The Australian media – under the banner of Australia’s Right to Know – has united behind a press freedom campaign to protest against the veil of secrecy that has enveloped the country as the Federal Government uses the law to clamp down on media freedom, often in the name of national security.
The coalition includes Nine, News Corp, the ABC, SBS, The Guardian, and journalists’ union the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.
The campaign started on Sunday night (20 Oct) Sydney time with TV ads. This Monday morning the front pages of daily newspapers across the country will show a redacted document device and the tagline ‘When government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering-up?’. There’s also digital executions and radio ads.
Michael Miller, Executive Chairman of News Corp Australia, tweeted an image of his blacked-out mastheads which include The Australian and The Daily Telegraph. He urged the public to ask of the government: “What are they trying to hide from me?”
In response to this show of unity from the Australian Press, the Australian Prime Minister responded seeking to assure the media whilst still defending his government’s approach: “press freedom was important to Australia’s democracy, but the rule of law needed to be upheld. That includes me, or any journalist, or anyone else.”
Australia’s Right to Know coalition has six key proposals for “necessary and urgent” reform. The changes would strengthen rights and protections for public-interest journalism.
- “The right to contest search warrants: Applications for search warrants to be made to a high-level judge, with the relevant media outlet to be notified and given the opportunity to challenge the warrant.
- Protections for whistleblowers: Expanded safeguards for government whistleblowing, including an expanded public interest test. The outlets want to see a culture of secrecy replaced with a culture of disclosure.
- Restrictions on secrecy: New rules governing what information governments can deem secret, with obligations to regularly audit the material being kept from the public.
- Freedom of information reform: A suite of changes to FOI law to reduce and restrict the significant delays, obstacles, cost and exemptions that allow government agencies to prevent disclosure.
- Journalist exemptions: Exemptions to protect journalists from prosecution under a number of national security laws. Media outlets can currently mount legal defences against charges under these laws but want this strengthened to exemptions for public-interest journalism.
- Defamation law reform: Overhaul of defamation law to adapt to the digital era, address inconsistency across states territories, and ensure it is operating as intended.”
To read the Sydney Morning Herald’s article explaining the campaign click here, please.