All of Australia’s major newspapers have blacked out today’s front pages to protest against excessive government interference in journalism, marking what The Australian’s national chief correspondent Hedley Thomas calls “a rare example of industry-wide unity.”
Nine mastheads like The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald have joined News Corp papers like The Australian and The Herald Sun to present heavily redacted front pages, drawing attention to what journalists have described as the erosion of press freedom.
Front page of today's Herald Sun.#auspol #righttoknow pic.twitter.com/u6dZgStCEF— Herald Sun (@theheraldsun) October 20, 2019
Front pages of @theage today. pic.twitter.com/XsjWVbhfZr— Robyn Grace (@missrobyngrace) October 20, 2019
The protest goes beyond the front pages. Nine, which owns PEDESTRIAN.TV, has joined News Corp, the ABC, SBS, The Guardian, and the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance to form the Right To Know coalition, urging the Australian government to install new protections for whistleblowers, reform defamation law, and exempt journalists from prosecution under current national security laws.
Today’s front pages come just months after the Australian Federal Police conducted raids on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC’s Sydney offices, following their respective reports on proposed changes to national security laws and allegations of serious misconduct by Australia’s armed forces.
“All journalists and media outlets have had a gutful of the insidious, creeping, and ultimately dangerous efforts of governments to discourage whistleblowing by intimidation, by threats, by prosecutions of whistleblowers, and the raids on journalists’ homes,” Thomas told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
The multiple Walkley Award-winner said the threat of legal action against whistleblowers could prevent the Australian public from learning vital information.
“Australians will ultimately be much worse off if whistleblowers who tell journalists the truth about what’s really going on are silenced and intimidated into keeping their heads down,” Thomas said.
“How would we ever know about terrible situations in aged care, in our health system, in transport, dangerous situations, if these people don’t speak up?”
The Age’s investigative reporter Richard Baker agrees, saying there’s currently information Australia should know but can’t, thanks to current threats against press freedom.
“I think whistleblowers are acutely aware of the really devastating consequences for standing up and doing the right thing, and bringing sunlight on abuse of power,” Baker told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“You shouldn’t be punished for doing the right thing.”
Baker defended the integrity of Australian journalists and disputed the idea careful public interest reporting could harm national security, saying “nobody wants to have blood on their hands or put people at risk.”
The campaign comes amid a Senate enquiry focussed on the effects of national security laws on press freedom. The enquiry is slated to report back in December, and journos hope today’s protest will send a clear statement.
“I think the one thing politicians understand is the depth of rivalry and competition between the varying media companies, particularly the two newspaper groups in Australia,” Baker said.
“It must be heeded by the politicians and public servants, if they know what’s good them,” Thomas added.
You can read more here.
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