fixing australia human rights sustainable earth sustainable shelter terror australis association member log in
Project SafeCom News and Updates
wwwthis site
Be part of the Action image

Alert a friend button

share widget button
    Australia has its own Guantanamo Bay

The Immigration Department's new media control

It's official: Border Mandarins copied the Guantanamo Bay Rule Book

Image: thanks to Peter Nicholson Cartoons

ABC 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales was the first one to make the claim on June 6, 2011. Sales compared trying to get journalistic access to Australia's detention centres to getting media access to Guantanamo Bay. Having first raised the comparison during the program, she wrote an article at ABC The Drum. Ms Sales claimed that it was easier to get media access to the USA facility for terrorists than to Woodside's Inverbrackie detention centre in South Australia. During the June 6 program she said [transcript]:

"7.30 tried to breach the wall of secrecy and began negotiating with the Immigration Department and the minister almost two months ago for permission to visit with a camera. We offered to make significant concessions to get inside Inverbrackie, including that we wouldn't film any detainees, only their facilities, and even that we'd allow the Immigration Department to vet our camera tapes and erase anything they were unhappy with. We were unsuccessful."

"Now here's the thing: those are the exact conditions under which I've been allowed to film inside Guantanamo Bay twice by the US military. So apparently Australian detention centres are less open and transparent than the most notorious prison on the planet."

In her July 12, 2011 article "Let's follow Guantanamo's lead" on the ABC's online opinion website The Drum, Sales concluded:

"The excessive secrecy of Australian governments and departments undermines our democracy. When we have a situation where Australian immigration detention facilities are less accessible than the most notorious maximum-security prison on the planet, surely it's obvious we have a problem."

What happened next, was truly remarkable, but no surprise to those who are familiar with the culture of extreme control in the Immigration Department and to those who have experienced the department's reactionary response to outside challenges and criticisms.

Just three months after Ms Sales' critical commentary, news broke - first in The Australian, then in The West Australian - that the Department of Immigration had informed Australian media outlets of its newly drafted media strategy. Moreover, it was confirmed that the new detention centre access rules were based on the media strategy in place at Guantanamo Bay. It appeared that the Department, lacking in creativity, had taken Leigh Sales' heckle as expressed in the article's title 'Let's follow Guantanamo's lead' quite literally as an invitation. It was a stunning example of bureaucratic banality.

What's on this page?

Media outlets were incensed. Chris Warren, Federal secretary of the Media and Arts Alliance - the journalists' Union - claimed the policy was "tantamount to censorship", while WA Newspapers' Editor Bob Cronin bluntly declared his organisation would sign no agreement whatsoever.

This page records the media articles following the Immigration Department's announcement of the new media rules.


3 January 2012: Just how sick is the Immigration Department? - The Immigration Department claims that 'people are our business' on the stationery, but does fanatic control with inflexible rules govern its operations? The Department's slogan has no credibility when considering that its complex maze of rules and criteria are not only rigorously applied, but that they are applied without a skerrick of decency or moderation.

Quick links:

Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.

Detention centre reporting rules based on Guantanamo

Joe Kelly
The Australian
October 24, 2011 12:00am

Australia's detention centres have been thrown open to the media for the first time, with the new access arrangements partly based on procedures required by the US defence force for media visits to Guantanamo Bay.

The rules will require Immigration Department officials to review and sign off all media content at the end of the visits to ensure video footage and photographs have been edited or pixellated to protect the identity of detainees.

Audio recordings must be muted or deleted and detainee interviews are forbidden.

"This is about meeting the needs of a free press while at the same time protecting the privacy of our detainee clients," an Immigration Department spokesman said.

Under the new rules, media representatives will be prevented from carrying into the facility any mobile phones, cameras or recorders without the approval of department officials.

Camera operators will be required to film a written privacy statement before shooting any footage inside the detention centre and journalists must stay within "close proximity" of department representatives.

At the start of each visit, media will be briefed on security arrangements, privacy requirements and other internal procedures.

Detailed equipment guidelines will be enforced for television crews, photographers and journalists with audio recording devices. The changes were pushed by the Immigration Department in a bid to demystify the facilities in the public mind.

