Mr Stephen Collins c/- ABC Legal
24 October 2016
MEMORANDUM OF ADVICE
Re: The Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005, & the proposed amendments to the laws of sedition
We have been asked to urgently consider a number of questions which the producers of the program Media Watch wish answered for the purposes of preparation for the Media Watch program proposed to be shown next week. These questions critically involve an analysis of proposed amendments to the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), the content of which was recently and controversially published on the website of the ACT Chief Minister & Attorney General, Mr John Stanhope. The Australian Government had planned to release the draft Bill on 31 October 2005, and had further planned a Senate Committee report to be prepared on the draft Bill by 8 November 2005
- thus allowing all of one week for public scrutiny of these new and highly significant
This advice concerns the draft Bill published on the web on 14 October 2005. Schedule 7 of the Bill repeals the existing sedition offences in the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth). It then inserts five new sedition offences into the Criminal Code by adding a new section 80.2 to the existing offence of treason (s.80.1). The Bill is entitled The Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 (Cth).
The questions which we have been asked to consider concern first, the extent to which the proposed amendments expand the offence of sedition as it is presently known. Secondly, we are asked to comment upon whether various opinions which have been expressed, inter alia, by John Pilger, a journalist and author, Sheikh Omran, a representative of the Islamic community in Australia, and Abu Bakir Bashir, would fall foul of the laws of sedition as they stood prior to this amendment, and whether they would be caught by the proposed laws. Thirdly, we are asked to consider whether a “good faith” defence provided under the proposed amendments would be available to those individuals. Fourthly, we are asked to consider whether media outlets that publish these comments may themselves be prosecuted for an offence under the Act, and whether a “good faith” defence under the Bill provides a defence to any charge brought. Finally, and less urgently, we are asked to consider to what degree there are restrictions on the reporting of cases of preventative detention and control orders made under the Bill, and the extent of exposure of journalists who possess information about control orders of persons subject to preventative detention. We will deal with this fifth question in a separate advice.
By way of background to the present legislation, it is worth mentioning briefly the history to the proposed enactment. Shortly after the events of September 11, the Government announced that new measures against terrorism would be introduced. The package which resulted was of 7 major legislative initiatives introduced in March 2002. Central to those legislative changes was the Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2002. That Act defined the concept of a terrorist act, created categories of terrorism offences, and introduced the means for the Executive to determine what would be a terrorist organisation. It also established for the first time the existence of crimes relating to association by way of membership or other connections with terrorist organisations. That Act was finally passed, although in a greatly amended form.
The second pillar of the package was the enactment of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2003. This contained draconian provisions which permitted detention under warrant for a period up to 7 days, and allowed interrogation for up to 24 hours within that period of, inter alia, persons who may have information relating to a terrorism offence. Since then, there have been a raft of other security related enactments passed. These enactments have been described throughout the legal literature as typically marked by patterns which included: the expansion of Executive power and discretion outside the judicial process; the priority given to national security imperatives; limitation on the provision of independent legal advice; and departures from the presumptions of innocence, trial by jury, and freedom of association. They are typically characterised by the use of ambiguous and broadly defined key terms which are central to what were regarded as serious criminal offences (primarily terrorism) and the introduction of the notion of guilt by association in the context of acts of alleged recruitment, training or membership, or even informal membership of “terrorist organisations”.
The 2002 Act, which effectively treated the Commonwealth Criminal Code as a mere vehicle for the inclusion of new terrorism offences, was passed and came into force on 6 July 2002 after the Senate Legal & Constitutional Legislation Committee received over 431 submissions in the 6 weeks given to scrutinise the Bills.
The present law of sedition
As the law presently stands, prior to the amendments proposed by the Bill, Chapter 5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 was concerned with what was described as “the security of the Commonwealth”. It dealt with a range of offences of treason (Part 5.1), offences related to espionage and similar activities (Part 5.2) and terrorism (Part 5.3).
Since 1920 Australia has had, at the Commonwealth level, what amounts to a codified law of sedition, such provisions appearing in ss.24A-24E of the Crimes Act 1914. These provisions existed with what were generally thought to be obsolete state sedition laws. As we mention later in this advice, in 1991 the Commonwealth Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended the repeal of the existing sedition provisions in the Crimes Act and their replacement by a range of indictable offences. See Australia, Review of Commonwealth Criminal Law, 5th Interim Report 1991” (the “Fifth Interim Report”).
