Phil Dickie
Phil Dickie

We must keep up fight for freedom

IN All the President's Men, the story of the Watergate scandal, the benefits of a free press and the dangers of unchecked power are laid bare.

W ashington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the Watergate story, which ultimately led to the resignation of US president Richard Nixon.

Woodward and Bernstein relied upon a source - a very good source - known as "Deep Throat'', who they met at night in an underground parking garage.

Deep Throat urged the duo to "keep following the money''.

They did, uncovering the greatest political scandal in American history, through dogged research, perseverance and genuine courage.

Fast-forward a decade or so later to Queensland. The Courier-Mail editor Greg Chamberlin and his chief of staff Bob Gordon assign reporter Phil Dickie to look at allegations of illegal prostitution in the Fortitude Valley.

Again, through shoe leather and good old-fashioned doggedness, Dickie uncovered a labyrinth of corruption, resulting in the Fitzgerald Inquiry, and ultimately the demise of the Bjelke-Petersen Government.

 

The Courier-Mail editor Greg Chamberlin and his chief of staff Bob Gordon assign reporter Phil Dickie, pictured, to look at allegations of illegal prostitution in the Fortitude Valley.
The Courier-Mail editor Greg Chamberlin and his chief of staff Bob Gordon assign reporter Phil Dickie, pictured, to look at allegations of illegal prostitution in the Fortitude Valley.

 

This, despite 27 defamation writs and extraordinary pressure being applied to The Courier-Mail by politicians, senior police and the corporate community.

How do you think the aged care and banking Royal Commissions happened? Child abuse in the churches? It all comes down to quality journalism.

There are many, many more examples of how journalists shine a light on dark places to uncover dodgy and unbecoming behaviour. And don't for a minute swallow this argument from some - mostly politicians - that this debate about press freedom is the bleatings of powerful media companies.

This is about you. Yes you. The public. Your right to know. If journalists are jailed, or prevented from doing their job properly, it's society as a whole that suffers.

In my 10-year experience as a newspaper editor, I can point to scores of stories that made Queensland a better place to live.

Every editor will have a similar story.

In Townsville, we uncovered the dodgy practices, which led to the Storm Financial meltdown and how the local Aboriginal and Islander health service was rorting its federal funding. We agitated for an extra 22 railway crossings at danger areas, after a spate of deaths.

 

At the Sunday Mail, assistant editor Des Houghton broke the Mason Jet Lee child abuse story, which led to massive reforms, and the sacking of eight senior bureaucrats.

We blew the whistle on corrupt tow truck drivers, which led to a massive overhaul of the industry.

On the Gold Coast, we led the charge against the scourge of bikies, championing Newman government laws to drive them away.

This was despite some business leaders complaining to News Corp bosses that we were driving down the prices of homes because of the negative publicity.

Journalism matters. That's why you will notice in today's papers around the country a blank front page. This is designed to demonstrate what life would be without hard-hitting, quality newspaper journalism that provokes debate and enacts change.

The attack on press freedom in Australia puts us alongside Turkey, North Korea and Egypt for censorship.

The Fourth Estate is a key democratic pillar of our society. Alongside Parliament and the judiciary, it forms a crucial part of the fabric of our democratic existence.

Just as getting drought right is a test for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, so too is the press freedom restrictions being played out right now within the public arena.

People have a right to know what is going on within the corridors of power. When we as journalists are prevented from pouring disinfectant on to grubby floors, allowing sunlight into dark places, we will become a poorer society. In fact, it's downright dangerous what the Government is trying to do.



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