Australian newspapers have put aside their rivalries and issued Monday editions with blacked out front pages to draw the public’s attention to the issue of freedom of information. The front page of every newspaper featured a text redacted in black with a red stamp reading secret.
The protest campaign comes as the country’s federal court rejected moves by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to challenge the legality of police raids on its headquarters in June. The raids came after two ABC journalists published a report that revealed allegations of misconduct and unlawful killings by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. In another incident in June, authorities raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, who published an article revealing the government’s alleged plan to spy on Australian citizens. According to the report, intelligence agents would be able get access to emails, bank accounts, and text messages of any Australian with approval from the defence and home ministries.
Every time a government imposes new restrictions on what journalists can report, Australians should ask: 'What are they trying to hide from me?' - Why I've taken a stand against increasing government secrecy in Australia https://t.co/BQek4KvKyB #righttoknow pic.twitter.com/cpXJEvz7pj— Michael Miller (@michaelmillerau) October 20, 2019
Back in June, the Australian authorities defended the raids saying information published in the reports was top secret. On 20 October, the government said that three journalists could face prosecution. The country’s PM Scott Morrison stressed that press freedom is very important for Australia, but noted that everyone is equal before the law. “This includes me or any journalist, or anyone else”, he said.
"The truth is, those in power don’t want the public to know what they’re up to and are shutting down transparency and accountability to serve their own interests", a Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
A recent survey conducted by Australia's Right to Know Coalition revealed that only 37 percent considered Australia to have a free open and transparent democracy, while almost 80 percent of the respondents said whistleblowers and journalists should be protected by the law and not considered criminals.
This is not the first high-profile case against whistleblowers in Australia. In 2004, a senior intelligence officer exposed the government’s spying on East Timor officials. At the time, Canberra and Dili were engaged in negotiations on a multibillion dollar oil and gas deal and Australian authorities wanted to learn about East Timor's negotiating tactics. Another whistleblower Richard Boyle faces a maximum of 161 years in prison for revealing abuse of power by Australia’s Taxation Office.