The real battle for legal protection for journalists and whistleblowers is just beginning, News Ltd chairman and chief executive John Hartigan said today.
Mr Hartigan was speaking after the conviction and fining of Melbourne-based Herald Sun journalists Michael Harvey and Gerard McManus for contempt of court.
The pair were fined $7000 each in the Victorian County Court for refusing to disclose the source of a story published in the Herald Sun in 2004 which revealed a secret plan by the Federal Government to cut benefits to war veterans.
Mr Hartigan said the conviction raised serious doubts about whether the public's right to know how it was governed could prevail in the face of growing censorship and government secrecy.
"It is ludicrous that these two exceptional journalists have been forced to endure a three year legal battle and now have criminal records because they were doing their job,'' Mr Hartigan said.
"We are pleased their ordeal is over, but the real battle for appropriate legal protection for journalists and whistleblowers is only just starting.''
He said it was essential that the federal attorney-general and his state counterparts agreed on shield laws as soon as possible.
"This will allow courts to make judgments that properly balance the public's right to know how it is governed and whether disclosure of that information is clearly in the public interest,'' Mr Hartigan said.
"Whistleblowers are being hunted down and prosecuted and journalists who refuse to name their sources in breach of their ethical responsibilities are being dragged to court with them.''
Mr Hartigan said the creation of shield laws to protect both journalists and whistleblowers were among the issues being studied as part of a national audit of free speech being conducted by the Australia's Right to Know coalition.