Tuesday 12 November 2019

Newspapers to censor front pages in protest

Stock picture
Stock picture

Colin Packham in Sydney

Australia's biggest newspapers were expected to run heavily censored front pages this morning to protest against recent legislation that restricts press freedoms.

Papers from the domestic unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Australian Financial Review publisher Nine Entertainment and the website of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp were expected to show current news stories with most of the words blacked out.

The protest was designed to put public pressure on the government to exempt journalists from laws restricting access to sensitive information, enact a new freedom of information system, and raise the benchmark for defamation lawsuits.

"It's about defending the basic right of every Australian to be properly informed about the important decisions the government is making in their name," said Nine chief executive Hugh Marks said.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said people "should always be suspicious of governments that want to restrict their right to know what's going on".

Australia has no constitutional safeguards for free speech. The government added a provision to protect whistleblowers when it strengthened counter-espionage laws in 2018, although media organisations say press freedoms remain restricted.

Global attention turned to media freedoms in Australia this year when a court order prevented media from reporting the former Vatican treasurer, Cardinal George Pell, had been found guilty on child sex abuse charges.

Some Australian outlets reported an unidentified person had been convicted but some foreign media companies identified Pell because they were outside Australia.

Prosecutors are now seeking fines and jail for three dozen Australian journalists and publishers for their coverage of the trial.

Irish Independent

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