Australian papers censor front pages in press freedom campaign

Front pages of major Australian newspapers show a 'Your right to know" campaign, in Canberra, Australia, on October 21, 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch/via REUTERS)
Updated 21 October 2019

Australian papers censor front pages in press freedom campaign

SYDNEY: Newspapers across Australia ran heavily redacted front pages on Monday in protest against government secrecy and a crackdown on press freedom, a rare show of unity in a fractious media landscape.
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.
Advertisements have also been rolled out across the country’s television networks, asking viewers to consider the question: “When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?“
The campaign by the Right to Know coalition was sparked by federal police raids on the national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp. journalist’s home earlier this year over two stories that had proved embarrassing for the government.
It centers on six demands, including exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws that have created a complex web of provisions critics say too easily ensnare reporters doing their jobs.
“The culture of secrecy that has descended through these legal provisions restricts every Australian’s right to know and goes well beyond the original intent of national security,” Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union head Paul Murphy said.
“The police raids on the home of News Corp. journalist Annika Smethurst and the headquarters of the ABC in Sydney were direct attacks on media freedom in Australia but they are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Three journalists are facing possible criminal charges in the wake of the raids — Smethurst for revealing the government was considering plans to spy on Australians — and two ABC reporters for exposing alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
The media groups are also calling for enhanced protections for public sector whistleblowers — who have also faced charges for leaking to the press — as well as an improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform.
Australia’s defamation laws are notoriously complex and among the strictest in the world.
And unlike most liberal democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or constitutionally enshrined protections for freedom of speech.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would “always believe in the freedom of the press,” but he also insisted that journalists were not above the law.
“The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don’t think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things,” he told reporters during an official visit to Jakarta.
A press freedom inquiry is due to report its findings to parliament next year.


TikTok gets reprieve as judge halts Trump download ban

Updated 28 September 2020

TikTok gets reprieve as judge halts Trump download ban

  • The Trump administration order had sought to ban new downloads of the app from midnight
  • The decision represents a temporary win for TikTok, which has 100 million US users

WASHINGTON: TikTok won a last-minute reprieve late Sunday as a US federal judge halted enforcement of a politically charged ban ordered by the Trump administration on downloads of the popular video app, hours before it was set to take effect.
District Judge Carl Nichols issued a temporary injunction at the request of TikTok, which the White House has called a national security threat stemming from its Chinese parent firm’s links to the Beijing government.
The opinion was sealed, so no reason for the decision was released in a brief order by the court in Washington. The judge may unseal portions of the order after consulting with lawyers from both sides.
The Trump administration order had sought to ban new downloads of the app from midnight (0400 GMT Monday) but would allow use of TikTok until November 12, when all usage would be blocked. The judge denied TikTok’s request to suspend the November 12 ban.
The decision represents a temporary win for TikTok, which has 100 million US users. But the court has yet to consider the merits of the legal arguments on whether the social platform should remain available to Americans.
TikTok has argued that even a temporary ban would be devastating and cause the company irreparable harm by stunting its growth and hurting its commercial reputation.
“We’re pleased that the court agreed with our legal arguments and issued an injunction,” TikTok said in a statement.
“We will continue defending our rights for the benefit of our community and employees.”
For the injunction, Nichols heard arguments on the free-speech and national security implications of the Trump ban on the Chinese-owned app in a rare Sunday telephone hearing.
TikTok lawyer John Hall said a ban would be “punitive” and close off a public forum used by tens of millions of Americans.
In a written brief filed ahead of the hearing, TikTok lawyers said the ban was “arbitrary and capricious” and “would undermine data security” by blocking updates and fixes to the app.
The company also said the ban was unnecessary because negotiations were already underway to restructure the ownership of TikTok to address national security issues raised by the administration.
Government lawyers argued the president has a right to take national security actions, and said the ban was needed because of TikTok’s links to the Chinese government through its parent firm ByteDance.
A government brief called ByteDance “a mouthpiece” for the Chinese Communist Party and said it was “committed to promoting the CCP’s agenda and messaging.”
After the judge’s order, the Commerce Department said in a statement it would comply with the injunction but “intends to vigorously defend the (executive order)... from legal challenges.”
University of Richmond law school professor Carl Tobias called Sunday’s order “a pragmatic splitting of the baby for the short term, to give a little time for them to resolve the disputes and come to a resolution.”
Tobias said an appeal is possible but that the legal teams may choose to “try to work out a resolution to the broader legal clash” with the judge.
An amicus brief filed by Netchoice, a trade group which includes Google, Facebook and Twitter, said a ban could have important implications for the global Internet.
“The government’s actions are unprecedented in scope,” the group said in its filing.
A ban would “also create a dangerous precedent” for the open Internet, the brief said.
“The prohibition on any use of TikTok code by US developers for any purpose is effectively a ban on the building blocks of digital free expression.”
The trade group said a TikTok ban may be cited by China or other countries “as justification for banning or restricting the activities of US Internet businesses, including US-based social media platforms.”
Earlier this month, Trump cited national security concerns and issued orders to ban both TikTok and the popular Chinese app WeChat, which has been put on hold in a separate court case in California.
But the TikTok order stops short of a full ban until November 12, giving parent firm ByteDance time to conclude a deal to transfer ownership of the app.
A tentative deal unveiled last weekend would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.
TikTok said Sunday it would “maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government” on the plan which got a preliminary approval last weekend from President Donald Trump.
It was unclear if the deal would be approved by Beijing, where some consider the US move an unjustified appropriation of Chinese technology.