Australia: Media unites in unprecedented campaign to protect country’s press freedom

A nation-wide campaign countering the Australian government’s culture of secrecy launched on Australian television yesterday, continuing today with newspapers across the country publishing redacted front pages. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Australian affiliate the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) support this important campaign which is pushing for critical reforms to protect journalists, whistleblowers and the public’s right to know in Australia.

Redacted front pages of newspapers Credit: MEAA

The Right to Know coalition, made up of broad group of media organisations, journalists and publishers, including the MEAA, is running the campaign against steadily declining press freedom standards in Australia. The campaign started with television advertisements demonstrating how secrecy is preventing public interest stories being told. The campaign continued this morning with newspapers redacting their front pages whilst highlighting key stories in the process.

Australia has long been seen as a safe-haven of democracy with a strong track record of defending the public’s right to know and openly criticising coercive governments attempting to impede or block freedom of expression. But new research from the Right to Know coalition, conducted by Colmar Brunton, found that while 87% of people value a transparent democracy, only 37% believed they were actually living in one in Australia. MEAA noted that in the last 18 years, the Australian Parliament had “passed 75 laws under the guise of national security” that limit the public’s right to know.

Following Australian Federal Police raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s home and the Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Australian government has launched a direct attack on media freedom, according to MEAA. In its statement, MEAA also emphasised “journalism is a fundamental pillar of our democracy. It exists to scrutinise the powerful, shine a light on wrongdoing and hold governments to account to the people”.

MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said: “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. The time has come to wind back these excessive laws and to decriminalise public interest journalism and whistleblowing.”

The IFJ said: “The continued attacks on public interest journalism in Australia has been evidenced through the ongoing and determined legal amendments that ultimately erode and undermine the very foundation of democracy. Combined with this has been out and out blatant attacks on individual journalists as well as the national broadcaster as a telling sign of the parlous state of press freedom in Australia. The IFJ and its affiliates strongly condemn this criminalisation of public interest journalism in Australia and urge the government to take heed to media, journalists and their unions in the call for necessary reforms.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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