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Australian newspapers black out to defend press freedom

October 21, 2019

Newspapers across Australia had black out the front pages in protest against government secrecy and to defend press freedom. Popular national and regional papers like The Australian, Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Mail and many more hit newsstands on Monday, October 21 with most of their front-page news stories redacted.

The campaign has been run the home of a News Corporation journalist and the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) were raided by police forces as they had proof of something that was embarrassing for the government. The campaign has been organised by the Right to Know coalition.

News Corporation journalist Annika Smethurst and two others are possibly facing criminal charges due to the raids. While Smethurst revealing that the government was considering plans to spy on Australians, the other reporters from ABC exposed alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

The protest is aimed at national security laws that have muted reporting for journalists and created a ‘culture of secrecy’ in the country. Advertisements too were rolled out across the country’s television networks with the question: “When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?”

The protest is being held for a few demands – exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws, enhanced protections for public sector whistle blowers, who are also facing charges for leaking to the press, improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform. Unlike other liberal democracies, Australia does not have a constitutional protection for freedom of speech.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union head Paul Murphy said in a statement, “The culture of secrecy that has descended through these legal provisions restricts every Australian’s right to know and goes well beyond the original intent of national security.”

He further added, “The police raids on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the headquarters of the ABC in Sydney were direct attacks on media freedom in Australia but they are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would “always believe in the freedom of the press”, but insisted that journalists were not above the law. “The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don’t think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things,” he told reporters during an official visit to Jakarta.

Source: AFP

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