Having spent extensive time in Australian detention centres across the country, this news, via the Sydney Morning Herald, is sadly predictable but shows the utter contempt by authorities towards a free press.
Following America’s lead in Gitmo for media? What cretins. And what role, if any, has British multinational Serco played in these restrictions?
The Immigration Department developed its new, highly restrictive policy on media visits to detention centres with reference to US military arrangements governing media access to the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention centre.
Documents released under freedom of information show the ”deed of agreement” that Immigration insists journalists and media organisations visiting detention centres must sign was ”informed by … the current US Department of Defence media access policy for its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay”.
The department also justified extremely tight media control and censorship to the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, as ”the right balance” in circumstances that included ”the current climate associated with media ethics, media ‘phone hacking’ [in Britain]”.
In an email to a reporter who was consulted on the policy, Immigration’s national communications manager, Sandi Logan, said, ”I reckon while the phone hacking scandal is all the rage, what else would the media expect of us? Trust you say? Gimme a break, sorry!”
The Greens’ immigration spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said yesterday ”the idea that [media access] guidelines have, even in part, been inspired by Guantanamo Bay is absolutely appalling – it really shows the attitude of Immigration and [the] government – they have forgotten that they are dealing with asylum seekers, not criminals or terrorists.”
The policy requires that journalists visiting detention centres must be escorted at all times by Immigration officers. There is a bar on any ”substantive communication” with detainees, a right for officials to censor recordings, and the right for Immigration to immediately end any visit.
The chief executives of the largest media organisations, including Fairfax Media’s Greg Hywood, News Ltd’s Kim Williams and the heads of all TV broadcast networks last month condemned the agreement as ”unacceptable censorship”.
Documents released to the Herald under FOI show the agreement was drafted with reference to past departmental policy and present practice at NSW, Victorian and Queensland prisons.
In his submission, Mr Logan justified tight restrictions on media access to safeguard the privacy of detainees, prevent publicity that could affect refugee claims and to manage ”risks that during any media visits detainee clients would use the media’s presence as an opportunity to protest their continuing detention”.
Mr Logan privately consulted 12 journalists. More responses were negative than positive, with the proposed arrangements being described as ”incredibly restrictive”, ”draconian and heavy-handed”, ”a shocker” and ”a lawyer’s picnic.” However Immigration made no further submission to Mr Bowen who endorsed new arrangements without amendment on October 6.
Since October, the ABC, SBS, Channels Seven, Nine and Ten, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph have signed the deed of agreement for visits variously to detention facilities at Villawood, Maribyrnong, Inverbrackie and Wickham Point.
In their letter to Mr Bowen last month, media CEOs argued the fact media organisations have signed the deed ”should not be taken as agreement to its terms”.