US prison inspired media rule over other countries

Source from theage newspaper, 14 March 2012

Australia: THE Immigration Department’s tough new policy restricting media visits to detention centres was partly modelled on US military rules governing journalists’ access to the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Documents released under freedom of information show that Immigration’s new ”deed of agreement” that must be signed by journalists and media organisations visiting immigration detention centres was in part ”informed by … the current US Department of Defence media access policy for its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay”.

The department justified tight media control and censorship to Immigration Minister Chris Bowen as ”the right balance” in circumstances that included ”the current climate associated with media ethics, media ‘phone hacking’ [in Britain]”.

In an email to a journalist who was privately consulted on the new policy, Immigration’s national communications manager, Sandi Logan, explained: ”I reckon while the phone hacking scandal is all the rage, what else would the media expect of us? Trust, you say? Gimme a break, sorry!”

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said it was ”absolutely appalling” that Australian media access guidelines had been at all inspired by arrangements at Guantanamo Bay.

”It really shows the attitude of Immigration and [the] government – they have forgotten that they are dealing with asylum seekers, not criminals or terrorists,” she said.

Under the new media access policy, conditions of entry to detention centres include that journalists be at all times escorted by Immigration officers, a prohibition on any ”substantive communication” with detainees, a right for officials to censor audio and video recordings, as well as the right for Immigration officials to immediately terminate any visit.

Last month the chief executives of Australia’s largest media organisations, including Fairfax Media chief executive Greg Hywood, News Limited CEO Kim Williams and the heads of all TV broadcast networks condemned the deed of agreement as ”unacceptable censorship”.

Documents released to The Age under FOI show Immigration’s new media access agreement was drafted with reference to past departmental policy and current practice at New South Wales, Victorian and Queensland prisons.

However, prompted by criticism from ABC TV’s 7.30 anchor Leigh Sales, who argued that it was easier to visit Guantanamo Bay than an Australian facility, Immigration also reviewed arrangements for media access at the US military jail.

This also ”informed” the final draft of the deed submitted to Mr Bowen in late July 2011. In a public response to Sales, Mr Logan said: ”I think the Guantanamo comparison works in some regards, but is vastly different in others.”

In his submission to Mr Bowen, Mr Logan justified tight restrictions on media access to safeguard the privacy of detainees, prevent publicity that could impact on refugee claims, and manage ”risks that during any media visits detainee clients would use the media’s presence as an opportunity to protest their continuing detention”.

Since October, the ABC, SBS, Channels Seven, Nine and Ten, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph have signed the deed of agreement for visits.

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