Media helicopters must get police permission to fly over Melbourne’s CBD and delay publishing aerial footage for at least one hour under new orders.
From Thursday, no aircraft is allowed within a three nautical mile radius or below 2500 feet of Melbourne’s CBD without permission from police.
The “unprecedented” move has sparked anger and the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom (AJF) has demanded police immediately lift the order.
Police say the restriction, which is in place until September 26, is to avoid aiding protesters from having access to live footage showing them where officers are as they try to disrupt the groups.
“As part of the conditions, pilots will need to obtain approval from Victoria Police airwing before taking off to ensure there are no safety risks,” a Victorian Police spokesperson said.
“Media outlets will also be required to delay publishing any livestream footage from the air by 60 minutes or at the conclusion of the operation.
“This is because protestors were actively monitoring aerial livestreams, compromising the police operation and putting the safety of members at risk.”
Speaking to 3AW’s Heidi Murphy, Nine’s National Director of News and Current Affairs Darren Wick said the move by Victoria Police was “unprecedented”.
“Where the concern for us about this is that it was done without consultation. In the past, if police have sought our assistance during a siege or a bushfire in terms of chopper vision we’ve always talked it through and come up with a sensible decision,” Wick told 3AW.
“We support Victoria Police 100 per cent. We respect the rule of the law and we support the actions in what they trying to do to control these protests.
“But to restrict us from seeing what’s there – you can’t do that. They say democracy dies in darkness.
“We have to be able to see. We have to be able to show the public what is happening. We’re not a police state. It’s very unprecedented and it’s very uncomfortable the decision that has been made.”
The restricted airspace order comes as the protests in Melbourne enter a third day of demonstrations following a vaccine mandate for the construction industry, and a consequent two-week shutdown of the sector due to rising COVID-19 cases.
The AJF said it was essential for news organisations to cover the protests live and “the ban amounts to unnecessary overreach of police powers”.
“This has unacceptable implications for press freedom in a liberal democracy,” AJF spokesperson Peter Greste said.
“Australia’s system of government — and any liberal democracy worth its salt — depends on the ability of the media to report on matters in the public interest. The protests in Melbourne are undoubtedly in the public interest.
“Protesters don’t need to watch the live aerial footage to find out what’s going on. They can get all the information they need on social media. But the wider public deserves to know what is taking place in real time, and they have every right to get it from trusted news sources.
“The AJF calls on Victoria Police to remove the ban on live aerial coverage immediately. It is a troubling development in our democracy, and an unwelcome and clumsy overreach of police power.”