AT a meeting where I spoke this week I was asked a question.
At any time over the past few years, while reporting on child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and other institutions and campaigning for a royal commission, had I felt unsafe?
I'm asked that question a lot. It's worth exploring this week after an Australian journalist, Peter Greste, and his Al Jazeera colleagues Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were given lengthy jail sentences in Egypt. Their "crime" was to have somehow come up against the "national interest" in a country whose people have been oppressed by government for too long.
I, like other Australians, felt a sickening and disbelieving jolt when news of the sentence came through. Only a few hours earlier I'd listened to a radio interview with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. She was careful, but it seemed clear she expected the three journalists would be released.
It's almost offensive to equate what those three journalists are going through with anything happening to a journalist back here in Australia, but there are some serious issues here about the role of the media in democracies that are worth considering.
For the record, I have never, ever experienced a second of feeling unsafe. For that matter, the only times I even think about whether I feel safe or unsafe are when people ask the question.
As much as I might have felt outraged, sickened, appalled or numbed by the way powerful institutions like the Catholic Church treated people who were sexually abused as children, and again when they turned to the Church for help as adults, and as much as I might have challenged the Church, there's never been any sense of things getting out of hand.
The men in frocks just go silent when challenged. They don't return my calls. They hang up if I reach them on their mobile phones. They ask me to leave their properties. They refuse to be interviewed.
Men in frocks only cross the line and do worse in books by Dan Brown. In real life, in my experience, they don't threaten journalists or make them feel unsafe. I don't write that as a compliment, by the way. In my experience people who have bullied vulnerable people tend to go to water when a journalist arrives. We're the ones who expose the difference between the behaviour behind the scenes and the pious words from the pulpit.
I know some people have been concerned because of the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry hearings last year, where I gave evidence, along with a number of Hunter police.
I've always respected the work of Hunter police who've investigated historic child sexual abuse cases for many years - back to Labor minister Milton Orkopoulos and earlier. It's difficult work. The Hunter region can rightly lay claim to being about the most proactive region in Australia when it comes to investigating and prosecuting clergy abusers.
My beef with the police is with people further up the food chain who can't bring themselves to acknowledge that the media in the Hunter - and primarily the Newcastle Herald - has played a vital role in demonstrating to victims that child sexual abuse is always a crime, whether it happened yesterday or four decades ago, within families or in a church with a priest as the perpetrator.
As for feeling unsafe because the NSW Police Force and I were on opposing sides during the commission of inquiry - mainly because they argued their case that way - the answer is a definite no. Again, that kind of scenario works in fiction, but that's all. Throughout the inquiry civil communications were maintained.
As much as it feels sometimes - and with reason - that powerful people rule the roost in this country, we've seen plenty of evidence that individuals working together can bring about extraordinary change.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is a classic example.
It came about because ordinary people backed victims of historic child sexual abuse. They could see the power imbalance. They responded because, as Australians, we still believe in the fair go and equality. We still think we should all be equal when it comes to the law.
Tony Abbott is a prime minister who acknowledges the role of the media in a democracy. As painful as journalists might be at times - like when they label a federal budget that clobbers the most disadvantaged in our community "unfair" - he respects the need for a vibrant, noisy, and even irritating media.
In Egypt successive governments have applied the power of the state against individuals, without logic or sense, in the cause of preserving the "national interest". The media has been the last line of defence for individuals against the state.
Greste, Fahmy and Mohamed have shown extraordinary moral courage in trying to maintain that line.