The proposed Bill is one which repeals the existing codified law of sedition in Australia, namely the provisions in ss.24A-24F of the Crimes Act 1914. Those provisions presently provide as follows:-
Definition of seditious intention An intention to affect any of the following purposes, that is to say:
- to bring the Sovereign into hatred or contempt;
(d) to excite disaffection against the Government or Constitution of the Commonwealth or against either House of the Parliament of the Commonwealth;
- to excite Her Majesty’s subjects to attempt to procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter in the Commonwealth established by law of the Commonwealth; or
- to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of Her Majesty’s subjects so as to endanger the peace, order or good government of the Commonwealth;
is a seditious intention.
Definition of seditious enterprise
- A seditious enterprise is an enterprise undertaken in order to carry out a seditious intention.
- Seditious words are words expressive of a seditious
Seditious enterprises A person who engages in a seditious enterprise with the intention of causing violence, or creating public disorder or a public disturbance, is guilty of an indictable offence punishable on conviction by imprisonment for not longer than 3 years.
- Any person who, with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance, writes, prints, utters or publishes any seditious words shall be guilty of an indictable offence. Penalty: Imprisonment for 3
- A person cannot be convicted of any of the offences defined in section 24C or this section upon the uncorroborated testimony of one
Punishment of offences
- An offence under section 24C or 24D shall be punishable either on indictment or summarily, but shall not be prosecuted summarily without the consent of the Attorney-General.
- If any person who is prosecuted summarily in respect of an offence against
section 24C or 24D, elects, immediately after pleading, to be tried upon indictment, the court or magistrate shall not proceed to summarily convict that person but may commit him for trial.
- The penalty for an offence against section 24C or 24D shall, where the offence is prosecuted summarily, be imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12
Certain acts done in good faith not unlawful
- Nothing in the preceding provisions of this Part makes it unlawful for a person:
- to endeavour in good faith to show that the Sovereign, the Governor-General, the Governor of a State, the Administrator of a Territory, or the advisers of any of them, or the persons responsible for the government of another country, has or have been, or is or are, mistaken in any of his or their counsels, policies or actions;
- to point out in good faith errors or defects in the government, the constitution, the legislation or the administration of justice of or in the Commonwealth, a State, a Territory or another country, with a view to the reformation of those errors or defects;
- to excite in good faith another person to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter established by law in the Commonwealth, a State, a Territory or another country;
- to point out in good faith, in order to bring about their removal, any matters that are producing, or have a tendency to produce, feelings of ill-will or hostility between different classes of persons; or
- to do anything in good faith in connection with an industrial dispute or an industrial
- For the purpose of subsection (1), an act or thing done:
- for a purpose intended to be prejudicial to the safety or defence of the Commonwealth;
- with intent to assist an enemy:
- at war with the Commonwealth; and
- specified by proclamation made for the purpose of paragraph 80.1(1)(e) of the Criminal Code to be an enemy at war with the Commonwealth;
(ba) with intent to assist:
- another country; or
- an organisation (within the meaning of section 100.1 of the Criminal Code); that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force;
- with intent to assist a proclaimed enemy, as defined by subsection 24AA(4) of this Act, of a proclaimed country as so defined;
- with intent to assist persons specified in paragraphs 24AA(2)(a) and (b) of this Act; or
- with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance;
is not an act or thing done in good faith.”
Under the general (ie, non statutory) law there was no separate offence of sedition. Generically the term was conventionally used as shorthand for several distinct categories of common law
misdemeanours or statutory offences, namely uttering seditious words, publishing or printing a seditious libel, or undertaking a seditious enterprise and seditious conspiracy. It has been seldom employed in peace time, although it was said to be primarily a peace time weapon, since in war times, other national security laws typically prevail.
Sedition has been described as a grotesque anachronism in a society which prides itself on bring free and open and pluralist.
The last State sedition prosecutions were in South Australia in 1960, and, before that, in Queensland in 1912 and 1930.
