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MC Society Outraged At Aussie Press Restrictions

The New Zealand-based human rights group, the Magna Carta Society, is outraged the Commonwealth of Australia has demanded the right to order newspapers, television and radio stations not to employ any journalists in Parliament it does not agree with.

It also wants all staff employed by news groups to undergo Federal Police background checks.

The Society's head of research, John Howard said, members in Australia had emailed the story which has also been carried today by the South Australian newspaper, The Advertiser.

The Commonwealth regulations are buried in a new licence document handed to organisations that work out of the parliamentary press gallery.

Clause 25A1 says: " The Commonwealth may in its discretion after consulting with the licensee notify the licensee that it must not employ or continue to employ a particular person at Parliament House. The licensee will cease so to employ that person immediately upon receiving the notice."

Mr Howard said the move was unprecedented.

"Journalists are not employees of the Commonwealth or any other Government; they are custodians of free speech, he said.

Hypothetically, if a journalist is pursuing the Prime Minister or a senior minister, under this agreement the Government can phone the journalist's employer and demand their sacking, Mr Howard said.

Network Ten political editor, Paul Bongiorno, the president of the press gallery, said the gallery had been assured by Senate President Senator Margaret Reid and Speaker Neil Andrew - who are responsible for running the Parliament - the new licence agreement would not change the relationship between journalists and Parliament.

News organisations have been given four weeks to raise any concerns over the restrictions, or it will be assumed the licence document is agreed to.

Senator Reid and Mr Andrew were unavailable for comment last night.

Mr Howard said we live in a global village and urges New Zealand journalists and news organisations to swing in behind and support their Australian colleagues to stop this draconian regulation.


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