Australian media unites to fight censorship by federal government

Elias Hubbard
October 21, 2019

The Right To Know coalition, of which the ABC is a member, is behind the campaign, calling for the decriminalisation of public interest journalism, and greater protection for the media and whistleblowers.

Compared to New Zealand, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada, Australia's intelligence and national security laws are the "most oppressive", Denis Muller from the University of Melbourne's Centre for Advancing Journalism told SBS News.

The campaign is accompanied by research that reveals 87% of Australians value a free and transparent democracy in which the public is well-informed, yet only 37% believe Australia is meeting that standard.

The group highlights 75 laws relating to secrecy and spying over the past two decades that "effectively criminalise journalism and penalise whistleblowing".

"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. We've seen the public's right to know slowly erode over the past two decades, with the introduction of laws that make it more hard for people to speak up when they see wrongdoing and for journalists to report these stories", ABC's managing director, David Anderson, said.

For the first time ever, Australia's leading media organisations have come together in this way to defend the growing threat to every Australian's right to know information that impacts their lives.

"Australia is at risk of becoming the world's most secretive democracy".

"This is much bigger than the media".

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australia, tweeted an image of his blacked-out mastheads which include The Australian and The Daily Telegraph.

Among the demanded changes are reforms to the Public Interest Disclosures Act to afford public servants greater protections, including expanding the public's interest test that now holds bias against external disclosure, a presumption of criminal liability against media for using the information and the government's ability to identify sources via journalists' communications and metadata.

It centres on six demands, including exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws that have created a complex web of provisions critics say too easily ensnare reporters doing their jobs.

In the meantime, the Australian Federal Police are reviewing handling of sensitive investigations, following raids on two media organisations.

More information about the media campaign against the government can be found at yourrighttoknow.com.au and on social media under #righttoknow.

Reece Kershaw wants to examine processes around unauthorised disclosures, parliamentary privilege, espionage, foreign interference and war crimes.

'But rather a holistic approach to ensure that we have in place investigate policies and guidelines that are fit for objective'.

Mr Kershaw also indicated it would involve a "reformation" of the AFP's governance, business processes and organisational structures.

'I strongly believe in these two pillars, and this is the approach I intend to take'.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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