PIJI and the Centre for Advancing Journalism prepared a joint submission to the Queensland Government’s 2021 consultation on the introduction of shield laws to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. The submission supported the development of shield laws on the basis that the protection of journalists’ sources is a key component of the production of public interest journalism.
Prior to its consultation on shield laws, Queensland was the only Australian jurisdiction with no form of protection that journalists could rely on in court to protect anonymous sources. In June 2021, the Queensland government sought evidence of best practices in the implementation of shield laws from academics, media, legal experts, and other states and territories.
The Queensland State Government introduced shield laws into Parliament in November 2021.
- 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 overridden 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.