In July 2021 the Queensland Government consulted with the academics, the media and legal experts on introducing laws to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources (known as ‘shield laws’). Queensland is the only Australian jurisdiction with no form of protection that a journalist can rely on in court to protect anonymous sources, and so the consultation sought evidence of best practice from other states and territories.

Submission to the consultation

PIJI and the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne (CAJ) prepared a joint submission to the consultation. Both organisations strongly support the introduction of a shield law in Queensland. Protecting sources is a key component of the production of public interest journalism; without both, citizens’ ability to engage in public debate and informed decision-making is impaired.
The submission additionally makes the following recommendations, drawing on our joint knowledge of journalistic practice and of how shield laws have functioned in other jurisdictions:
  • The definition of a ‘journalist’, in determining who can access the protection, is critical. The existing definition used in Commonwealth and ACT shield laws is most appropriate, with the caveat that it should apply to all people within the news production process – editors, camera operators, technicians and others who may have legitimate need to use it.
  • Shield laws should apply in any setting where a journalist can be compelled to provide evidence that could identify a confidential source. This includes trial proceedings, preliminary proceedings, tribunals, police investigations, coronial inquests and others.
  • A shield should only be overriden in rare and exceptional circumstances, with consideration of factors such as the harm that a source might face if their identity were revealed; the future ability of journalists to receive information from sources; the public interest and whether the relevant evidence could be obtained in another manner.

Project team

The submission was overseen by the Policy Working Group and jointly prepared by PIJI and CAJ.

Gary Dickson, Research and Projects Manager, Public Interest Journalism Initiative
Dr Denis Muller, Honorary Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism
Anna Draffin, Chief Executive Officer, Public Interest Journalism Initiative
Associate Professor Andrew Dodd, Director, Centre for Advancing Journalism

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