Updated: October 22, 2019 9:47:01 am
On Monday, Australian newspaper readers had an unexpected experience — no matter which paper they picked up, the front page carried text that was blacked out — as if it had been redacted by the government.
The decision to ‘censor’ the front page was carried out by a media coalition across print, TV, radio and online portals, called the “Right to Know” and saw rivals such as News Corp Australia (which publishes The Australian and The Daily Telegraph) and Nine Entertainment Co. (which publishes The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) join forces. The newspapers’ move was followed by a blackout on prime time TV slots.
Restriction of media freedom
The move was in response to the progressive hardening of national security laws over the past two decades by successive governments that have not only undermined investigative journalism but also criminalised it. In June federal police raided the home of Annika Smethurst, a News Corp Australia journalist, who was investigating a plan that allowed the government to spy on Australians.
A central demand of the Right to Know coalition is that the government exempts journalists and whistleblowers from a counter-espionage law that was introduced last year. Without the exemption, journalists contend, it won’t be able to report on sensitive information. ABC managing director David Anderson said Australia was at risk of becoming “the world’s most secretive democracy”.
No exceptions, says the govt
While underscoring the importance of press freedom, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that the “rule of law” cannot have exceptions for any journalist.
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