United publishers stir freedom support with 'redacted' content

After a rare act of unity in which publishers of most of Australia's daily and regional papers blacked out sections of their front pages in a protest over media freedom, MPs were ready to continue the debate in parliament.

Prime minister Scott Morrison told the house that any decision to prosecute a journalist should be based on the rule of law rather than the "whim of politicians".

Front pages with 'redacted' content were part of a campaign by the Right to Know coalition - which includes Seven West Media, News Corp Australia, Nine Entertainment and the ABC - to combat what it contends is the increased suppression of press freedom in Australia.

Pages carried an 'authorised by' notice similar to that normally seen on election notices. Most carried the name of News executive chairman Michael Miller.

The group is looking for reform in six key areas including protecting whistleblowers, defining what information should be regarded as secret and changing defamation laws.

The campaign also seeks to raise public awareness and support over the issues.

In a column in the media section of The Australian, former editor of that newspaper and now chief executive of Sky News Paul Whittaker quoted former executive editor of the Washington Post at the time of the Watergate scandal that, "most claims of national security are part of a campaign to avoid telling the truth".

In the same edition, Michael Miller wrote that the federal police raid on the home of News journalist Annika Smethurst in June was "the straw that broke the camel's back".

"She is a journalist doing what journalists should do - informing (the public) of something that's undoubtedly in the public interest - yet the government is prepared to have her jailed for telling you that."

Law Council of Australia president Arthur Moses has called on attorney-general Christian Porter to withdraw a recently-issued directive to the federal director of public prosecutions regarding the prosecution of journalists for alleged breaches of four statutes.

Australia has fallen to number 21 on the 2019 World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters without Borders, behind New Zealand (7) and countries including Jamaica, Costa Rica, Estonia, Uruguay and tiny South American state Surinam. The UK is at 33 and the United States 48. For the full list, see https://rsf.org/en/ranking

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