They come shortly after the government announced it would move to onshore processing following the collapse of the controversial Malaysian Solution.

The decision to open up the detention centres follows extensive consultation between the Immigration Department and Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance as well as academics.

The new requirements preventing detainees from being identified were developed after close examination of the guidelines laid down by the US Defence Department for media access to Guantanamo Bay as well as domestic and overseas rule books applying to media visits to prisons and hospitals.

The new rules will require media organisations to enter into a formal legal relationship in a "deed of agreement" with the department.

Media claim asylum censorship

Andrew Tillett, Canberra
The West Australian
October 26, 2011, 2:10am

Media representatives have accused the Department of Immigration of attempting to censor asylum-seeker issues.

The department released strict new rules last week for the media as a condition for official access to immigration detention centres.

Among key points in a deed of agreement media companies must sign is a ban on journalists interviewing, filming or photographing individual detainees and centre staff. They must also hand over all footage and photos to bureaucrats who can order that any of the material is not to be used.

A bureaucrat will escort media personnel at all times during visits.

The department warns it will seek injunctions and "pursue any other available legal remedies" if media content does not meet the requirements of the deed.

West Australian Newspapers group editor-in-chief Bob Cronin said the deed appeared to be a gross attempt to control the flow of news on the handling of asylum seekers.

"The West Australian will not be signing the deed," he said.

"We will continue to make our own inquiries and we will never accept government censorship.

"If the department thinks it will get away with trumpeting this as a new era of openness and accountability, it is sadly mistaken."

Newspaper Publishers' Association chief executive Mark Hollands said media organisations should not sign the legal contract.

He could recall no other Australian government document that demanded to edit journalism.

"Media should never surrender the rights of a free press and the public's right to know in exchange for such a shabby approach," Mr Hollands said.

Journalists' union Federal secretary Chris Warren said the policy was tantamount to censorship.

"This policy is not so much about protecting detainees as about silencing them and preventing journalists telling their stories and reporting on conditions in which detainees are forced to live," he said.

"Conditions inside detention centres and the health and morale of detainees are subjects of enormous public interest. These restrictions will prevent journalists from reporting these issues freely."

An immigration spokesman said the department consulted widely about the deed. The deed was designed to protect claimants' privacy, security and allow claims to be processed thoroughly, the spokesman said.

The department also did not want people in a position where their identification could endanger family and friends at home.

TV crews curbed on showing images of boat arrivals

Nic Christensen and Paige Taylor
The Australian
December 28, 2011 12:00am

The Immigration Department has successfully lobbied to impose new restrictions on TV networks showing images of asylum-seekers arriving by boat and has called on the media watchdog to vigorously pursue broadcasters who breach the new regime.

The restrictions, announced last week in the 2011 Australian Communications and Media Authority privacy guidelines for broadcasters, come after the department successfully called on ACMA in a written submission to help it prevent the media from using images of asylum-seekers and those held within immigration detention to "protect the privacy of these vulnerable clients".

Under the new privacy guidelines, broadcast media will be subject to the protection of "seclusion", effectively guarding a person's privacy from being invaded -- even if they are in a public place. The new rules would potentially prevent broadcast media from showing images of asylum-seekers arriving by boat.

"I think it's a ridiculous provision and I suspect it is being done more for the benefit of authorities than for the asylum-seekers," said Peter Meakin, the Seven Network's head of news and current affairs. "I can understand asylum-seekers wanting privacy for the protection of their families, but a blanket ban is just the big hand of censorship."

Mr Meakin indicated that the network would have to review how it tackled the issue.

ACMA oversees the licences of the major TV networks and has the power to impose remedial action on networks that do not comply with the privacy guidelines.

Linda Briskman, professor of human rights education at Curtin University, said blocking pictures of detainees was a form of censorship. "From a public-interest perspective, it is hard to justify," she said.

Professor Briskman, who regularly visits detainees and has documented their stories as co-author of Human Rights Overboard, said it was important to see the hope, relief and happiness of people who had fled danger for a new life in Australia.