Both the Chifley and Menzies Governments resorted to the law of sedition as one element of their campaigns against the Communist Party in the late 1940s. The Chifley Government’s action led to decisions which eventually reached the High Court in Burns v Ransley (1949) 79 CLR 101 and R v Sharkey (1949) 79 CLR 121. In those cases, 3 members of that party were given prison sentences for expressing unpopular political opinion. One occurred in an orderly public debate, the other in a number of conversations held with a journalist. Seemingly, the last sedition trial in Australia was an unsuccessful prosecution by the Menzies Government of another member of the Communist Party in Sweeny v Chandler, an action prosected in the Sydney Court of Petty Sessions, which resulted in dismissal of the charges on the 18th September 1953. The last attempt in the UK appears to have been an attempt to initiate a private prosecution against the author Salman Rushdie and the publisher of The Satanic Verses for seditious libel. See R v Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate; ex parte Choudhury  1 QB 429. The High Court of Australia last considered this area of the law in 1960 in a case from the then Australian territory of PNG in R v Cooper (1961) 105 CLR 177.
It can be readily seen from the provisions of the Crimes Act set out above that seditious words are those which are expressive of a seditious intention and a seditious enterprise is an enterprise undertaken in order to carry out that seditious intention. That seditious intention must, by s.24A, be one of 4 specific and relatively limited kinds. One can see that the intent typically is directed to bringing the Sovereign or the Government, the Constitution, Parliament itself into disrepute.
Otherwise, in s.24(A)(f), it is unlawful to attempt to procure the alteration other than by lawful means of any matter in the Commonwealth established by its laws. By s.24(A)(g), it is unlawful to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different classes of the populous so as to endanger the peace, order or good government of the country.
After the 1986 amendments to the Crimes Act, the concept of “mens rea” was redefined so as to reproduce the notion as it had existed at common law a century before. The result was that to succeed as the law presently stands, the prosecution must prove that the seditious conduct of the accused was carried out “with the intention of causing violence or creating public disorder or a public disturbance”. See R v Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate; ex parte Choudhury  1 QB 429.
As the law stands under the Crimes Act, it is unclear whether it is sufficient that there be an intention to cause violence at some unspecified future time, or whether there must be proof of intention to cause immediate violence. That is not to say that the Crimes Act provision has clear or defined circumstances of aggravation. The concepts of “public disorder” and “public disturbance” are undefined and unclear. As one author has said: “because of unprecedented changes in community attitudes about specific political issues, the statutory language will inevitably fluctuate in meaning across time. This is a totally unsatisfactory situation. Fifty years later, Chafee’s criticism in that regard remains true. The definition of sedition “is so loose that guilt or innocence must obviously depend on public sentiment at the time of the trial”. This will not be a source of concern when public opinion is supportive of vigorous free speech. But recent history demonstrates that public opinion can be manipulated to generate irrational fear of minority groups and attitudes.” See Lawrence W Maher, “The Use and Abuse of Sedition”, 14 Syd LR 261, p 313.
The Fifth Interim Report of 1991 recommended the repeal of the Crimes Act provisions and the creation of the offence of inciting treason, interference with elections and racial violence. That recommendation was not acted upon at the time. The Attorney General has suggested recently that the proposed amendments to the sedition laws are occurring in the way recommended by the Fifth Interim Report. However, this seems disingenuous because the recommendations were quite different in context, and certainly did not include any recommendation to enact laws to the effect stated in subsections (7) and (8) of s.80.2 of the current Bill. True it is though that some of the changes sought to be affected by the Bill adopt parts of what the Committee Report suggested.
The Proposed New Sedition Laws
The proposed s.80.2 of the Criminal Code creates a range of offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 7 years. We set it out below.
Urging the overthrow of the Constitution or Government
- A person commits an offence if the person urges another person to overthrow by force or violence:
- the Constitution; or
- the Government of the Commonwealth, a State or Territory; or
- the lawful authority of the Government of the
Penalty: Imprisonment for 7 years.
- Recklessness applies to paragraphs (1)(a), (b) and (c).
Urging interference in Parliamentary elections
- A person commits an offence if the person urges another person to interfere by force or violence with lawful processes for an election of a member or members of a House of the
Penalty: Imprisonment for 7 years.
- Recklessness applies to the element of the offence that it is lawful processes for an election of a member or members of a House of the Parliament that the first- mentioned person urges the other person to interfere
Urging violence within the community
- A person commits an offence if:-
- the person urges a group or groups (whether distinguished by race, religion, nationality or political opinion) to use force or violence against another group or other groups (as so distinguished); and
- the use of the force or violence would threaten the peace, order and good government of the
Penalty: Imprisonment for 7 years.
