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Minister must protect the media

Minister must protect the media

Corrections Minister Paul Swain must assure the media that it won’t face prosecution for unauthorised contact with attempted prison escaper Arthur Taylor, Green Justice Spokesperson Nandor Tanczos says.

“In the last remaining months of the Penal Institutions Act, the Minister should assure the media that he will not authorise any prosecution under its provisions simply for unauthorised contact,” Nandor said. “Unauthorised contact may at times be the only way that corruption or abuse in the prison system can come to light.”

Nandor was responding to comments in the media by Corrections Officers Association President Bevan Hanlon that a Sunday Star-Times reporter to whom Mr Taylor sent a text message could be prosecuted under the Penal Institutions Act.

“The media has a responsibility to find the truth and bring it to light,” Nandor said. “If the Corrections Department was to prosecute journalists for simply attempting to do their job, it would set a very bad precedent and give the impression that it was trying to prevent the disclosure of information that may be in the public interest.”

Green Party amendments to the new Corrections Act, due to come into force in June this year, provide protection for media and other whistle blowers in such circumstances.

One of the amendments requires the Corrections Department to prove that any unauthorised communication might prejudice the maintenance of the law, the safe custody of the prisoner, the safety of any other person, or the security of any prison for it to be an offence.

In the original bill, anyone who “holds any communication with, or makes any sound recording of, a prisoner”, or “makes any visual recording of a prisoner (whether by photograph, film, videotape, or otherwise)” would have committed an offence and be liable to punishment.

“We were concerned that this could potentially punish whistle-blowers and people who were aiding whistle-blowers within the corrections systems,” Nandor said. “We believed it would be wrong to make it a punishable offence to bring to light or public attention real abuses within the system, and the Minister should assure the public and the media that this principle is upheld during the few months before the Corrections Act comes into effect.”

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