"By not portraying the human face of the asylum-seeker, they become dehumanised, criminalised and it's easier for people to ignore their suffering," she said. "Photos allow us to empathise, especially when we look into the eyes of children."

In its submission to the ACMA privacy review, the Immigration Department labelled the identification by the media of those seeking asylum as "gratuitous" and requested that the media watchdog "applies the revised guidelines rigorously in relation to this cohort (asylum-seekers)" and promises that "the department would support ACMA in such an approach".

Departmental officials also sought to highlight to ACMA the risk that a person's claim for asylum could be strengthened if they were identified in the media, often called a "sur place claim".

In a document included in the department's submission, it notes: "One basis for a sur place claim is if a detainee or asylum-seeker is identified in the media. This is why the department directs the media not to identify irregular maritime arrivals or asylum-seekers generally."

This is not the department's first attempt at controlling media access. Earlier this year, it released a media policy allowing cameras inside detention centres on condition that all images were handed over to it for vetting before publication or broadcast.

TV rules designed to bury refugee issues: MEAA

Nic Christensen
The Australian
December 29, 2011 12:00am

The journalists union claims new regulations that may force TV networks to blur the faces of asylum-seekers are designed to hide the issues around boat arrivals from the Australian public.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren said yesterday the policy change was part of a wider and long-running attempt by government "to shift asylum-seekers away from public view".

The Nine and Seven networks, along with the ABC, confirmed yesterday they would review the use of the images of asylum-seekers in the wake of the release last week of the Australian Communications and Media Authority's privacy guidelines for broadcasters, which introduce a protection of "seclusion" for vulnerable groups such as asylum-seekers.

Industry news executives said yesterday they were concerned about the impact the changes would have on their ability to deliver TV news coverage.

Mr Warren said: "It is not appropriate for the Department of Immigration to be seeking to impose on the media -- and asylum-seekers -- restrictions on the ability to tell their story."

Earlier this week, The Australian revealed how the Immigration Department had successfully lobbied ACMA to impose new restrictions on TV broadcasters preventing them from showing images of asylum-seekers on the grounds of the need to "protect the privacy of these vulnerable clients".

Mr Warren said the MEAA believed that the Australian media was usually sensitive to issues surrounding asylum-seekers.

Head of policy at ABC News Alan Sunderland said he was confident in the way the public broadcaster handled coverage of the asylum-seeker issue.

"The ABC has a strong track record of reporting on asylum-seeker issues and, where justified in the public interest, of identifying individual asylum-seekers or groups of asylum-seekers, and we will continue to do so," he said.

The Coalition questioned the motives behind the changes, saying they appeared to be "politically driven".

Acting opposition immigration spokesman Michael Kennan also expressed concern about an Immigration Department submission to ACMA's privacy review which called on it to "rigorously" apply the revised guidelines with the promise that "the department would support ACMA in such an approach".

"The Coalition hopes the Immigration Department's submission did not come from a department under pressure from a government to do its bidding," he said.

The Immigration Department said changes were driven by concerns about privacy of its "clients".

Departmental spokesman Sandi Logan said he was surprised by the MEAA criticisms.

"The MEAA saw fit to award a Walkley Award this year to a journalist and photographer who agreed to these very caveats in order to cover respectfully and sensitively those living at the Inverbrackie detention facility (in the Adelaide Hills)."

Privacy rules link to asylum seekers denied

The Age
David Wroe
December 29, 2011

Australia's media watchdog has dismissed suggestions its new privacy guidelines are aimed at stopping TV networks from showing asylum seekers arriving by boat.

After The Australian newspaper reported yesterday that the Australian Communications and Media Authority's new privacy guidelines, which were released last week, could stop broadcasters from showing the faces of asylum seekers. Yesterday, the watchdog hit back, calling the claims ''a long bow''.

The Immigration Department's submission to the watchdog's Privacy Guidelines for Broadcasters 2011 called for a clampdown on media identification of asylum seekers.

The Coalition yesterday seized on this submission, with acting immigration spokesman Michael Keenan saying that it seemed to be ''more politically driven rather than out of genuine concern for asylum seekers''.

While the ACMA considered the department's submission along with 14 others - mostly broadcasters and privacy groups - it made no mention of suppressing identification, spokesman Blake Murdoch said yesterday.

