Widening definitions of terrorism threaten press freedom, warns Peter Greste

18 October 2017

By CAP student correspondent Diana Tung

Journalist Peter Greste has spoken out against limitations to journalistic freedoms imposed by new anti-terror laws during a recent event at The Australian National University.

Peter Greste’s curiosity and lust for adventure as a young man spurred him into journalism. Starting as a cadet journalist in Shepparton, Victoria, his career as a correspondent has included postings in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America for broadcasters including the ABC, BBC and Al Jazeera.

In 2013, he was on assignment in Cairo for the Qatari network with two colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. The trio was jailed by Egyptian authorities on charges of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, denounced by the state as a terrorist organisation. For Mr Greste, the experience became emblematic of what it is like to be a journalist in the post-9/11 world.

“In the wars of the past, journalists were often inconvenient observers, but still recognised by both sides as legitimate players. What 9/11 did was turn it into a war over ideas, and in that conflict the media becomes part of that battlefield,” said Mr Greste.

His new book, The First Casualty, outlines precisely how these changes have occurred.

As Mr Greste explained, “journalists are now being seen not as observers but as agents for ideas, and that’s where it becomes a real problem. We have become targets in a way that we weren’t before.”

Liberal democracies, such as Australia, have not been immune from these developments, he added.

“In this country, there is the ‘Foreign Fighters’ legislation which says that if I were to speak to a would-be terrorist, I could be done for advocating terrorism as a journalist. The definitions around terrorism are being stretched in ways that are actually harming press freedom,” he said. 

Despite these challenges, coupled with the rapidly changing business model, Mr Greste is still adamant that journalism is “the best job in the world”. For aspiring journalists, Mr Greste had some words of advice.

“The one thing that you have to do is to learn how to tell great yarns. Once you got that, all of the changing digital technologies – they’re just different forms of paintbrush. We’ve always needed good storytellers, and we always will,” he said.    

The event featuring Peter Greste was hosted by the Department of International Relations at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs. The First Casualty is available from Penguin

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Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team