Police-Media Radio Standoff Continues in Queensland

Crunch time is approaching for radio, TV and print journalists in Queensland over their continued access to police communications.

The situation has come to a head after a Brisbane trial of a digital communication system, which cannot be listened to by outsiders. This new secure system might be implemented throughout Queensland.

Up until now, crime reporters around Australia have had a relatively free rein in monitoring police operations via scanners. In Queensland, however, newsrooms are alarmed because that could all come to an abrupt end.

The Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) has been investigating the digital communications issue, seeking submissions from interested parties. Friday was the deadline for submissions.

In its submission, the Queensland Police Service says it understands why the media wants to keep an ear on their activities via scanners, but maintains it is not in the public’s interest for them to continue the practice.

On the other hand, media executives have criticised the new technology, suggesting it allows police to act without public scrutiny, and argue it is in the public interest for journalists to know when accidents and other incidents unfold.

Queensland police say their communications are subject to confidentiality and privacy laws. Citing accountability to the community, they say allowing the media free access to their communications would be a violation of that trust.

Among suggestions for alternative media arrangements, they have proposed an expanded police media unit (possibly 24 hour), an SMS messaging update service and a broadcast telephone connection to all newsrooms.

Police say the current analogue system is old and insecure, and suffers black spots. In possibly their strongest argument so far, they say criminals and tow truck drivers also busily scan police operations and responses.

For the time being, all the players will have to wait for the CMC to finish its inquiries and report findings to State Parliament.