Dangers faced by Foreign Correspondents in the Modern World: The Peter Greste Case

Love it or hate it – the media plays an important role in influencing public opinion and facilitating discussion in our modern world.

While we often publish blogs about media organisation exaggerating facts and contributing to ‘moral panics,’ there do exist credible journalists who report factual and accurate information.

And regardless of the accuracy or reliability of a journalist’s reporting, there are no circumstances which justify the breach of their fundamental human rights.

It seems to be an increasingly dangerous time to be a journalist – both at home and abroad.

The recent release of prominent Al-Jazeera journalist Peter Greste highlights some of the dangers faced by journalists in the modern world.

Greste was arrested in Cairo in December 2013 along with two of his colleagues on allegations that they had spread false news, endangered national security and aided the Muslim Brotherhood.

Following a controversial trial last year, which was riddled with inaccuracies and irrelevant evidence, he was sentenced along with colleague Mohamed Fahmy to seven years in an Egyptian prison.

A third colleague, Baher Mohamed, received 10 years .

Initial negotiations between the Australian and Egyptian governments proved fruitless, but in a sudden and dramatic turn of events, Greste was recently released from prison and deported home to his family in Australia.

Greste was eligible for deportation as he holds an Australian passport. His colleague, Mohamed Fahmy, who holds dual Canadian-Egyptian citizenship, is also expected to be deported to Canada in the near future.

However, Baher Mohamed faces a more uncertain future as he only holds an Egyptian passport, meaning that he is unable to be deported to another country.

Whilst foreigners often get caught up in the complexities of overseas legal systems whose laws may differ significantly from our own, journalists in particular are at risk due to their perceived ability to disseminate information and influence public opinion.

And although Greste managed to escape Egypt relatively unharmed, some journalists are not so lucky.

Greste’s release comes amidst reports that Kenji Goto, a Japanese journalist captured in Syria late last year, has been executed by the Islamic State.

Media personnel have also been subjected to violent attacks and detention in other countries including Iran, Russia, China, Ukraine – and most recently, France.

The persecution of journalists and media personnel in overseas jurisdictions represents a serious incursion into personal liberties and press freedom.

Although Australia does not condone such actions, there is often little our government can do to interfere with the operation of a foreign country’s legal system.

This is due to the concept of state sovereignty, which recognises that individual nations should be able to govern freely without interference from other states and make laws for the control of all persons and property within their borders.

This effectively means that foreign correspondents such as Peter Greste are frequently placed in dangerous situations in the course of their employment in countries experiencing instability or in incursions.

In Australia, we are privileged to live in a country where the freedom of the press is generally protected.

However, recent legislative reforms are set to change this.

The National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 passed the Senate last year and creates various offences for disclosing information on special intelligence operations.

Under the new laws, journalists and whistleblowers may face harsh penalties of up to five or ten years imprisonment, depending on the type of information that they leak.

The laws overlook any disclosures which may be in the public interest – for example, where there exists allegations of corruption.

Even more concerning are provisions in the legislation which provides ASIO intelligence officers with immunity from using force or committing other offences.

Though the impact of these laws cannot be compared to the injustices suffered at the hands of some other foreign governments, they certainly represent a step away from the protection of press freedoms.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.
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