''In no way do we mention asylum seekers, blurring out faces or anything like that in the guidelines,'' he said.

''It's a bit of a long bow.''

The guidelines state that it is possible for people's privacy to be breached even when they were in a public space, although it does not single out asylum seekers.

An Immigration Department spokesman said non-identification of asylum seekers had long been department policy, in part because identification could pose a threat to the families of asylum seekers in their home countries.

The department has also argued that identification can strengthen asylum claims by raising the likelihood that a person would be persecuted if returned to their home country.

Sue Bolton, a spokeswoman for the Refugee Action Collective, said identification was an important part of ensuring that asylum seekers did not become dehumanised.

But she said their knowledge and consent should be sought.

Pressure points for media privacy guidelines

Nic Christensen
The Australian
December 30, 2011 12:00am

The media watchdog has conceded that its new privacy guidelines could be used to force television stations to blur the faces of asylum-seekers, and the Immigration Department says it may use the rules to pressure TV broadcasters to do so.

Australian Communications and Media Authority spokesman Blake Murdoch yesterday acknowledged the possibility of a new stream of asylum-seeker complaints on the issue.

"We are not saying it is not appropriate for asylum-seekers to make complaints -- in some circumstances it will be appropriate," he said.

Mr Murdoch said ACMA had formulated the regulations with the intention of not naming specific groups to whom the rules could apply.

"In the case of asylum-seekers, it is not directly specified in the guidelines, and there are case studies that are given -- we don't specifically point out any group, apart from the category of children and vulnerable people," he said.

In recent days, TV news executives, the journalists' union and refugee advocates have expressed concern about the code and the potential for the department to log ACMA complaints on behalf of its "clients" .

ACMA's guidelines, released last week, specifically create a protection of "seclusion", effectively guarding against invasion of a person's privacy -- even in a public place.

Immigration spokesman Sandi Logan yesterday refused to rule out the possibility of the department lodging ACMA complaints on behalf of detainees but said it preferred to focus on media "education rather than enforcement".

"We have no plans to be aggressive in monitoring the media response to these guidelines but we will continue to exercise duty of care for our clients," he said.

Head of the Shine Lawyers' social justice group, George Newhouse, said any suggestion that the guidelines did not cover asylum-seekers was simply false.

"The government certainly views them as applying to asylum-seekers and that is why the Department of Immigration made their ACMA submission," Mr Newhouse said.

During the submissions process for the recent review of the guidelines the Immigration Department successfully lobbied ACMA to impose new restrictions on the grounds of the need to "protect the privacy of these vulnerable clients''.

The Department also requested that the media watchdog "applies the revised guidelines rigorously in relation to this cohort (asylum-seekers)'' and promises that "the department would support ACMA in such an approach''.

Mr Newhouse said: "The ACMA Privacy Guidelines 2011 would apply to any reporting by broadcasters. They don't exclude refugees and to suggest such a thing is a nonsense, the policy applies to broadcast media not to the nature of a person's citizenship.''

Editorial interference would have killed Walkley story

Nic Christensen
The Australian
December 31, 2011 12:00am

The journalist awarded a Walkley Award this year for his feature on the Inverbrackie detention facility in the Adelaide Hills says it is possible to negotiate access inside centres without compromising the integrity of journalism.

Nigel Hopkins says his story is an example of how journalists can report on detention centres, despite sometimes difficult negotiations with the Immigration Department.

"In my case, it was four months of quiet persuasion and reasoning and in the end a bit of brinkmanship -- basically, I said I was going to write it anyway," he said.

The South Australian was the first media representative allowed inside the new detention facility after he approached the department asking for access for a feature looking at community concerns about the centre.

National communications manager of the Immigration Department Sandi Logan granted access after it was agreed that Hopkins and the Adelaide Hills Magazine would not identify individual detainees and the department had the right to check for errors of fact.

Earlier this week, Mr Logan cited the story in an attempt to rebut criticisms by the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance that the department was increasingly trying to censor coverage.

New rules imposed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, as requested by the department, potentially force TV networks to blur the faces of asylum-seekers.

