If you spotted the newspapers on your way to work today you might have noticed that they all had a striking similarity: the front pages of every major newspaper in the country were all censored with black out. Wondering what it’s all about? Well, it’s all for you, really. You have a Right To Know.
Media organisations – often warring – have joined together to fight against the decline in Australia’s press freedom. Seventy-five pieces of Australia-wide legislation have been introduced since 2002 that intended to protect people from national security threats, but unfortunately haven’t always been used that way. A lot of these laws have instead been used to restrict information telling the public about what the Federal Government is up to.
Stories like abuse of elderly people in aged care homes and the reasons behind foreign investment decisions are getting harder and harder to write about in Australia, and the Right To Know campaign wants to make people aware of it through their front page protest.
The campaign was organised by Australia’s Right To Know Coalition, a group that includes major media powers like Nine, News Corp, the ABC, SBS, and The Guardian. They’re demanding six reforms that they say will protect whistleblowers and journalists, and enshrine press freedom into Australia’s law.
These reforms are:
- The right to object to any search warrants issued on journalists or news organisations
- Make changes to the law so that whistleblowers are properly protected
- Limiting which documents the Government can decide to mark ‘secret’
- Reviewing the current Freedom of Information laws
- Exempting journalists from national security laws (like metadata tracking) so that they can’t be put in jail for doing their job
- And finally reforming our defamation laws
Scott Morrison has responded by saying that the Government “will always believe in the freedom of the press”, but that he also “believes in the rule of law and that no-one is above it”.
The issue of press freedom has been bubbling away for a while now. News Corp Australasia Executive Chairman Michael Miller has said that Australians should be “suspicious” of Governments that hold back any information from the public, and the ABC’s Managing Director David Anderson has said Australia could become “the world’s most secretive democracy” if we aren’t careful.
People outside Australia are noticing, too. Reporters Without Borders ranked Australia 21st in the world for press freedom in 2019, dropping down two places in the list over just 12 months.
The tipping point came earlier this year when the police made two raids in two days. On June 4th, News Corp political journalist Annika Smethurst had her home raided over a story she wrote in April 2018. The story was about a proposal from the Government to make it easier for them to spy on us.
The next day, June 5th, the Sydney headquarters of the ABC were raided over a 2017 report that exposed accusations of war crimes made against Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
Another raid was planned on News Corp headquarters for June 6th, but that one never happened.
The news organisations involved in the Right To Know campaign are all competitors, so to see them all come together like this is really something special to watch. Press freedom is invaluable, we can’t afford to let it go without saying anything.
I think I’ll leave the last word to Nine Entertainment’s CEO Hugh Marks:
“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.”