Newspapers across Australia ran heavily redacted front pages yesterday in protest against government secrecy and a crackdown on press freedom. National and regional mastheads including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review hit newsstands with most of their front page news stories blacked out.
Advertisements have also been rolled out across the country's television networks, asking viewers to consider the question: “When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?” The campaign by the Right to Know coalition was sparked by federal police raids on the national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp journalist's home earlier this year over two stories that had proved embarrassing for the government. It centers on six demands, including exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws that have created a complex web of provisions critics say too easily ensnare reporters doing their jobs.
Three journalists are facing possible criminal charges in the wake of the raids, including Annika Smethurst, for revealing the government was considering plans to spy on Australians, and two ABC reporters for exposing alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
Australia's defamation laws are notoriously complex and among the strictest in the world. And unlike most liberal democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or constitutionally enshrined protections for freedom of speech. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would “always believe in the freedom of the press,” but he also insisted that journalists were not above the law.