JERAA Executive Statements 2018



Statement on Ministerial interference in the ARC rounds, 2017-2018

November 3, 2018

The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia calls on the Federal government to reverse its decision to veto 11 ARC-recommended grants in the 2017-18 Discovery Project, Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards and Future Fellowship rounds; and to fund them in the forthcoming round.

This personal intervention by the then-Minister Simon Birmingham has received widespread condemnation from the national and international research community — including in the world’s leading scientific journal, Nature.

The intervention potentially does irreparable harm to Australia’s reputation as a nation that values academic freedom and independence.

The vetoed projects were judged by numerous peer reviewers, and the distinguished ARC College of Experts, to deliver work of national importance and benefit.

It is rare for Ministers not to accept the advice of the ARC, and even rarer for the Minister to intervene in so many grants — the last time this happened was in 2005 and Ministerial intervention was confirmed in only 3 grants at that time.

We note that all 11 vetoed grants were in the Humanities, with several researchers working in our field of media, journalism and communication directly affected.

JERAA celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and is committed to the centrality of media, communication and journalism research in the modern Humanities.

JERAA Vice President (Research), Professor Susan Forde said better understanding of our media systems and content, and the role media play in society, was one of the most pressing considerations for many advanced nations experiencing major media change.  Research from our field has clear social and national benefit.

“If we don’t defend these researchers now, the independence and autonomy of the academy is under threat. The ARC is the primary source of funding for the best Australian research.

“The flow-on effect of this is what concerns us most — will researchers now start self-censoring their research ideas and the expression of them if they sense it might not ‘get through’ the Minister?

“Will the ARC College of Experts put to the bottom of the pile projects that they feel might also be rejected, in order to protect the pot of funding allocated for Humanities grants?”

The former Minister has indicated that the $4.1million in lost funding was ‘reallocated’, but he has not indicated where; and it appears it was not reallocated to other Humanities projects.

We are now within weeks of the new funding announcements being made — this means the Minister currently has the ARC’s recommendations for 2019 projects before him for sign-off.

We therefore call on the new Minister to help regain Australia’s reputation in the eyes of the world by confirming the projects vetoed by former-Minister Birmingham will now be funded as part of his 2019 Project announcement.

We also call on Minister Tehan not to intervene in the decisions for new grants that have already been confirmed and recommended by the highly regarded Australian Research Council.


Journalism academics criticise jailing of James Ricketson as an attack on Cambodian press freedom 

3 September 2018

Australia’s journalism academics have expressed grave concern at the jailing for six years of Australian filmmaker James Ricketson, describing it as a further attack on media freedom in Cambodia.

The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) executive committee said the sentence was the latest blow to media freedom in a nation with an already poor track record. Cambodia ranked 142nd in this year’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, down 10 places on last year.

Mr Ricketson, 69, was arrested after flying a drone over an Opposition political rally in Phnom Penh in June last year. In poor health, he has been in custody since then and was this morning jailed for six years after being found guilty of espionage, despite little prosecution evidence in support of the charge.

“Mr Ricketson is a graduate of The Australian Film Television and Radio School and a noted documentary and feature film maker who was simply doing his job,” the JERAA executive said. “He has made documentaries about Cambodia for the past 20 years.

“The government of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been described by Reporters without Borders as having launched ‘an all-out war on independent media outlets’ in that country, including silencing about 30 radio stations. The English language newspaper Cambodia Daily has also been forced to close,” the executive said.

“We note that Mr Ricketson’s arrest and sentencing has been condemned by the Australian Directors Guild, which is seeking clemency for him, and Human Rights Watch. We also condemn this politically motivated sentencing, not only for the injustice to Mr Ricketson but as a further assault on Cambodian press freedom.

“This fundamental principle of a free society is under grave threat in Cambodia, where journalists and documentary makers such as Mr Ricketson face increasing restrictions and danger in simply doing their job.”

Signed: Professor Matthew Ricketson* (Chair); Associate Professor Mia Lindgren; Associate Professor Susan Forde, Associate Professor Colleen Murrell; Jolyon Sykes; Dr Alex Wake; Dr Sue Green; Dr Peter English; Dr Katheryn Boyd, Dr Donald Reid.

*(Declaration: Professor Ricketson is a cousin of James Ricketson)


Concern about second attack on Sydney University academics

9 August 2018

The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia, the peak body for journalism academics, supports the rights of educators to academic independence when they engage in teaching, research and community service.

JERAA trusts in the professionalism of academics to educate students and society about journalism. In particular, JERAA supports Dr Fiona Martin, of Sydney University, whose teaching has been attacked this week.

Journalism education prepares people to work in the news media and related industries, including mainstream, alternative and emerging media. An important element of this role is to prepare students to think critically about society in general, which includes the media industries.

Reporting this week in The Daily Telegraph and The Australian about the content of lectures in Sydney University’s undergraduate media and communication course raises questions about what happens within teaching spaces in universities. This is an issue central to JERAA’s mission.

JERAA president, Professor Matthew Ricketson, asks:

“Are teaching spaces public or private spaces? Should they be open automatically to journalists to sit in on lectures and classes?

“Should lecturers and students regard anything that is said in lectures and classes as the equivalent of an on-the-record statement for publication?

