16 Apr 2015

Call for global media protection

10:43 am on 16 April 2015

Media freedoms are under threat and governments are using the war on terror as an excuse to limit press freedom, Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste says.

Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste is warmly greeted by friends, family and media at Brisbane airport on February 5, 2015.

Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste is greeted by friends, family and media in Brisbane on 5 February. Photo: AFP

Mr Greste, a former Radio New Zealand correspondent, was jailed for 400 days in an Egyptian prison along with Al Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.

They were convicted of supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood group and sentenced to seven years in prison.

Al-Jazeera news channel's Australian journalist Peter Greste, left, and his colleagues, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, centre, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed listen to the original verdict in June.

Peter Greste (left), Mohamed Fahmy (centre) and Baher Mohamed listen to the original verdict in June 2014. Photo: AFP

Mr Greste was released in February and deported to Australia.

His two friends - Mr Mohamed, who is an Egyptian national, and Mr Fahmy, a dual Egyptian-Canadian national - are on bail in Cairo, awaiting retrial.

Mr Greste said the past three years had been the most dangerous for journalists since the Committee to Protect Journalists began keeping records in 1991.

He said the so-called war on terror had left journalists open to attack from governments of all kinds, and he has been advocating for a universal charter of media freedoms, which would define the relationship between governments and the media.

'We did nothing to attack Egypt'

Speaking to Nine to Noon's Kathryn Ryan, Mr Greste said prison tested his limits but did not damage him.

"I don't feel particularly damaged by it... for the time being, at least."

He said the trio tried to maintain their well-being through physical exercises based on Royal Canadian Air Force plan 5BX, mind and memory games, study and meditation.

"You need to do things to structure the day ... between the exercise, the study and the meditation, you're able to create a routine."

Australian journalist Peter Greste's father Juris Greste, left, brother Andrew Greste and mother Lois Greste celebrate his release.

Peter Greste's father Juris (left), brother Andrew and mother Lois celebrate his release from prison. Photo: AFP

Mr Greste said the upcoming retrial, in which he will be named as a defendant in absentia, was still a source of serious concern.

"I worked - and I think my colleagues worked - with the utmost integrity. We did nothing to attack Egypt; we did nothing to violate any law."

He is not accused of a crime under Australian law but, if convicted, his travel is likely to be restricted to countries without extradition treaties with Egypt.

Journalists 'under attack from all sides'

Mr Greste said the journalism profession was facing its most serious crisis in a generation.

He said journalists were "under attack from all sides in the war on terror", with attacks, kidnappings and beheadings as well as changes to policy and technology that made it more difficult to hold governments to account.

"It's not just in the Middle East, it's not just in places like Turkey, China and so-on - equally in the US, and in this country and Australia, all of these press freedoms are under attack," he said.

"The government has used the war on terror as an excuse, as a way of legitimising those kinds of fairly draconian measures to limit the scope of the work that journalists can do."

He acknowledged the shift towards online news and social media also played a part, by undermining traditional business models and increasing the pressure on journalists to "work around the clock".

A new voluntary press freedom charter would be one way to set a new gold standard for the way governments and journalists interact, he said.

The charter would have no particular legal authority but he suggested it could have considerable moral authority, similar to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mr Greste said the discussion - and any new charter - would need to include journalists' roles and responsibilities in order to maintain public faith in the profession.

"This isn't a one-way street ... It needs to work on both sides of the ledger."

The proposal will be discussed as part of the World Press Freedom Conference in Riga, Latvia, in May.

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