Flat White

Why is Victoria Police fighting media freedom?

23 September 2021

12:00 PM

23 September 2021

12:00 PM

Whatever your views on the Melbourne protests, here’s something you should be concerned about: the attack on media freedom –and transparency and accountability — by Victoria Police.

Yesterday, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority barred aircraft flying below 2,500 feet over Melbourne’s inner city without police approval for five days, preventing media from using helicopters to provide live coverage of anti-lockdown rallies.

Later, after protests from media outlets, VicPol said the instructions will include a provision for media outlets to operate their aircraft over the CBD.

“As part of the conditions, pilots will need to obtain approval from Victoria Police air wing before taking off, to ensure there are no safety risks,” a VicPol spokeswoman has been quoted as saying.

But the spokeswoman added, “Media outlets will also be required to delay publishing any live-stream footage from the air by 60 minutes or at the conclusion of the operation.”

Or, as someone who doesn’t regard media freedom, accountability and the public with contempt would say it’s back to square one, just with some stupid spin added.

Media are still prevented from using helicopters to provide live coverage of anti-lockdown rallies.

The CASA ruling has been challenged in the Federal Court this morning. The Australian reports:

Legal counsel Will HoughtonQC, representing the three broadcasters, told the hearing in front of Justice Helen Rofe, media “cannot be prevented” by CASA being allowed to delegate power to a state body, Victoria Police, to enforce such restrictions.

“The media being the eyes and the ears of the public, we would submit, cannot be muzzled or censored in that task by having to go to Victoria Police first to seek an approval each time we want to lift our helicopter into the air for the dissemination of news around the country,” he said.

“Secondly, it can’t be censored by Victoria Police by a refusal of approval when operations are proceeding within the city of Melbourne.”

VicPol don’t just look shifty. They also look foolish with their “concession”.

They are also fuelling a spirit of distrust that’s gnawed in various ways at the relationship between VicPol and the public through the Nicola Gobbo outrage, the handling of the Bourke Street massacre in January 2017, the moral ambiguities of Melbourne’s gangland wars and earlier, murkier accusations as far back as the eighties.

And if you want to fan the lunacy of the loops of the anti-vaxxer brigade and the other various nut clusters who have been out and about in Melbourne at various times since Saturday, cutting coverage of your actions couldn’t be a more effective way.

Evening update

A temporary victory. The Age reports:

Media companies have successfully challenged temporary airspace restrictions … [and been] granted a stay on Thursday against two notices that banned helicopters from flying above the CBD and showing live footage …

The application, heard in the Federal Court, will now proceed to a trial. The stay means the media companies can resume live coverage in the interim.

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