Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today about attempts by the authorities in the state of Western Australia to blackmail the management of The West Australian newspaper. Attorney-general Jim McGinty threatened to withdraw state advertising and to not implement a proposed shield law protecting journalists’ sources unless editor Paul Armstrong is fired.
"We condemn the Western Australia government’s threat to punish a newspaper that refuses to modify its editorial line," the press freedom organisation said. "This blackmail is unworthy of a democracy. The threats made by the state’s attorney-general and premier require an apology. We express our support for Armstrong and the rest of The West Australian staff."
McGinty’s threats were made on 16 May, when he accused The West Australian of dishonesty and failing to respect journalistic ethics. Addressing the state parliament the next day, Western Australia premier Alan Carpenter personally threatened Armstrong, calling him "dishonest," "immature" and a "problem for the state."
The newspaper’s chief executive rejected the attacks and reiterated his confidence in Armstrong. "Every government would prefer to have a compliant media which simply recycles the government’s version of events" he said. "However, that is not how The West Australian or any other credible media organisation operates." The newspaper, which is the state’s only daily, is often critical of the government.
The federal attorney-general recently announced that he would go ahead with a shield law protecting the confidentiality of sources.
Australia is ranked 35th out of 168 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2006 World Press Freedom Index.