Australian news corporations are in full revolt after their parliament instituted new and heavier laws restricting reporting and effectively censoring news outlets and reporters.
Much like in America, Australia has several competing and ideologically opposed media outlets. In a rare show of solidarity, typically warring media entities coordinated their headlines Monday to reflect the new censorship laws. Their front pages appeared to be “redacted” in the typical black-line fashion one sees in redacted government reports.
Australia does not have basic free speech rights the way we understand them in America. In the past they have added safeguards for whistleblowers. Journalists are suggesting their profession needs similar protections given recent events.
The issue came to a boil soon after the May re-election of Australia’s Liberal-led conservative government, when police raided the head office of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Sydney and the home of a News Corp editor on suspicion of receiving national secrets.
The raids, which involved police examination of about 9,000 computer files at the ABC and sifting through the female News Corp editor’s underwear drawer, drew international condemnation.
The British Broadcasting Corporation called the raids “deeply troubling”.
Earlier this year Australia’s oppressive reporting laws came to light internationally after outlets were prevented from reporting on a child sex abuse scandal involving the former Vatican treasurer.
Global attention turned to media freedoms in Australia early this year when a court order prevented media from reporting that the former Vatican treasurer, Cardinal George Pell, had been found guilty on child sex abuse charges.
Some Australian outlets reported that an unidentified person had been convicted but some foreign media companies identified Pell because they were outside Australia’s jurisdiction.
Prosecutors are now seeking fines and jail sentences for three dozen Australian journalists and publishers for their trial coverage. Pell is appealing against his convictions.
The head of Australia’s media union expressed his disgust for the new, harsher measures.
“Journalism is a fundamental pillar of our democracy,” said Paul Murphy, the chief executive of the industry union.
“It exists to scrutinise the powerful, shine a light on wrongdoing and hold governments to account, but the Australian public is being kept in the dark,” he said in a statement.
Australia is an ally, a proud and prosperous country. We think of them as a free country. This is a stark reminder that the American brand of freedom is not only unique but a wholly foreign concept to people outside of our framework.
Australia’s biggest newspapers ran front pages made up to appear heavily redacted, in a protest against legislation that restricts press freedoms https://t.co/TF2BI5UKET pic.twitter.com/2KHMA7FWll
— Reuters (@Reuters) October 21, 2019