Monday, 30th October 2017

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Australian newspapers black out front pages in fight for press freedom

The campaign for media freedom is a rare moment of unity in Australia’s tightly-held sector

By Reuters in Sydney
  • Published 22.10.19, 2:14 AM
  • Updated 22.10.19, 1:24 PM
  • a min read
Redacted front pages of some of the newspapers in Sydney, Australia, on Monday (AP photo)

Australia’s biggest newspapers on Monday ran front pages made up to appear heavily redacted in a protest against legislation that restricts press freedoms, a rare show of unity by the usually partisan media industry.

Australia has no constitutional safeguards for free speech, although the government added a provision to protect whistleblowers when it strengthened counter-espionage laws in 2018. Media groups say press freedoms remain restricted.

Mastheads from the domestic unit of Rupert Murdoch’s conservative News Corp and fierce newspaper rivals at Nine Entertainment ran front pages with most of the words blacked out, giving the impression the copy had been censored, in the manner of a classified government document.

Parliament has long been passing laws in the guise of national security that impede the public’s right to know what the government did in its name, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said.

“Journalism is a fundamental pillar of our democracy,” said Paul Murphy, the chief executive of the industry union. “It exists to scrutinise the powerful, shine a light on wrongdoing and hold governments to account, but the Australian public is being kept in the dark.”

Monday’s media protest aimed to put public pressure on the government to exempt journalists from laws limiting access to sensitive information, enact a properly functioning freedom of information system and raise the benchmark for defamation lawsuits.

The campaign for media freedom is a rare moment of unity in Australia’s tightly-held sector, where media houses compete vigorously for advertising spend and offer very different visions for the country.

Police had raided the head office of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Sydney and the home of a News Corp editor on suspicion of receiving national secrets. The raids, which involved sifting through the female News Corp editor’s underwear drawer, had drawn international condemnation.