Newspapers unite with redacted front covers for first time because Australians have a ‘right to know’ about government secrecy

Australian newspapers all look the same today – completely redacted. This unprecedented and united act of self-censorship from rival publishers calls attention to eroding press freedom and how governments can cover up stories to keep the truth from the public.

The front pages of newspapers from every major media company, including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Daily Telegraph, are redacted to remind Australians that they have a ‘right to know’, following Australian Federal Police raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC’s headquarters earlier this year.

Both The Daily Telegraph and ABC are awaiting the outcome of the raids, including a decision as to whether targeted journalists will be prosecuted. 75 laws related to secrecy and spying have been passed over the passed two decades, which journalists argue are serving to criminalise their craft and penalise whistleblowing.

Today’s front pages

“Australia is at risk of becoming the world’s most secretive democracy. 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 difficult for people to speak up when they see wrongdoing and for journalists to report these stories,” ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, said.

“No one is above the law but something in our democracy is not working as it should when we fail to protect people acting in the public interest.”

Nine’s CEO Hugh Marks added that this is “much bigger than the media”.

“It’s about defending the basic right of every Australian to be properly informed about the important decisions the government is making in their name,” he said.

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.

Ads launched last night to support the message, running across print, digital, radio and television with the aim of reaching every adult Australian.

Executive chair of News Corp Michael Miller has taken to his mastheads to prompt Australians to ask “what are they trying to hide from me?” when the government imposes new restrictions upon journalists, the Sydney Morning Herald has released an explainer about the campaign, and top journalists like Hedley Thomas are retelling their own experiences of people in power attempting to silence sources.

“Australians should always be suspicious of governments that want to restrict their right to know what’s going on,” Miller said.

And already, the campaign is gaining traction. #Righttoknow is trending number one on Twitter, and #PressFreedom number two. Home pages of Australia’s major publishers are saturated with press freedom stories. And the industry’s union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), is on board to support and amplify the message.

“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,” said MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy.

“The time has come to wind back these excessive laws and to decriminalise public interest journalism and whistleblowing. The protection of sources must be enhanced, and the congested Freedom of Information system needs to be unblocked.”

The Right to Know coalition, whose members include MEAA and major news publishers, wants legislative changes that mean journalists don’t fear imprisonment for doing their job. Proposed changes would also mean the government has to consider the public interest before applying for search warrants and launching prosecutions. They would provide protection for whistleblowers, and ensure systems that limit government secrecy.

Three quarters of Australians agree journalists should be protected from prosecution when reporting in the public interest. 88% said whistleblowers play a vital role in society.


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