WikiLeaks has revealed the existence of a blanket gagging order applying to all citizens and news media throughout Australia.
Issued on 19 June by the state of Victoria’s supreme court, it cites the need to protect “national security” and “damage to Australia’s international relations” as grounds for banning any form of coverage of an alleged case of bribery involving several Asian presidents.
The existence of this sweeping “suppression order,” posted by WikiLeaks yesterday, says volumes about the current level of transparency in Australia.
Effective for five years, it forbids any media coverage of a case involving seven senior executives with banks affiliated to the Reserve Bank of Australia, who have been charged with spending millions of dollars in bribes to obtain contracts with the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries to print plastic banknotes.
The court injunction names 17 international political figures including Vietnamese President Truong Tan San, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The injunction is so sweeping that the Australian media and journalists are even forbidden to mention its very existence. As a result, Reporters Without Borders is unable to discuss it with its correspondent in Australia.
“The grounds given for this gagging order, which include national security, are unacceptable and cannot justify such complete censorship applying to all news and information providers, including both journalists and ordinary citizens,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
“This disproportionate order, whose aims include protecting the interests of certain Southeast Asian leaders, is tantamount to asking everyone to turn a blind eye to a crucial aspect of this case – the identity of those receiving these ‘financial incentives.’ We urge the authorities to put the public interest above national interest and to restore transparency in this case by rescinding this order at once.”
According to Melbourne Law School senior lecturer Jason Bosland, the state of Victoria’s courts are in the habit of issuing such bans. He said an average of 200 suppression orders a year were issued from 2008 to 2013 for often unclear reasons and unlimited periods, and were rarely rescinded.
Reporters Without Borders already criticized Australia’s growing tendency to put national interest ahead of public interest on 22 July in connection with a bill submitted by attorney-general George Brandis on 16 July that would make disclosing information about “special intelligence operations” punishable by imprisonment.
This proposed law would be a serious blow to freedom of information and would violate international treaties signed by Australia, which is ranked 28th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Learn more here https://wikileaks.org/aus-suppression-order/