- Recklessness applies to the element of the offence that it is a group or groups that are distinguished by race, religion, nationality or political opinion that the first- mentioned person urges the other person to use force or violence
Urging a person to assist the enemy
- A person commits an offence if:
- the person urges another person to engage in conduct; and
- the first-mentioned person intends the conduct to assist, by any means whatever, an organisation or country; and
- the organisation or country is:
- at war with the Commonwealth, whether or not the existence of a state of war has been declared; and
- specified by Proclamation made for the purpose of paragraph 80.1(1)(e) to be an enemy at war with the
Penalty: Imprisonment for 7 years.
Urging a person to assist those engaged in armed hostilities
- A person commits an offence if:
- the person urges another person to engage in conduct; and
- the first-mentioned person intends the conduct to assist, by any means whatever, an organisation or country; and
- the organisation or country is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence
Penalty: Imprisonment for 7 years.
- Subsections (7) and (8) do not apply to engagement in conduct by way of, or for the purposes of, the provision of aid of a humanitarian
Note 1: A defendant bears an evidential burden in relation to the matter in subsection (9). See subsection 13.3(3).
Note 2: There is a defence in section 80.3 for acts done in good faith.” The entirety of Schedule 7 is attached to this advice.
The first thing to be observed is that in relation to each of those offences, it is no longer a requirement to prove an intention to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility to establish seditious intention. It will be enough, in some cases, that one did an act which might promote those feelings if one acted recklessly and that result followed. Secondly, the requirement that there be not only proof of an incitement to violence, but actual violence or resistance or defiance for the purpose of disturbing the constituted authority, is no element of the offence. It is enough that there is the urging of “another person” to do any of the categories of acts prohibited. The Bill does not define what amounts to urging another to act in the prohibited ways. The Macquarie Dictionary definition of “urge” is “to endeavour to induce or persuade, as by entreaties or earnest recommendations”. A secondary meaning refers “to press by persuasion or recommendation, as for acceptance, performance, or use; recommend or advocate earnestly”. Other definitions invoke notions of pushing or forcing, pressing or insisting.
Inciting by urging another to commit an offence is already able to be prosecuted under the law in Australia. Section 11.4(1) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 creates the offence of incitement for ‘[a] person who urges the commission of an offence’, as long as the person intends that the offence incited be committed (s.11.4(2)) and even if the offence incited is not actually committed. Courts have variously interpreted ‘incitement’ as meaning to urge, spur on, stir up, prompt to action, instigate or stimulate, R v Crichton  SALR 1; Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the Fire Ministries  VCAT 2510; Brown v Classification Review Board of the Office of Film and Literature Classification (1998) 50 ALD 765 at 778 (Oxford Dictionary); or simply to request or encourage; R v Massie  1 VR 542 at 547.
It is a difficult question to determine when an opinion is expressed or a comment made which, by the manner in which it is made, might be one which in a particular context had sufficient forcefulness in its manner, delivery or content to evidence the act of urging. Of course, the proposed provisions do not reflect upon what the conduct of the person being urged to act in fact does. It is enough that a person urges another to act in any of those ways. In other words it is not necessary that there be an identified audience so that it can be demonstrated that that person intended his comments to affect.
There is no reference within the proposed s.80.2 to any requirement that the person doing the urging have any particular intention, such as the previous requirement for the intention to cause violence or create public disorder or disturbance. Notwithstanding the reference to application of principles of recklessness, to 3 of the proposed new offences, apart from an intention that the offender be required to intentionally engage in the act which amounts to the urging, it is not required that he be shown to intend the result. On one view of it at least, one could make a statement intentionally, and which might be seen as amounting to urging another to use force or violence against another group, without intending that result at all.
These comments must of course be read subject to a latter discussion concerning the defences provided in s.80.3 for acts done in good faith. However, suffice it to say at this point, that operation of that defence is limited to demonstrating attempts to point out errors or mistakes in policy by Australian Governmental institutions, Governments or persons responsible for them from other countries, achieving lawful changes to the legal status quo or matters which are intending to create ill will or hostility between groups in order to bring about the removal of that hostility.
In relation to the offence of urging violence within the community (subsection (5)), violence need not be violence incited within the Australian community. It would be enough that the urging occurred to a group of persons of a different nationality or political opinion to use force against any other person in any other place, the effect of which would “threaten” the peace of the Commonwealth. “To threaten” is defined, inter alia, “to be a menace or source of danger” to something.