MEAA federal secretary Christopher Warren said it was wrong to link Hopkins's recognition for his coverage of community and local affairs with criticism of the department and ACMA.

"Nigel Hopkins did what all good journalists do, which is he fought to gain entry through a degree of co-operation," he said. "We've always said that we appreciate that there are privacy issues and that Australian journalists are very good at dealing with privacy issues and Nigel Hopkins's story goes to prove that."

Mr Logan said yesterday he did not want to get into a "tit for tat" with the MEAA, but "I hold it up as an example that if it was good enough for a Walkley Award then it was a pretty good understanding of how we have to work to protect our clients' privacy."

This latest dispute comes only months after the MEAA criticised a new deed of agreement that grants access to centres only if journalists agree not to interview detainees and the department can vet images. Mr Logan said his negotiations with Hopkins were the "precursor" to the deed.

Hopkins said it was up to individual media outlets to determine "whether they can accede to Immigration's current position without damaging the integrity of their story".

However, he noted that in his case the department corrected only one employee title and asked for one image to be pixelated.

"If our story had been in any way edited or interfered with we would not have run it; we would have just left a big hole in the middle of the magazine saying 'Censored'," he said.

"We wouldn't have done it."

Journalists bag union on asylum

Nick Leys and Nic Christensen
The Australian
January 9, 2012 12:00AM

THE journalists' union has been condemned for failing to represent members over strict Department of Immigration requirements on reporting on asylum-seekers.

A number of journalists from the ABC, Fairfax and News Limited are of the view the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance failed to properly resist the regulations that were introduced last year and which prohibit access to detention centres and the asylum seekers who inhabit them.

One ABC journalist, Wendy Carlisle, has accused the MEAA of reneging on assurances it would fight the regulations, while a former ABC producer Jess Hill said the MEAA had orchestrated a "complete failure."

And Mark Colvin, the prominent and respected presenter of PM, said the MEAA had failed to resist "attempts to impose public service regulations on journalists who should be bound by no such thing."

Este denies the union has backed down and said the issue remained "live" with a campaign was underway.

"We have been on the front foot with this," he said.

"We have been clear that the DIAC deed of agreement is not acceptable. We are presently talking with about a petition against the deed which will be part of a public campaign that we expect will attract a huge amount of support.

"We are also talking with our colleagues on the Right to Know group about other ways of ensuring these restrictions do not stand.

"We remain unhappy at the attempts by the department to prevent journalists from access to detention centres and asylum seekers. We believe it is a matter of great public interest that their stories are told."

But Carlisle said the "moment to act is now gone" and the union should "question the way it failed to act in the interests of its members."

"This is fundamental to debate about detention centres and asylum seekers and we have not been able to tell these stories and inform the public.

"We don't need a guided tour of the palace. We need access to the basement so we can accurately report the conditions detainees live in.

"The union has been seriously outplayed by the Department."

Colvin, who first reported on detention centres for Four Corners in 1992, said such policies were driven by the Department of Immigration.

"That contract is bureaucratic legalese and demonstrates no knowledge of what journalists seek to do," he said.

"The first principle of journalism is you don't write stories about issues but about people and they are trying to stop us from doing that."

MEAA responds to Immigration's detention centre blackout

Monday, 9 January 2012
by Margaret Simons

There has been a dust-up in the past few months about an attempt by the Department of Immigration to force media organisations to give bureaucrats the right to edit their reports in return for access to detention centres. Now, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance is about to launch a petition opposing the deed as part of a public campaign to support reporting from inside immigration detention centres.

The department has insisted that media wanting access to the centres sign a "deed of agreement" that prevents media organisations from interviewing or identifying any inmate and gives the bureaucrats the power to force pixilation of images and muting of audio.

It is a two-sided story. On the one hand, the department claims to be trying to get more journalists into detention centres, and there has been a recent rash of stories from inside the centres, which would seem to suggest that some media organisations are signing the obnoxious deed.

Yet who could be happy with clauses that effectively give bureaucrats control over which images and audio go to air? There are good reasons for the privacy of vulnerable asylum seekers to be protected.

