach to adopt this model strikes the right balance between the public's right to know and a journalist's commitment to protecting their sources," Hulls said.
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