It is not difficult to see that a statement made which might invite the use of force by one Indonesian or to use force or violence against Australians in Bali might threaten peace within Australia itself and might be caught by subclause (7). It does not require the urging in question to be to use force or violence. It is enough that the urging be to “engage in conduct” and that conduct is intended by the person doing the urging to assist “by any means whatever” the organisation or country which is at war, whether or not declared, including terrorist organisations or organisations proclaimed under the Act to be an enemy at war with the Commonwealth. In short a person that urges anyone in the world, in a general sense, to engage in conduct which might tend to assist a proclaimed terrorist organisation commits the offence. Assistance need only be minimal. It need not, as we have said, involve inciting or urging violence.
This concept is taken in a slightly different direction under clause 8. Again the urging in question need only be to engage in conduct which might provide assistance and need not involve inciting or urging force or violence. A critical factor is that the urging is intended to provide assistance to an organisation engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force. This need not necessarily involve any recognised or proclaimed organisations. It would involve any organisations that on a given day could be said to be engaged in armed hostilities. The concept would conceivably extend to providing verbal support or encouragement for insurgent groups who might encounter the Australian Defence Force which is present in their country. For the purposes of these legislative provisions, an organisation includes an unincorporated body either within or outside of Australia. An unincorporated body is a broad undefined concept in this legislation and might include a small number of individuals with a common purpose or goal, whether or not it has a constitution, recognised membership or any formal element.
Inciting terrorism is unlawful under existing law. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the Bill is intended to operate so that it will now extend to covering indirect urging as well as condoning, justifying or glorifying acts of terrorism or conduct associated with it, or even abstract opinions about that conduct. These examples of indirect urging might include offensive or emotional opinion about the significance of the events at 9-11, whether the terrorists involved had any justification for their acts, opinion about the validity of what terrorist leaders might be seeking to achieve, the desirability at an international level of victory against the American forces in Iraq (as expressed by John Pilger and dealt with later in this advice), or the inevitability of further terrorist acts, for example, in Bali, and as to whether Australian citizens should expect more of the same should they continue to be involved in the Iraqi war.
Geographical operation of the offences
Section 80.4 has the effect of extending the geographical jurisdiction for offences to Category D. Traditionally criminal laws limit their territorial effect to crimes which are local, that is where the offence was committed within the geographical boundaries of Australia. Sections 15.1-15.4 of the Criminal Code, which were inserted in 1999, set out four categories of extended geographic jurisdiction. Category A covers Australian citizens anywhere in the world, subject to a foreign law defence (that is it is an offence if there is no crime in the foreign jurisdiction which corresponds to the Commonwealth offence). Category B covers Australian citizens or residents anywhere in the world, subject to a foreign law defence. Category C covers anyone, anywhere, regardless of citizenship or residence, subject to a foreign law defence. Category D covers anyone, anywhere, regardless of citizenship or residence. The Explanatory Memorandum for the House of Representatives stated in relation to Category D that in relation to terrorist acts “the offence will be committed whether or not the conduct or the result of the conduct constituting the offence occurs in Australia”. Section 15.4 however makes it clear that it goes far further than this to cover any person of any citizenship or residence. There is no foreign law defence. The possibility then is that the Commonwealth could launch a prosecution against anyone suspected of terrorism offences anywhere in the world. It creates what is in essence a “universal jurisdiction”.
The Pilger Interviews
The “Democracy Now” interview in question is one in which the speaker was acting within Australia. For the reasons we have mentioned above, the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005 have effect no matter where the events occur.
The comments criticise what is described as a rapacious power. Although it is not clear, his remarks apparently refer to the United States. They do not appear to be directed at all to Australian activity and could not be said to manifest the seditious intention required by s.24A of the Crimes Act, which is primarily concerned with the activities of the Commonwealth of Australia. It suggests, although perhaps not with any great urging, that it is critical that insurgent resistance in Iraq, where Australian Armed Forces are engaged, succeed and that we depend upon that success, and indeed the rest of the world outside of Iraq depends upon it. These comments could well be seen as offending the provisions of s.80.2(8) of urging a person to assist those engaged in armed hostilities, and potentially urging a person to assist a proclaimed organisation which is at war.