But at the same time, the department is a fitting subject of scrutiny, some asylum seekers actively want to tell their stories to the media, and no editor worth his or her salt could be happy about giving government control over the editing process.

The Australian reports some journo's criticisms of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance action, or perceived lack thereof, on this issue. The union got a brief comment at the bottom.

But this was not the whole of its response. We publish the Alliances' full statement to the allegations it has been inactive below:

1. In emails between yourself and Wendy Carlisle last July, you discussed a campaign against the regulations. Why was this campaign dropped?

It has not been dropped -- it is very much a live issue for the Media Alliance. We have been on the front foot with this: Chris Warren has been on radio and quoted in The Australian several times in the past week. We have been clear that the DIAC deed of agreement is not acceptable. We are presently talking with about a petition against the deed which will be part of a public campaign that we expect will attract a huge amount of support. The next issue of The Walkley Magazine will carry a story by Walkley Award-winning journalist Nigel Hopkins, whose piece from Inverbrackie illustrates perfectly that rather than censoring journalists, the department should be developing relationships of trust with reporters and allowing them to tell the stories of individual asylum seekers. We are also talking with our colleagues on the Right to Know group about other ways of ensuring these restrictions do not stand.

2. Did the MEAA attempt to negotiate with the Department of Immigration or the offices of Ministers Chris Bowen and Brendan O'Connor to allow journalists to make submissions before the regulations were issued. If not why not?

We held separate meetings with Chris Bowen and Brendan O'Connor, with Bowen about the deed of agreement and with O'Connor about footage of boat arrivals. Minister Bowen agreed to include the Alliance in its consultation process for the draft deed of agreement. We were sent a confidentiality agreement which we were required to sign before being sent the draft deed -- which I signed on behalf of the Alliance. This agreement meant we were not allowed to consult widely but must confine our consultation to members of the MEAA executive. We honoured this, but were able to consult with exec members of the Alliance with expertise in relevant areas. We then made a detailed, line-by-line submission rejecting the deed almost in its entirety. I attach a copy of the submission (we communicated this to members via the e-bulletin at the time). The submission was sent at the beginning of September.

3. Were journalists consulted in the MEAA's submission?

See above -- and see the submission for instances of us quoting members' concerns in the submission.

4. The Department of Immigration claims it consulted journalists? Can you confirm this?

This is not for me to say -- DIAC's spokesman, Sandi Logan, tells me he and the department consulted with about a dozen "journalists and academics". In the end we were also consulted.

5. What is the MEAA's response to claims it has failed to represent the interests of journalists in this matter?

These claims are misinformed, as you can see from the above answers. We remain unhappy at the attempts by the department to prevent journalists from access to detention centres and asylum seekers. We believe it is a matter of great public interest that their stories are told. we will continue to campaign for improved access to detention centres and will be happy to work with any journalists who are as concerned as we are at this attempt to restrict press freedom in this area. The Alliance has consistently demonstrated its wholehearted commitment to freedom of the press in Australia. Before the Right to Know Coalition was formed we were the only large group advocating legal reforms to protect free speech in Australia. Our annual press freedom report, which you can read here is the most comprehensive rundown of legal developments in these areas (this year's will carry a digest of developments in the asylum seekers campaign).

Jill Singer: Clampdown on media is ominous

Jill Singer
Herald Sun
January 4, 2012 12:00am

The Australian Communications and Media Authority's new guidelines have the stench of political interference attached.

The first consequences of the new "privacy" restrictions on broadcasters have become immediately clear - television networks must no longer film asylum seekers arriving on our shores by boat.

It's fascinating - if not even depressing - to realise just how easily ACMA has been coerced into curtailing media freedom and human rights.

The restriction on filming asylum seekers and their plight - even with their consent - sits comfortably alongside media controls exercised by China, North Korea, Iran and many other totalitarian regimes.

ACMA's review of privacy guidelines started in 2005. Two studies were commissioned to obtain Australian views about privacy and our broadcast media. The results were published late last year.

Survey participants were presented with a range of "hypothetical situations" that were actually based on real case studies, including the notorious radio episode in 2009 where Kyle Sandilands asked a 14-year-old girl about being raped and whether it was in fact her only sexual experience.

