Australian newspapers black out front pages in call for press freedom

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Rival newspapers in Australia have blacked out the text on their front pages in a co-ordinated protest against press restrictions.

Titles including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph redacted their front pages with black lines because of what the media organizations perceive as a culture of secrecy and a threat to democracy.

“Put simply, our governments don’t want you to know a lot of what they are doing — and journalists are banned from telling many important stories you should know,” wrote Michael Miller, executive chair of News Corp Australasia, the parent company of newspapers including The Australian and The Daily Telegraph.

“And you have a right to be suspicious and concerned. For years, governments, courts and public authorities have been building a great wall to keep much of what they do a secret and using legislation to make it a criminal offence for media to tell you,” Miller added.

The action follows June police raids on a News Corp journalist and on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

On June 4, the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst was raided by police over a story revealing a proposal for an Australian electronic intelligence agency to take on an expanded role, something some government figures were concerned about, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Then on June 5, as part of a separate investigation, the ABC’s Sydney headquarters were raided over a series of articles covering accusations of war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan. A planned June 6 raid of News Corp’s offices did not go ahead.

“The police actions highlighted a perceived rise of cultural secrecy and legal restrictions that impinge on media freedom in Australia,” wrote Sydney Morning Herald reporter Fergus Hunter on Monday.

Lisa Davies, editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, part of media group Nine, wrote: “A web of laws covering freedom of information, whistle blower protection, national security, suppression and defamation have either been tightened or applied over-zealously to the point where Australians are not being properly informed about important matters of national interest.”

The blacked-out front pages are part of a campaign by the Right to Know Coalition, and was supported by TV, radio and online outlets.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended police raids as an agency doing its job to protect national security, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. However, the Australian Federal Police have launched an inquiry into how it handles sensitive investigations by the media.

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