The Pilger Lateline comments amount to stating that both Australian Army troops as well as American or British troops who might be seen as occupiers, inter alia, of Iraq are legitimate targets on the part of the Iraqis to the extent that they are in Iraq. These comments have a more generalised application and probably say little more, at least in the context in which they are presented in our instructions, as stating that troops who invade the countries of others are legitimate targets from the point of view of the people of the country invaded. The comments made have similar characterisation to those made in the Democracy Now interview, suggesting as they do that defeat of the US is essential if one is to avoid other attacks of the US on other countries. It arguably suggests that the resistance to it in Iraq is legitimate. In our view it would be open to construe Pilger’s words as urging or inviting any person to engage in the conduct of the forceful elimination of Australian troops and their defeat in Iraq. There would certainly be an arguable case sufficient to place the evidence and surrounding circumstances before a jury .The inevitable consequence of the Bill will be to stifle the making of those statements, or even the reporting or repetition of them by others legitimately involved in public debate on such issues.
The Omran Comments
The subject comments were, we presume, made within Australia and were broadcast on SBS in Australia. Omran’s comment was to the effect that it was a good Muslim’s duty to go and fight the coalition forces for jihad in Iraq. They might be seen as directed to Australian Muslims, or indeed any Muslims to be involved in the fight in Iraq against, inter alia, Australian forces. It is difficult to see how the Crimes Act definition of “seditious intention” could apply to this conduct, although the provisions in s.24AA of the Crimes Act which are concerned with treachery could have application in this context to the extent that the jihad was a proclaimed enemy within a proclaimed country.
There is a high likelihood that clause 80.2(8) has application. The issue is whether the comments are sufficient to amount to urging another to engage in the subject conduct. This of course will be a question of fact. The suggestion that it is indeed one’s duty might well be capable of satisfying the requirement of urging in the proposed amendments. Again, the inevitable consequence is that, because of the high degree of uncertainty about whether such comments are now seditious or not, the tendency will be to stifle the making of those statements, or even the reporting or repetition of them by others legitimately involved in public debate on such issues.
The Comments of Bashir
The opinions of Abu Bashir, at least in the quotation provided to us describe in large part what might be thought to be Islamic customs or beliefs. That is the second part of the quote. The first part of the quote, which leads to a description of two types of martyrdom, may be capable of being seen as suggesting that a Muslim who committed martyrdom in support of Islam would die a noble death. His comments concerning infidel countries being visited and spied upon are perhaps confusing but on one view of them they appear to imply that those who wish Islam to be strong will need to come to countries which persecute them, and carry out some potentially hostile (though not necessarily violent) activities there. He does not say that they would do so with a view to executing suicide bombings, and it is really the journalist who has made that remark. To the extent that it could be treated as any kind of urging, and we think it problematical to argue that it is, it might tend to urge violence within the Commonwealth so as to offend s.80.2(5) of the amendments. The comments are not particularly directed to any particular organisation or country, least of all one engaged in armed hostilities because it refers in general terms to Islam. Although it might be seen to amount to uttering seditious words with the intention of causing violence or public disorder, so as to satisfy the existing law of sedition, we think it would be open, though by no means straightforward, to establish intent in the sense that we have discussed above.
On the other hand, those parts of his statement which praise in strongly religious terms the undertaking of what might be termed non-suicidal but nonetheless mortally risky conduct in the
defence or advancement of the Islamic cause would present a considerably larger target for a prosecution.
Publication, re-publication, public debate, and the “good faith” defence
The issue here is whether publication of these remarks themselves could amount to the commission of an offence under the provisions of the Bill to be enacted.
Of critical significance is that putting aside the question of reckless urging of another to act in any of the prohibited ways, the person who commits the offence must be the person who urges the other to do the acts in question. It is difficult to imagine that the publication by a legitimate media organisation of seditious remarks would attract the operation of the Act, unless it could be said that that publication itself amounted to urging the relevant overthrow of Government, violence, assistance to the enemy or assistance to those engaged in armed hostilities.
The precise remarks, how they are treated at the point of publication, whether they are accompanied by any other information such as a disclaimer, would be critical to whether it could be suggested that the publication amounted to the urging of another to act in the prohibited ways. It would be easy to see how opinion or comment by others (published, for example, on a Muslim or other ethnic media resource) could be seen to be endorsing “seditious” opinion by its mere publication.
The “targets” of such opinion might well be those who would be likely to act to give an effect to the opinion. Context is calculated in many cases to make all the difference.
In terms of any possible defences for acts done in good faith, it seems to us that they have relatively limited operation to media publication of “seditious” opinions. They would place any journalist or media organisation which intended to publish or republish material which might be capable of urging in any of the material respects we have mentioned, in the invidious position of having to
decide whether it might be read by a person who could be urged to act upon it, for example by engaging in violent activity and whether in those circumstances its publication might be reckless even if in good faith.
