Australian newspapers on October 21 reportedly published editions with blackened lines on the front page as a mark of protest against Australian government secrecy and a crackdown on press freedom. Papers like The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the Australian Financial Review strike off most of their front-page news stories with seemingly black highlighters hiding the actual stories. The move comes following the Right to Know coalition which was sparked by federal police raids on the national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp journalist's home earlier this year.
Both in the foot of the front page of newspapers and also across the country's television networks, the media asked the public: "When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?".
Right to Know coalition reportedly has six demands, including exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws. The Australian media complains that the provisions by the government easily trap reporters doing their jobs. Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union head Paul Murphy told media that 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 yet there is more to it. He alleges that the Australian Government is imposing legal provisions on media only to keep secrecy.
"The culture of secrecy that has descended through these legal provisions restricts every Australian's right to know and goes well beyond the original intent of national security," Paul said.
Also three other journalists including Smethurst who revealed that the government was considering plans to spy on Australians and two ABC reporters who exposed the alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan are facing possible criminal charges in the wake of the raids. In response to this, the Australian media has demanded enhanced protections for public sector whistleblowers who have also faced charges for leaking to the press. They also call for improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform. Australia's defamation laws are reportedly very complex and one of the strictest in the world. At the same time, the country does not have the right to Freedom of Speech. Following the recent surge in protests, a press freedom inquiry is due to report its findings to parliament next year.
Speaking on the issue, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters during an official visit to Jakarta, "Government would always believe in the freedom of the press, but he also insisted that journalists were not above the law. The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in the protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don't think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things".