Neither of the two studies reported the slightest whiff of community concern about filming asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat. That's right, the issue did not rate a single mention. So why has ACMA identified it as being so important?

On top of the two studies, ACMA also received 16 submissions before issuing the new guidelines. One of them - just one - focused on the alleged need to protect asylum seekers from media intrusion.

The submission was made not by those who advocate the cause of asylum seekers but by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, whose job it is to keep them captive.

DIAC makes clear that its desire to protect the privacy of irregular arrivals is confined to those arriving by boat.

It made no complaint about TV networks filming programs such as Border Patrol at our airports. Funny that.

Instead, the department claims: "We see evidence on an almost daily basis of the lack of respect and regard all news outlets are displaying in relation to the privacy of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat, and client detainees in immigration detention".

Really? Asylum seekers who arrive here by boat don't want to engage with the media? Where's DIAC's evidence? As Peter Meakin, head of Seven's news and current affairs puts it: "I suspect it (the media restriction) is being done more for the benefit of the authorities than the asylum-seekers".

Hiding from public view vulnerable people such as refugees and political dissidents is a control mechanism.

I know many Australians who, having seen the plight of asylum seekers on their television screens, realise they can longer "unsee" them. It's 10 years now since a dear friend gazed into her television screen and the haunted eyes of an Afghan man being shipped off to Nauru. She went all the way to Nauru to meet and help him and others.

DIAC is not motivated by such compassion. It even admits asylum seekers can find their claims helped rather than hindered by media exposure.

DIAC's real concern is with keeping vulnerable people hidden from view, along with any abuse of person, process and law. It is an indictment on our broadcast regulator that ACMA is supporting this dangerous and farcical form of media censorship.

Detention centre policy based on Guantanamo

The Age
Philip Dorling
March 14, 2012

THE Immigration Department developed its new, highly restrictive policy on media visits to detention centres with reference to US military arrangements governing media access to the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention centre.

Documents released under freedom of information show the ''deed of agreement'' that Immigration insists journalists and media organisations visiting detention centres must sign was ''informed by ... the current US Department of Defence media access policy for its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay''.

The department also justified extremely tight media control and censorship to the 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 reporter who was consulted on the policy, Immigration's national communications manager, Sandi Logan, said, ''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!''

The Greens' immigration spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said yesterday ''the idea that [media access] guidelines have, even in part, been inspired by Guantanamo Bay is absolutely appalling - it really shows the attitude of Immigration and [the] government - they have forgotten that they are dealing with asylum seekers, not criminals or terrorists.''

The policy requires that journalists visiting detention centres must be escorted at all times by Immigration officers. There is a bar on any ''substantive communication'' with detainees, a right for officials to censor recordings, and the right for Immigration to immediately end any visit.

The chief executives of the largest media organisations, including Fairfax Media's Greg Hywood, News Ltd's Kim Williams and the heads of all TV broadcast networks last month condemned the agreement as ''unacceptable censorship''.

Documents released to the Herald under FOI show the agreement was drafted with reference to past departmental policy and present practice at NSW, Victorian and Queensland prisons.

However, prompted by criticism from the ABC TV 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales, who argued that it was easier to visit Guantanamo Bay than an Australian immigration facility, Immigration reviewed arrangements for media access at the US military detention facility. This ''informed'' the final draft of the deed submitted to Mr Bowen in late July 2011.

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

Mr Logan privately consulted 12 journalists. More responses were negative than positive, with the proposed arrangements being described as ''incredibly restrictive'', ''draconian and heavy-handed'', ''a shocker'' and ''a lawyer's picnic.'' However Immigration made no further submission to Mr Bowen who endorsed new arrangements without amendment on October 6.

Since October, the ABC, SBS, Channels Seven, Nine and Ten, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph have signed the deed of agreement for visits variously to detention facilities at Villawood, Maribyrnong, Inverbrackie and Wickham Point.

In their letter to Mr Bowen last month, media CEOs argued the fact media organisations have signed the deed ''should not be taken as agreement to its terms''.

Project SafeCom