Australian newspapers redact front pages to protest media restrictions

A screengrab from a video posted on Facebook by News Corp Australia on Oct 20 2019. Mastheads from the domestic unit of News Corp Australian Financial Review publisher Nine Entertainment and the website of Australian Broadcasting Corp are expected

Your right to know: Why Australia's newspapers have been 'censored' on Monday

National and regional mastheads including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, and the Australian Financial Review hit newsstands Monday with most of their front-page news stories blacked out to give the impression it had been censored in the same was as a classified government document.

The Australian media argue the government is trying to penalize whistleblowing, criminalize journalism, and infringe upon the public's right to know.

The actions by the print media come in the footsteps of a television campaign launched on Sunday night, led by Australia's "Right to Know" group, of which the broadcasters ABC and SBS, and Channel 9 are a part.

The front pages warn federal and other governments are pursuing restrictions on news reporting, asking 'when government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up?'.

The protest comes after a series of high-profile raids on the offices of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a News Corp Australia journalist following the publication of articles detailing alleged war crimes and domestic spying carried out by the government.

Australia has more national security laws than any other country, legal researcher Rebecca Ananian-Welsh wrote in a commentary in June. The latest among them, adopted a year ago, extended prison sentences for disclosing classified information.

One of Nine's newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald, specified that the initiative aimed to protect whistleblowers, restrict government secrecy and expand freedom-of-information laws.

'Police independence and freedom of the press are both fundamental pillars that coexist in our democracy, ' he told the committee.

"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 Hugh Marks, chief executive officer of Nine News.

In the previous, withholding data from the final public has been justified by the government on national security grounds and recently it acknowledged it backed press freedom but "no person modified into as soon as above the guidelines".

A press freedom inquiry is under way, the findings of which will be revealed in parliament next year.

"The raids on Annika Smethurst and the ABC are the straw that broke the camel's back", News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese told reporters that while journalists should not be prosecuted for doing their jobs, defamation laws provided a "good constraint on ensuring that there is some level of accuracy".

"Australia is at risk of becoming the world's most secretive democracy", ABC managing director David Anderson said.

"It's unprecedented to see the front page of every single newspaper pointing out the same issue we are challenged with having to deal with, but this is serious".

It exists to scrutinize the powerful, shine a light on wrongdoing and hold governments to account to the people, but the Australian public is being kept in the dark about matters that affect them.

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