“Do the dynamics of a classroom – where provocative and robust debate among and between students and teachers is necessarily encouraged – mean that some confidentiality, or at least circumspection, is needed?”

Professor Ricketson said with the changing digital media landscape these are not simple issues, and nor do they appear to be settled at present.

Earlier generations of academics did not need to think about a media outlet reporting the contents of their lectures, but in the digital media age the contents of lectures can be communicated quickly and widely by students or anyone else accessing the lecture material.

“Free speech is central to a democratic society,” Professor Ricketson said, “but academic freedom is also important, and so too is reporting that aims to inform and enlighten rather than scandalmonger.”

-JERAA Executive.


Upsurge in journalist killings coincides with World Press Freedom Day

3 May 2018

Australian journalism educators are deeply concerned that this year’s World Press Freedom Day, marked annually on May 3, coincides with a recent upsurge in violence against journalists.

Professor Matthew Ricketson, president of the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA), the peak body for journalism academics, said 32 journalists and media staff had been killed already this year, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) data showed.

Ten journalists were killed in Afghanistan on April 30, nine by a single suicide bomber, making it the deadliest day for media, according to the IFJ. This appalling loss of life was the result of a coordinated double suicide bombing in Kabul, in which the nine died while doing their job – reporting on the first blast. The tenth, a BBC Afghan service journalist, was shot in the country’s east.

“Earlier last month two Palestinian journalists were killed in Gaza during the Israel-Gaza protests – two more names on the list of the more than 1100 journalists who have died in the past 12 years while simply doing their job, according to the IFJ,” he said.

Imprisonment is also an occupational hazard for journalists. Two journalists are being held in jail in Myanmar for reporting for Reuters on the murder of Rohingya Muslims and the Committee to Protect Journalists says 262 journalists were imprisoned in 2017.

Prof Ricketson said 82 journalists and media staff were killed last year, leading the IFJ to call for a new international convention on the safety and independence of journalists.

“Journalists risk imprisonment, torture and even death, which shows how dangerous the activity of finding and telling the truth can be,” he said.

World Press Freedom Day has been held each year since being proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993. It aims to encourage initiatives supporting press freedom, yet this year’s celebration of those principles comes as efforts to clamp down on terrorism are leading to constraints on press freedom, including in Australia, he said.

“Proposed new Australian national security legislation is being opposed by journalists and media organisations because it would criminalise reporting done in the public interest.

“Staff cuts in Australian media organisations also impinge on press freedom. Thinly spread resources mean less time for journalism conducted in the public interest, whether that be covering the courts or digging into issues hidden far from public view. There are also fears for the erosion of the editorial independence of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation,” Prof Ricketson said.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is ‘Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and the Rule of Law’. This emphasises the importance of prosecuting crimes against journalists, even those that happened long ago, such as the killing of five Australian journalists at Balibo, in East Timor, in 1975 and the death of Australian journalist Roger East in East Timor a few months later. “No one has been prosecuted for those killings,” Prof Ricketson said.

The importance of an independent judiciary in ensuring legal guarantees for press freedom is also highlighted by this year’s theme.

Prof Ricketson said World Press Freedom Day comes just one week after the annual world press freedom index, compiled by Reporters without Borders, found that alongside the rise of “fake news” an increasing number of democratically elected leaders were fostering hostility towards the media in the past year.

“US president Donald Trump, in particular, continues to characterise the press as the enemy of the people, in dangerously inflammatory ways that go far beyond the normal, healthy tension between the news media and the White House,” he said.

“Such a climate of hostility is becoming an insidious threat to press freedom as it undermines the public trust that journalists need to continue doing their important, sometimes dangerous work.”


JERAA statement on perceived government intervention at the ABC (20 February 2018)

The peak body representing Australian journalism educators and researchers is concerned about the removal of an ABC report on corporate taxation policy by chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici, following complaints from the federal government.

The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) fears this could set a precedent that erodes the editorial independence of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and opens the door for further and wider interference in the organisation.

The ABC has also recently come under scrutiny from some quarters for its handling of hundreds of pages of leaked cabinet papers that were returned after an apparent agreement between the national broadcaster and the federal government.

ABC Media Manager Sally Jackson has denied any pressure from the government.

“Any suggestion the ABC is responding to outside pressure over these stories is incorrect.

They have been subject to the normal ABC editorial processes. The internal review of the stories was begun before any complaints were received by ABC News.”

But JERAA president Matthew Ricketson said it was important the ABC continued to be independent, and not subject to accusations of government censorship.

“If there were problems with Emma Alberici’s stories, why could they not be corrected and reposted, or, why couldn’t alternative analyses be posted?

“It is preferable to add to the store of information in the public domain rather than hide material from public view, thereby preventing readers from making up their own minds about the stories. Such actions also plant perceptions that the ABC has buckled under pressure from government over an issue that is not only before parliament but is hotly contested.”

The ABC’s host of Media Watch, Paul Barry, has called the ABC’s editorial guidelines on analysis and opinion too restrictive, which is something for the ABC to address. He also said that, “the system of editorial quality control on a major story has failed yet again.”

Professor Ricketson noted, “Of course, one effect of the pressure and the noise surrounding the ABC’s decision is that we are not discussing the important issues aired by the original stories”.

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