The good faith provisions do not, in terms, allow any publication in good faith to be excused. It would have been a simple drafting exercise had it been sought to excuse, as the Attorney General suggests this Bill does, that the offences were not designed to prevent journalists from reporting in good faith. It seems to us that the Bill does not do anything to provide that assurance. Only good faith in the limited contexts referred to, amount to defences. None of those as it stands, specifically mentions publication in good faith by a legitimate public media organisation as a ground of defence by itself. The provisions which define and create the offences themselves do not, by their terms excuse acts which occur in the context of legitimate media reporting or public debate or comment.
In the context of media comment, and elsewhere as well, in broad terms the notion of urging or inciting conduct like violence, or the providing of assistance to an organisation is capable of many possible meanings in the legal context. There is no clear definition in this Bill of what amounts to urging in this context. It is a verb which attempts here to make some indirect relationship between some overt and expressive act, and some perceived evil, or indeed some benefit to an entity or person perceived to be evil.
To use examples which might apply here: if a commentator in the media expresses an opinion to the effect that defeat of US troops in Iraq by means of terrorist acts would be a good thing, does one necessarily urge upon those who might do those acts that they act accordingly. It is certainly arguable that a jury, properly instructed, could conclude that the commentator did so.
If a journalist or producer of a television program invited such a commentator onto a program knowing that such comments were likely to be made and directly or indirectly invited those comments by directed questions, the same could be said to apply. The producers of the program, if they knew the direction the questions would take, could be equally exposed.
Even media debate and public discussion concerning the comments of others which might be said to be seditious, could be exposed to prosecution under this Bill. Much would depend upon the precise circumstances of that debate. In the end, mere publication of the seditious remarks of others could easily be seen, by itself to manifest a sufficient intent to “urge” a result in conformity with those remarks.
No genuine commentator, religious or ethnic group leader wishing to participate, in legitimate debate on the topic of “terrorism” could be certain that his or her conduct would necessarily fall outside the ambit of the offences in this Bill.
The distinction between what might be genuinely held opinions by some person with genuine criticisms of the Government, or its actions, in places like Iraq will be difficult to separate from acts which might be seen as urging others to act in ways that are consistent with those opinions.
There is, of course, always the risk that, as one seeks to suppress public urging or incitement by the introduction of new criminal laws, what results is that the perceived grievances of those to whom those laws are directed are further aggravated, such persons are further excluded from public debate, and are more likely to work in subversive ways.
An argument we have considered which would be especially difficult to dismiss with any confidence (on the part of those in media) is that the seeking out or invitation to expression of such opinions may be seen as lending respectability or legitimacy to what would otherwise regarded as outrageous sentiments.
Support of that kind could well be seen, not as the ventilation of dissent merely, but as an implicit suggestion that some people might find the offending message persuasive. The risk is that this possibility may be found by a jury to be well within the worldly intelligence and experience of a competent journalist, and contribute to findings of recklessness of even intended urging in the relevant sense.
Another argument which we regard as perhaps considerably less risky for journalists and other media is the so-called “copy cat” syndrome. By this, we mean the occasional request by authorities and other commentators for the press and other broadcasters to refrain from description, or even any revelation of certain kinds of dangerous and (at least to some) fascinating conduct. We are sceptical as to whether there is any empirical support for the feared possibility of emulation by impressionable members of the readership or audience. But the notion is advanced from time to time.
It is sometimes related to the somewhat different notion, to use the cliché, that the press and broadcasters should not give the “oxygen of publicity” to obnoxious views for disgusting acts. On balance, we think it unlikely that any such argument would place reportage on a slippery slope towards “urging” in the relevant sense.
Apart from the consequences of the broad spectrum presented by the notion of “urging” in this Bill, there is the separate form of criminal involvement constituted by common law conspiracy. Could it be alleged that investigative journalism, or current affairs broadcasting, in most cases involving prior contact and leadup with the persons whose activities or opinions are to be discussed or exposed could itself amount to inadvertent assistance to such persons? If the opinion holders themselves are criminally urging, how confident could the press or broadcasters be that such hitherto unobjectionable journalism could not be left to the jury as subversive? We are unable to give clear answers to these questions. That uncertainty indicates a difficult and undesirable aspect of this latest proposed manifestation of anti-sedition laws – laws which have a long history of difficulty, and opposition.